The Principal's Blog

Ton Koopman’s Bach Prize

Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, Principal - Posted on 10.11.2016

Sir Ralph Kohn first approached the Academy more than a decade ago with the idea that we make a time in the year to celebrate the achievements of a world-renowned Bachian. Our Bach Prize was first awarded back in 2006, and we have now built up a formidable roster of Award-Winners of outstanding calibre: Professor Christoph Wolff, András Schiff, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Peter Schreier, Professor John Butt, Thomanerchor Leipzig, Masaaki Suzuki, Murray Perahia, Ton Koopman, Rachel Podger and Philippe Herreweghe. Their diversity is a glorious celebration of JS Bach; in their very different individual ways, all of these Bachians have greatly increased our understanding and enjoyment of the master’s unsurpassed music.

Last week we welcomed Ton Koopman, our 2014 recipient, for an inspirational few days culminating in a performance on Sunday as part of our long-running Bach Cantata Series.

Ton Koopman has made – and continues to make – a unique, distinctive and profound contribution to the world of Bach interpretation and scholarship. In the context of our own project at the Academy, we must, of course, start with his ten-year marathon to perform and record all the Bach cantatas with his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir, an undertaking of world-wide significance. As I mentioned when introducing Ton to our students on Thursday, there’s probably no person alive who has played or directed so many notes written by JSB. His energy and commitment is infectious, demanding and challenging in equal measure.

Our Head of Historical Performance, Maggie Faultless, Ton Koopman’s leader throughout the Amsterdam cantata recording project, is the perfect person to comment further:

‘Ton never seeks simply to represent what’s on the page, but to question its meaning, always looking for ways to speak Bach’s language, to demonstrate the power and human possibilities of the music itself. His keyboard playing inflects the minute details he observes, and always with technical brilliance, but always at the service of musical communication. His continuo playing is as spontaneous and fresh as you’ll ever hear, flamboyant and yet absolutely unique – not something to be copied by a student, however tempting it might seem!

As a director he is deliciously unconcerned with the idiomatic problems of an individual instrumentalist or singer – nothing is allowed to compromise the music and the standards he sets for everyone with whom he works. Nothing must ever obstruct his profound respect and passionate enthusiasm for Bach’.

It’s extraordinary to think that next month we will have completed eight years of the Bach Cantatas Series, and will have performed around 170 cantatas. Tickets for our 2017 concerts – as always presented with the vision, friendship and support of Sir Ralph Kohn and his family – have been selling quickly over the past month.