His own school of music

For German cellist Johannes Moser, music is all about individuality.

johannes moser 88 224 (photo credit: )
johannes moser 88 224
(photo credit: )
'I started playing the cello because I needed a reason to stop playing the violin," says 28-year-old German cellist Johannes Moser. The choice of instrument proved right for the young musician, who came to international attention in June 2002 when he won the 12th Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. He has since performed with the best orchestras in the world, under conductors like Riccardo Muti and Valery Gergiev. Moser's 2005 US debut at the Chicago Symphony was met with a standing ovation and was described in the Chicago Tribune as "heroic." Now Moser is poised to make his Israeli debut at the 10th International Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival, which runs from August 31 through September 12. The intimate YMCA hall will feature Moser and 13 other concerts of top international and Israeli musicians performing the best of chamber repertoire. "[When I first began playing] I totally lacked talent for the violin," explains Moser, speaking over the phone from his Berlin home. "Glass was breaking and cats were going insane. After playing for two years from the age of five, I said 'enough' and took up cello at eight. My father is a cellist, too." Fortunately for Moser, he landed a spot under the tutelage of prominent cellist David Geringas. When asked the most influential piece of advice he received from his mentor, Moser is stumped. "This is not a simple question to answer," he says. "It's like looking at your parents and asking yourself what's been the most helpful bit of knowledge that they've passed on. But I remember Geringas saying at our first lesson: 'Johannes, your most important teacher is going to be yourself.' I carry it with me. I never rely too much on other people but rather try to solve as much as possible by myself. It is a good lesson, not only in music, but also in life." Lithuanian born Geringas belongs to the Russian musical school, but as far as Moser is concerned, "schools of music" have little meaning. "Geringas was a student of Rostropovich, so you cannot be more Russian than that, but I have no clue what schools are about. I have a hard enough time coping with the four strings of my cello to think about schools. I believe that schools are not important anymore - every artist creates his own school. The time of 'schools' is over, now it's more about individuality." Moser is also not one of those musicians who has developed an unhealthy relationship with his instrument, but he does remain in awe of its power. "I have to confess that I don't look at my cello at night and I do not have personal feelings for the piece of wood. But I do have a very strong relationship to it as an instrument, to communicate and to express things that words cannot. Does it have a human-like voice? Yes, but I would go one step further. It's not just human voice, but human emotions. The cello is not only able to sing nicely like oboe, but it can also be scratchy, like at the end of Elgar's concerto where there are many emotional, yet not so pretty, sounds. The cello does not only sing, it also screams and cries." The instrument's versatility gives Moser all the more flexibility when interpreting pieces, such as the cello sonatas of Dmitry Shostakovich, Moisei Weinberg or Boris Tchaikovsky. By researching the atmosphere of the era in which each piece was recorded, Moser attempts to more fully express the music, with all of its history, to the listener. "Everybody says the cello repertoire is limited. But this is simply not true. There is so much fantastic music. It only needs an advocate." Moser prides himself on performing not only the favorites, like Dvorak, but also "lesser known pieces, like the Hindemith concerto, and other neglected pieces. There is a great concerto by Schoenberg, for example. There are a lot of things to discover." Nowadays, Moser performs more than 70 concerts a year. "It's not too much and leaves time to expand my repertoire and spend more time with my girlfriend, my friends and my family and doing sports. I see no reason to spend all my days in airports. I have a great life outside my profession." In Jerusalem, Johannes Moser will participate in performing nine various pieces: "I agreed to play in so many programs because I wanted to stay in Israel the entire Festival period, I want to meet all these wonderful artists who come for a limited period of time. And yes, I'd love to travel and see Israel." Moser's debut with the Israel Philharmonic is scheduled for 2009. For a detailed Festival program, visit www.jcmf.org.il. For reservations, call (02) 625-0444.