Some of What Has Happened so Far
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How It All Began
Boy meets girl: It is one of those unlikely stories that the son of a village merchant in the middle of West German nowhere becomes a professor of Austrian law and marries one of the daughters of the CEO of the Austrian salt refinery holding and a Polish pianist. But this is exactly what happened. My father was born in Duisburg (of all places) in 1940 and grew up in a small village near Bonn. He then went to study economy and law in Bonn and subsequently followed his professor to Vienna, where he met my mother in 1967. She had a rather adventurous history: Born on a railway platform in Olsztyn in 1943, she grew up in Vienna and originally wanted to study music, but then trained to be a translator before finally graduating with a law doctorate. In 1970, my parents moved to Linz, where my father became a professor of law and I was born on 2 May 1974. It meant that a homeless family with a strong Viennese connection suddenly had another member of the family as a native Upper Austrian. Nowadays, with my aunt, who was head of the Austrian National Heritage office and all my family living in Vienna, I feel more like I am Viennese with a strong link to Upper Austria. Thanks to my father's background I hold both Austrian and German passports.
I went to school in Linz, which was not what I would call the greatest time of my life. At an early age, I started having music lessons first from my mother (who in the meantime also had graduated from Brucknerkonservatorium Linz as a music teacher) and subsequently from Helga Schiff-Riemann, the granddaughter of Hugo Riemann and mother of the cellist Heinrich Schiff. It was soon discovered that I suffered from severe hayfever, but also had perfect pitch, which – logical, no? – meant that the piano was a waste, wind and brass instruments were out of the question and thus the cello was the only option because violin practice was declared unbearable, the viola not even worth mentioning and the double bass ... well ... impractical. In 1982, I started my cello lessons with Wilfried Tachezi at the Brucknerkonservatorium Linz and also continued my harpsichord studies with August Humer. At the time of the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 my father was a guest professor at the university in Trier and I, without really knowing how, won the Austrian Young Musicians' Competition. In 1991, I obtained a diploma from the Brucknerkonservatorium, becoming the youngest graduate ever at the time. This record was to be broken by pianist Andreas Eggertsberger a few years later.
In 1990, I meet Robert Cohen, and my father enabled me to spend school holidays studying with him and soon after with his teacher William Pleeth in London. Pleeth was to become the biggest influence in my musical and professional development until his death on 6 April 1999. In the first half of the 1990s, I also studied with Maria Kliegel in Cologne, living at my grandparents' house near Bonn. I owe Maria Kliegel a lot, especially regarding my ability to analyze cello technique, but the musical spirit, style and ethics of William Pleeth have never left me.
With a "Konzertexamen" (a terminal performance degree) from the Cologne Musikhochschule, I thought I was ready for the world. Little did I know ... After a few years of living in London, I returned to Germany, again to my grandparent's house in Meckenheim near Bonn, this time as its only resident. In 2000, I was invited to take a teaching position at the Musikakademie Kassel, which I kept until 2007. This time included a rather traumatic period around my mother's illness and subsequent death in 2004. In 2002, I had moved to Munich for love, but when my mother was gone, I realized that I am really Austrian at heart. Therefore, in 2005, I took a flat in Vienna and cannot really imagine to not have at least a place to go to in this most beautiful of all cities which I am fortunate enough to call home.
Since the early 1990s, I have received invitations from all over the world to play at great places and work with some of the most astonishing musicians around. Naturally, there are orchestras (e.g. the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, the Bruckner Orchester Linz, or both orchestras in Santiago de Chile) and conductors, such as Tecwyn Evans, Patrick Lange, Michael Sanderling or Karlheinz Steffens. As a chamber musician, I am happy to call some of the greatest musicians of my generation not only "partners in crime" but also friends: first and foremost clarinettist Dimitri Ashkenazy, flutist Walter Auer, pianist Stefan Stroissnig and the Acies Quartett, but of course also pianists Christopher Hinterhuber and Roland Krüger, violinist Lena Neudauer, violist Firmian Lermer and cellist Alexander Hülshoff. Besides working with them (and countless others), I seem to have collected quite a number of living legends over the years, including Jörg Demus, Dénes Zsigmondy, Menahem Pressler, Norman Shetler and Eduard Brunner. It is this richness of life experience that I feel makes my life so exciting. In 1990, at the tender age of 16, I had the opportunity to work with Alfred Schnittke during an unforgettable week in Salzburg, and this experience initiated my fascination for the direct dialogue with composers. Sofia Gubaidulina, Howard Blake, Graham Whettam, Matthias Pintscher, Jörn Arnecke and many others were to follow, resulting in the premieres of five cello concertos and countless world or national premieres of solo, duo and chamber music pieces over time. However, I have now reduced the amount of contemporary pieces that I play to those I feel really comfortable with, as I have become increasingly aware that my entire instrumental education never really enabled me to feel genuinely comfortable with extended techniques or having to play intervals not based on semitones. It gives me great pleasure to see that there is now a younger generation of cellists for whom overcoming these instrumental challenges is as natural as conquering music of earlier times. However, as the proud owner of the KAIROS label, I have many other opportunities to contribute to and support the contemporary music world, about which I am passionate as a musician and curator.
Between 2004 and 2008, I published modern editions of all major etudes with Bärenreiter-Verlag and also recorded them (for Musicaphon), the combination of which is why most cellists will probably exhale with a sigh when hearing or reading my name. Still, I cannot hide some satisfaction when saying that these editions are now literally everywhere, and I regularly smile at them peeking out of a bag of a young cellist on a bus or the subway in any given city. They are a huge success and have had rave reviews all over the world, except from one particular colleague, Gerhard Anders, who is writing for various Schott magazines and seems to have decided on a personal crusade against them. Other than that, the press resonance of my work includes statements such as that I was the most recorded cellist of my generation, which (thanks to over 50 available albums) might be true, even if there are a lot of cellists nowadays ... In 2002 and 2005, Brockmeyer Verlag in Bochum published two crime novels that I had written together with my friend Reinhard Cebulla. I was responsible for the festivals "JSB" (from 1997 to 1999), "kammerMUSIK" (2001 and 2002), "Holzhauser Musiktage" (2004 and 2005), "Wiener Gitarrefestival" (2008 to 2011) and "Klassik Musikfest Mühlviertel" (2007 to 2012) as well as a number of smaller concert series at venues like the Brucknerhaus Linz. I have recorded for the Naxos, Capriccio, Musicaphon, Redcliffe and paladino music labels, and, since 2010, have been an endorsement artist for Thomastik-Infeld, which includes significant involvement in the development of the Versum and Versum Solo string sets as well as testing hundreds of prototypes, some of which I am fortunate enough to get custom made for my instruments. I have played (and still play) at many wonderful places, with a fascinating variety of orchestras, conductors and chamber music partners while accumulating a ridiculous amount of air miles (why would you want free flights if you just did 83 flights within the past twelve months?), which I aim to reduce through more environmentally conscious travel planning.
New Zealand – a Decade (Plus a Year)
Apropos airmiles. In late 2008, Klaus Heymann (the owner of the Naxos Music Group) followed Maria Kliegel's advice and recommended me for a teaching position at the University of Auckland. My appointment started on 1 February 2009, eleven days before the company registration of what has become paladino media. As a result, I divided my life between Vienna and Auckland between then and 2013, spending a total of four months per year in New Zealand, living in a constant cloud of jetlag and, due to the reverse order of seasons, a lot in winter. After five academic years, I felt that time was ready to quit teaching at Auckland – partly thanks to exhaustion and partly because I thought that the school in Auckland was going in the wrong direction: I felt that the curriculum had nothing to do with the school's students and their careers. Therefore, I spent the best part of 2014 and 2015 mainly in Vienna, during which paladino was able to acquire KAIROS and I made my South American debut – and of course more recordings. In late October 2015 and much to my own surprise, I was asked if I would re-join the faculty of the University of Auckland, this time as Head of School at the School of Music. Because we were up for an adventure, but also because Europe seemed in big trouble at the time, and of course because I passionately believe that music education needs to be fundamentally reformed, I accepted the offer and took the challenge, and we moved to Auckland. I had clear directives from the Vice-Chancellor to overhaul the curriculum, make the school financially sustainable and future-proof its staffing structure. Having finished serving a four-year term as Head of School in 2020, I am proud to be able to say that these goals have been achieved, and with student numbers having grown. In spite of a lot of (mostly untrue) "white noise" during the process, it is great to see that the school's exciting new degree offerings are highly successful with the students, and that we could set the school up for a sustainable and continuously successful future. Even if I personally found it difficult at times, it was somehow fascinating to see people's real nature emerge in the process, and even more astonishing to witness a seemingly endless sequence of arbitrary behaviours, including one particular example which resulted in the termination of my affiliation with Naxos. However much I did enjoy the job as Head of School, I am simply too much of a European to not live within a reachable distance. Because Auckland is so far away from everywhere and everything else, I felt that it was again time to move on. Therefore, in spite of the tenured position I held and the offer to continue as Head of School until at least 2022, I am now probably one of very few people who have resigned from permanent positions at the same institution twice.
No, of course not. I remain passionate about music education and the need for its adaptation to the reality of the 21st century. Therefore, in mid-2020 I was honored to receive an invitation to become Chief Executive of the holding company of one of Austria's seven music universities, the JAM MUSIC LAB Private University for Jazz and Popular Music, which – as if that was not enough – also means running a state-accredited conservatory, the International Academy of Music and Performing Arts Vienna (AMP), which is owned by the same company. That means that now more than ever, I have more ideas than time. paladino keeps growing and giving me joy, and I look forward to many more adventures as a cellist as we enter the new decade: The twenties rock!
At a personal level, I naturally have loved and lost just like anyone else and am thankful for having shared happiness, love and music since 2012 with my wonderfully supportive partner and flautist extraordinaire Eric Lamb, who of course should also be listed among my favorite chamber music partners above ... In November 2013, a beagle puppy who we named Herrprofessor came into our life, and besides having grown up to be a glamorous Instagram star, he adds joy to our every day. Moving him from Vienna to Auckland and back was more difficult than playing the six Bach Suites in one evening, believe me! Even with mundane upheavals like that, I still feel that it is a great privilege to live the way I do, meeting and working with remarkable people at some of the most beautiful places of the world, doing what I think is the essence of human existence: trying to understand how people interact and what it means to find the key to another human's soul.