Leonard Elschenbroich, cellist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

Two key moments I remember:

Hearing the first C major scale of the 3rd Bach Suite and feeling tears in my eyes. Not crying but ‘tearing’. I asked my mother if there was something wrong with me. She brought me to cello lessons. I was 5.

Aged 10, I watched the orchestra of the Yehudi Menuhin School at a concert in London. I had never seen a group of young musicians before. I had thought music was old people’s stuff. I thought ‘I want to be one of those guys’. 6 months later I arrived at the school campus.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

The strongest influence on my playing and musicianship was probably Gavriel Lipkind. What I learned from him between the age of thirteen and seventeen, I am still unpacking today. Then later: Christoph Eschenbach (‘Man darf alles’), Anne-Sophie Mutter (she introduced me to the greatest conductors on a very personal and intimate level), Valery Gergiev, Alexei Grynyuk.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Unlearning a lot of negative thoughts that young people are indoctrinated with. Relearning that music is not a contest, not a market place, not a sport, not a challenge. Not displacing and competing. But growing and inviting and sharing. Being like the artists I love, not trying to meet expectations.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

The Adagio from Cinderella? That’s the only recording of mine that I don’t hate. Far from proud… My next project is to record AAA. Straight to vinyl, no digital step, no edit. It’s still early days though… 

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

The fewer the notes, the better I play. That’s what I learned.  Not sure what that says about me. But on a certain level, I feel that my preoccupation with overtones, and a vertical upward and downward connection to the sound  – to some kind of ether and to some kind of abyss – takes time. And so the more notes I have, the less high and less deep I can go…

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

My repertoire has fluctuated a lot over the past years. Less in terms of composers than instrumentation. Constantly re-evaluating my preferences. For instance: In 2013 I played 45 trio concerts and maybe another 20 concerts of recital/concerto, in 2017 I played 40 solo concertos and maybe 20 recitals and almost no trio concerts, this year I conduct around 20 concerts for the first time in my life. I love how the seasons vary like that and it’s great to follow my instincts on what I’m drawn to. And there is a good amount of circumstance that leads the way and I adjust…

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I love Sala São Paulo, Musikverein, Wigmore Hall, Royal Albert Hall, Teatro Colon. It has a lot to do with memories, of course, but these places all have gorgeous Old World sound and so much atmosphere.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Beethoven, Messiaen…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I think it’s my first. It was my grandfather’s funeral. I was 9 and played Bach next to his coffin. It was the first time I felt that in front of an audience, music becomes relational. That it elevates. He had studied with Furtwängler and Hindemith and Edwin Fischer but I never played for him until he died. I see the chapel when I shut my eyes..

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I so admire musicians who are in a position to chose what and when and with whom they play, regardless of prestige. That takes real power and is real success. Only a dream…

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Always ask yourself WHY you chose to make music. Don’t let other people determine the purpose. Don’t compete. The pursuit of perfection is an act of aggression. Be the artist you personally really want to hear. Don’t feel bad about to getting nervous. It’s a good sign! Work on it. It takes work to make it serve you but it can…

Leonard Elschenbroich’s new recording of Beethoven’s Sonatas for Cello and Piano, with pianist Alexei Grynyuk, is available now on the Onyx label.


Born in 1985 in Frankfurt, Leonard Elschenbroich received a scholarship, aged ten, to study at the Yehudi Menuhin School in London. He later studied with Frans Helmerson at the Cologne Music Academy.

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Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

With children, playing and conducting. 

 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Listening to an orchestra make the sound I had in my head. And playing with someone and traveling into my mind through the sound we make together. 

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