Who or what inspired you to take up the cello and pursue a career in music?
I grew up around music and therefore learning an instrument was a natural thing to do. When I fell in love with string sound – first it was the violin, then at the age of 8 the cello – I gradually realized that this was what I wanted to devote my life to. And my passion for music and string playing in particular is growing stronger each day!
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I am very grateful for having had the right people guiding me at different stages in my life – from the early support of my parents to my wonderful teachers and other people mentoring and inspiring me.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Developing as a musician is a constant struggle with one’s own weaknesses and limitations. The process of chiseling away at these to enable your own personal sound and musical ideas to come through is incredibly satisfying to me. Every day there are small battles to be won!
In more practical terms, the three big competitions I took part in (Feuermann, Rostropovich and Fournier) were very challenging as they required lots of physical and mental preparation. After each one, I felt like having climbed a steep mountain, growing a lot in the process.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
While it is difficult to single one out, my latest recording of the complete works for cello by Schumann is a project very close to my heart. Finding the right musical partners to collaborate with for this particular repertoire (Lars Vogt, the Royal Northern Sinfonia and Nicholas Rimmer) was incredibly important for me and this made for a fantastically enjoyable recording session.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
I like to think that I’m most at home in works that require lots of expressive intensity. While this can come in many shapes and sizes, it’s also the kind of repertoire I enjoy playing the most.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I try to have a well balanced choice of repertoire for each season. It should include works from different periods, pieces I know well as well as works which are new to me. I find that a well balanced repertoire helps keep fresh and focused though the season.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
A good hall inspires me through sound, enriching what happens on stage, adding that extra bit of warmth and “glow”. Some of my favorite examples are Wigmore Hall in London, Berlin Philharmonie and the Liszt Academy Hall in Budapest. All of these add something at both ends of the spectrum -depth and brilliance- which makes playing in them so enjoyable.
Who are your favourite musicians?
I don’t really have “favourites” as there are so many wonderful people to listen to and be inspired by. But when listening to recordings I find myself coming back to people like Sergiu Celibidache, Leonard Rose, Jascha Heifetz and The Guarneri String Quartet, to name a few…
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Playing the Dvorak concerto with the wonderful Philharmonia Orchestra. The feeling of their incredibly rich and powerful sound washing over me in the introduction is one I’ll never forget.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
The feeling of being on the right path – instrumentally, in terms of musical ideas and the people I collaborate with. I don’t see success as a state which can be achieved but rather a process of constantly finding out new things about myself which keeps me alive as a musician.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
This is incredibly difficult to answer as every individual needs something different. However these are a few thoughts I find important:
1. Technique and expression/sound are one and the same thing – they can not be separated from each other.
2. There are no shortcuts in music making. Finding ones own voice is a long and difficult process – there is no substitute for honesty in music.
3. Learn to calibrate your inner compass to guide you. Approval or rejection by others can inspire you to learn but should never determine the direction you’re moving.
What is your most treasured possession?
My bow. Finding the right bow was a long process, trying dozens of bows over many years. The right hand defines the musical line and is the “soul” of a string player. Therefore to me the bow is the most important tool for expressing myself, even slightly ahead of the cello itself.
Gabriel Schwabe’s third Naxos recording is available now. It features works by Robert Schumann, including his beloved Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op 129, with the Royal Northern Sinfonia, led by Lars Vogt
(photo: Giorgia Bertazzi)