Maximilian Hornung's journey to Bach's world



Cellist Maximilian Hornung is one of the most sought after young musicians of today. Born in 1986 in Augsburg, he studied cello with the world famous virtuoso David Geringas. At the age of 23 he won the first cello position in the Bayerische Rundfunkorchester but quit after 4 years to build an international solo career for himself. Since than he has been performing with world class ensembles and conductors. Besides making his living as a soloist Hornung is also very active in chamber music area. Lastly he has taken part in a new Schubert recording from Deutsche Grammophon with the renowned soloists Anne-Sophie Mutter and Daniil Trifonov. Just before his Bach solo cello recitals I talked with Maximilian Hornung in Munich about Bach's music, his upbringing, career path and future projects.     
Hello Max, what have you been doing recently?
I have been very busy during last spring and summer. I was basically, constantly traveling. I actually played a concert every two days in a different place with so many different concert programs… It was a quite stressful time. But now, I’m a bit more relaxed and it is actually a good time for me because I am playing all the six Bach suites next week, for the very first time in my career. This time, I spared ten days to relax and to learn all of the Bach suites and to really get into the special Bach focus which is not so easy to reach.
Could you tell me more about your feelings and thoughts about Bach’s cello suites?
When I play Bach, the most difficult thing for me is to get into that quite special mood of the music because this music enlarges its genuine power only in the concert. So what I am practicing is basically, to think about how I have to shape this music and which kind of character I want to express because that’s different in every suite, even in every movement. So I am really trying to find out the unique character of every movement and to express it with the correct sound, articulation and bowing… So that’s the most difficult thing for me to realize in Bach. I’m looking very much forward to this concert. I will give it in a church. It will be at the Stresa Festival in the northern Italy. They told me that the church is really beautiful, a bit dark and with a nice atmosphere. I think the location will fit the repertoire very well and the right mood will come up in the two concerts.
What can you say about playing Bach in general?
Playing Bach has become a challenging task today because of the reason that it’s been poisoned with too many influences and too many opinions. They have been existing about Bach’s music over the centuries. And for me, it is really difficult to find back the pure music which is very important for me. Actually, I know all these things; I read all the different editions, I saw the manuscripts of all the seven or eight copies and all of them are completely different. Then I read the books about the suites and also Leopold Mozart’s book on violin method that explains a lot about articulation and trills and how to phrase things, how to connect things, how to separate things and all these important stuff.

Is Leopold Mozart’s opinions helpful in this area?
Yes, absolutely… He is not showing any kind of rules but he is just showing how they did all those things in his time. Of course, it is connected to some kind of rules but it is very subjective, rather a question of taste. He says; “If it belongs to good taste, you can do whatever you want.” It is really strange and also very inspiring because it is a document of his time. So, I try to take it as simple as possible and to see the harmony and rhythm.
What about your relations with your esteemed teacher David Geringas?
I studied with him for three years in Berlin. What I most learned from him is his approach to the cello when he was playing for me during the lessons, his ability and technique for producing the sound. He was very influential for me. The whole way he approaches the music, and his very natural playing. He was always getting a good sound. That was very inspiring.
Do you know any Turkish musicians?
There is the pianist Gülru Ensari with whom I played a lot. There is also the composer Mehmet Özer. I think these two are the only Turkish musicians I know for the moment.
Do you have any plans of making recordings?
Yes, I have few plans. I recorded the cello concerto of contemporary American composer Samuel Adler two years ago which was released last year. There is also his Sixth Symphony in the CD. One of my last CDs was Haydn’s concerto from Sony. I will record two CDs this season. There’s actually quite a lot going on in this matter. I recorded Brahms’ Double Concerto with Antje Weithaas in March which will be released this year. Recently, with Anne-Sophie Mutter and Daniil Trifonov I recorded Schubert’s Trout Quintet which was released last November. I just started to work with a very nice record company called Myrios.

I would like to congratulate you for all your efforts in the recording business.
Last but not least, I have just recorded Shostakovich’s second concerto combined with the second concerto of Georgian composer Sulkhan Nasidze. Nasidze’s concerto is really amazing because the piece is completely unknown and not published. It’s not played very often but it’s so powerful. I don’t know why it’s not played more often. This is going to be my first Myrios recording. The orchestra is the Deutsche Sinfonieorchester in Berlin. The great thing about this program is that both pieces are written in 1966. I think these pieces really reflect the time and political atmosphere of 1966. They are very similar in character; this is a very dark music, very expressive, very deep…
Why did you quit playing in Bayerischer Rundfunkorchester? Because you were aiming to make a solo career?
There are many reasons. When I got the job in the orchestra, I was only 21 and I was still studying with Geringas. In my fourth year in the orchestra, things began to be repetitive. I had played all of the main repertoire and I had played under all of the major conductors who are still alive today. I was fully satisfied and started to ask myself “What is next?” I thought that I couldn’t continue in this routine until the age of 65. I got really anxious about this situation and I thought I had to change something in my life. At that time, I was also becoming more and more successful as a soloist. I had signed the contract with Sony and I had won an Echo Klassik Award. All these things gave me inspiration. The first step for me was leaving the orchestra just for one year. I quit my job completely. They told me that they would accept me again after one year break.

How was it working with Bayerischer Rundfunkorchester’s chief conductor Mariss Jansons?
He is a very generous person and I think he can create a fantastic working atmosphere which is very inspiring for the musicians. He really respects the orchestra. He shows his great admiration to every player and that motivates everyone so much. In return everyone wants to give his or her best. This is really fantastic because not every conductor can do this. He rehearses very efficiently and he really brings the orchestra to a perfect technical level in rehearsals. So, everyone knows exactly what to do in every moment of the piece and everyone finally begins to know the piece very well. Sometimes, you have a conductor and you rehearse the piece for the whole week and you don’t know the piece in the end. In the concert, you turn the page but you have no idea about what is coming in the next page. With Jansons, you know every detail and that’s extremely relaxing. At the concert, he just lets the orchestra play. He brings the orchestra to a such perfect technical level so that the orchestra is able to play the piece without conductor. This is his main quality.

Interviewed by: Serhan Bali




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