How should musicians play Bach’s cantatas? On modern instruments, or on the older winds and strings actually used in Bach’s day? Raise that question in the right circles and you’ll provoke a response that makes our current political divisions seem like well-mannered disagreements.
Koji Otsuki does it both ways. In Japan, he’s the founding director of a historical instrument group, the Gamut Bach Ensemble (GBE). In Philadelphia, he leads an American Gamut Bach Ensemble that plays modern instruments. The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society has presented the Philadelphia version two seasons in a row, and Otsuki’s knowledgeable, historically informed performances have evoked applause from both camps. He’s satisfied chamber-music connoisseurs who feel historical instruments are inferior precursors of modern instruments and Baroque enthusiasts who shudder when they hear Bach played on an instrument created after 1750.
This year’s GBE program will once again team up-and-coming young instrumentalists with vocalists like Philadelphia favorite Sarah Shafer (who calls singing Bach “one of the greatest joys in the world for me” in this new PCMS interview). Otsuki will lead three Bach cantatas and a selection of arias from other works. The finale will be a festive cantata Bach wrote as a secular birthday piece and recycled as a prelude to Christmas.
The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society will present The Gamut Bach Ensemble on December 13 at 8pm at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia. Tickets are $20 and they’re available online and at the door.