Bach Collegium Japan (BCJ) will release a new recording of the St John Passion on 2nd October 2020. The recording was produced in early March, when the spread of the coronavirus cut BCJ’s 30th anniversary tour drastically short.

As BCJ arrived in Cologne, they learned that the tour’s seven remaining performances had been cancelled. The concert at Kölner Philharmonie, live-streamed from an empty hall, was to be the fourth and last of the tour.

With outstanding musicians and time to spare before the concert, BCJ realised a unique opportunity: to set down a recording of Bach’s mighty St. John Passion. With incredible support from the Kölner Philharmonie team and fully backed up by BIS’s CEO Robert von Bahr, underwriting the costs, the necessary equipment, an excellent producer and a recording engineer were assembled in no time at all.

The largest forces recorded first, and as legal gathering sizes reduced, the sessions shrank accordingly. Meanwhile, BCJ arranged for musicians to gradually return to their home countries.

Masaaki Suzuki remembers: “On the final day of the recording session — by then, most of the restaurants in the hotel and many public buildings were closed — the police came into the hall and demanded that we should leave immediately and that the building should be closed. The Intendant and the stage manager explained to them that we were recording and that we were almost finished. Fortunately, it turned out that one of the policemen had watched our live stream, so they allowed us one hour to complete the recording.”

After four days of recording, and the live performance, everyone returned home. Just days later, international borders were closed.

Masato Suzuki comments: “From the first note of the first session, we knew this recording was special because it captured a unique moment in time. It could only have been made at that time, with those people, in that situation. It was an incredible experience.”

Masaaki Suzuki adds: “The spread of the virus created an urgency and energy that rendered this a very dramatic performance. The music itself has such incredible power of course, and in this situation, it was somehow doubled. Looking back, it was all like a miracle, and even now it seems like a dream. The tension of the whole experience, combined with the drama of the St John Passion, will stay in our minds forever.”