In March 2005, I organized a Bach ensemble and performed 4 cantatas in a concert in Tokyo. It was a group consists of the supportive and willing members of Bach Collegium Japan and my friends from Geidai (Tokyo University of the Arts)— I can say it was an ideal ensemble in the realistic realm, or perhaps it was beyond my plausible ideal… In some sections I had those players whom I’d pick for my fantasy Bach ensemble! And despite my shortcomings as a director, we as a team did put together a successful and memorable concert. I believe I had learned and grown as an organizer and conductor through the process to the maximum extent a single event could allow.
The name of the group is Gamut Bach Ensemble— I was trying to come up with a name that contained Bach but not Collegium, as I didn’t want to make the group name sounds like my mentor’s ensemble (aforementioned) which I believe is one of the best in the world. Common options were the words Ensemble, Orchestra and perhaps Verein; orchestra sounded too big, and Verein too geeky, so the easy option was to go with Bach Ensemble. The question was what should come before that. It so happens the sum of the letters BCJ is 14, the same number as Bach’s name (B + A + C + H = 14). To make this work with my group name, I needed to make it GBE (7+2+5=14)— all I had to do was to find a G word that would go well with Bach Ensemble, and what I found was Gamut. The word gamut today means the complete range or scope of something, but it originally meant the gamma-ut; the lowest note of the hexachord which is a scale system from the Middle Ages. To respect arguably the most influential composer in the Western music history, and to esteem the root of all things that inspired him, I figured this name is quite appropriate… the birth of Gamut Bach Ensemble it was.
This concert would have not been possible without some encouragement from one of the key players from Bach Collegium Japan. Masamitsu San’nomiya (San-chan), BCJ principal oboist, was the first to motivate and inspire me to organize it. I was there in Tokyo studying Bach, but I wasn’t there to perform; I don’t think those BCJ players had ever considered me a musician while I was there following them around, at least initially, but some people like San-chan saw my passion and wanted to give me a chance to actually do what I had always wanted to do… And we did it. I had a few BCJ players in my ensemble, including San-chan. And my vocal force was mostly from BCJ with a few added singers. Younger Geidai players were all excellent players and are now playing in many exceptional ensembles all over the world. What was most rewarding was that even after exposing my weakness and fault, those musicians told me with lots of smiles that they enjoyed it so much and that they wanted to do it again.
So we did it again in 2011, with huge huge help from the BCJ singers. After 6.5 years of hiatus, many of the original members got together to do St. John Passion with me. Gamut Bach Ensemble still lives on, and potentially we can make it reach even further artistically as we keep growing as musicians (obviously my growth is most needed). My experiences from the 2nd concert deserves a new blog post, so I won’t get into that here, but I wonder if I ever get to let people in the States hear what GBE can offer… With GBE I know I can bring informed yet very personal Bach to the audience here. And I know they’d love it.