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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. My mother 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 in 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 having been head of the Austrian National Heritage office and all my family living in Vienna, I feel more like being Viennese with a strong link to Upper Austria. Thanks to my father's background I hold an Austrian and a German passport.
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 cellist Heinrich Schiff. It was soon discovered that I had perfect pitch but also suffered from severe hayfever, 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 Fall of the 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, being 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. He 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 soloist's diploma ("Konzertexamen") 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 the house in Meckenheim near Bonn. In 2000, I was invited to take a teaching position at the Musikakademie Kassel which I kept until 2006, after a rather traumatic period around my mother's illness and death in 2004. In 2002, I had moved to Munich and subsequently realized that I am Austrian at heart. 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 with some of the most astonishing musicians around. I am happy to call some of the greatest musicians of my generation not only "partners in crime" but also friends: first and foremost clarinetist Dimitri Ashkenazy, but also pianists Christopher Hinterhuber, Roland Krüger and Stefan Stroissnig, flutist Walter Auer, violinist Lena Neudauer, violist Firmian Lermer and cellist Alexander Hülshoff. Besides working with people like them, I seem to have collected quite a number of elderly legends over the years: musicians like Jörg Demus, Dénes Zsigmondy, Menahem Pressler, Norman Shetler or Eduard Brunner. It is this richness of life experience that I feel makes my life so exciting. In 1990 I got the chance to work with Alfred Schnittke for a week, and this experience initiated my fascination for a direct dialogue with composers. Sofia Gubaidulina, Howard Blake, Graham Whettam, Matthias Pintscher, Jörn Arnecke and many others were to follow, resulting in premieres of five cello concertos so far and countless world or national premieres of solo, duo and chamber music pieces. In recent years, I have reduced the amount of contemporary pieces that I play to those I really adore, being increasingly aware that my whole instrumental education never really enabled me to explore extended techniques or intervals not based on semitones. However, now being the proud owner of the KAIROS label, I have many other opportunities to support the contemporary music world.
Between 2004 and 2008, I published all major etudes with Bärenreiter-Verlag and also recorded them all, 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. They are a huge success and have had rave reviews all over the world, except from one particular colleague who is writing for various Schott magazines and seems to have decided on a personal crucade against my editions. Someone said I was the most recorded cellist of my generation, which might probably be true, even if there are a lot of them ... 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) besides a number of smaller concert series at venues like Brucknerhaus Linz. Since 2010, I have also been recording for Naxos as well as for Capriccio and have been an endorsement artist for Thomastik. I played at a lot of wonderful places, with a a great variety of orchestras, conductors and amazing chamber music partners while accumulating a ridiculous amount of airmiles (why would you want free flights if you just did 83 flights within the past twelve months?).
And then there is the New Zealand decade: In 2009, upon recommendation of Klaus Heymann following Maria Kliegel's advice, I was appointed as cello professor at the University of Auckland, just twelve days before the official registration of the foundation of paladino music (now paladino media). From February 2009 to November 2013, I divided my life between Vienna and Auckland, spending a total of four months per year in New Zealand or rather living in a constant cloud of jetlag and, due to the reverse order of seasons, a lot in winter. In 2013 I felt that time was ready to settle down and quit teaching in Auckland. I spent two years mainly in Vienna, during which paladino was able to acquire the contemporary music label Kairos, and I made my South American debut. In November 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. Partly because I truly missed being in New Zealand and partly because I passionately believe that music education needs to be fundamentally reformed, I accepted the offer and took the challenge - and moved to New Zealand. While there has been a lot of (mostly untrue) white noise about the changes that the University of Auckland's School of Music underwent during my headship, it is great to see that our exciting new degree offerings are highly successful with the students, and the school is set up for a sustainable and successful future. In 2017, I was also appointed Honorary Professor to the China Conservatory of Music, and now, in 2019 and towards the self-chosen end of my time as Head of School at Auckland, I am looking forward to exploring old and new opportunities that life in the Northern hemisphere offers.
Naturally, I have loved and lost just like anyone else and am thankful for sharing happiness, love and music with my wonderfully supporting partner and flautist extraordinaire Eric Lamb. In November 2013, our beagle puppy Herrprofessor came into our life, and besides being a glamorous Instagram star, he adds joy to our every day. Moving him from Vienna to Auckland and back was more difficult than playing six Bach Suites, believe me! Even with upheavals like 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.