Three years after visiting Wellington for its International Arts Festival, Masaaki Suzuki returns to New Zealand with a group of young ambassadors of the new baroque, the Juilliard415 chamber orchestra.
In 2014, he conducted his Bach Collegium Japan; now Suzuki and 19 players are performing the music of Bach and Handel in 10 venues from Auckland to Invercargill on a two-week tour under the auspices of Chamber Music New Zealand. RNZ Concert will live broadcast both of the group's programmes.
Speaking from New York, Suzuki describes the irresistible lure Bach exerted on him, as a 12-year-old organist in his local church in Japan. Studies in Amsterdam later introduced him to authentic baroque performance practice, incorporating the use of period instruments.
"It was a provocative style of playing," he says. "We had to struggle to convince the more conservative musicians and promoters."
Now, he says, even large orchestras with modern instruments have adopted many of the stylistic approaches that scholars feel are more in keeping with earlier music.
Returning to the city of Kobe, with its first-class chapel, organ and harpsichord, Suzuki founded his Bach Collegium Japan, with whom he has recorded all 200 of Bach's cantatas.
"They are a staple part of my life. Just as I couldn't live without my daily rice, so it is with this music."
I can't help but wonder whether Suzuki will regret the first piece, the introductory Sinfonia for Bach's Cantata 42, not running on to its tenor recitative and aria and the rest of the score.
"It is one of the most beautiful of all the cantatas," he says. "But it's also a wonderfully written and very lively overture for this concert."
Suzuki is fascinated by the contrast between Bach and Handel. "Considering they were born in the same year in the same country, they are remarkably different," he says, comparing Bach's career in German courts and churches with that of Handel, the toast of London's operatic and theatrical scene.
Handel's brilliant motet, Silete Venti, will be sung by Kentucky-born soprano Rebecca Farley, accompanied by the full Juilliard band, including oboes and bassoon.
"It starts with what sounds like an operatic overture, with marvelous dotted rhythms, and gets more and more exciting until the soprano enters," Suzuki says. "It's wonderfully dramatic.
In this evening of baroque splendour, eyes and ears will be on this contingent of young Juilliard talent, privileged to have played under such luminaries as William Christie, Ton Koopman and Suzuki. Best of all, he says, they are all totally relaxed in their professionalism.
"Not having to struggle any more against conservative expectations, they have the flexibility to make this music theirs."
What: Masaaki Suzuki with Juilliard415
Where and when: Auckland Town Hall, May 26, 7.30pm; Hamilton, Gallagher Academy, May 27, 7.30pm