Widely recognised as one of the best cellists of his generation, DANIEL MÜLLER-SCHOTT has played every great concert hall around the world.
Do you come from a musical family?
Yes, my mother was a piano teacher and played the harpsichord, so there was always music in the house. She introduced my brother and I to music and regularly took us to orchestra rehearsals, so we had the chance to experience all different kinds of instruments and sounds.
Why the cello?
When I was five years old, I sat in on a rehearsal of the Schumann Cello Concerto and was fascinated by the instrument’s sound and how it was played. I decided there and then that I wanted to learn how to play the cello and my mother helped
me to find the right teacher. Holding and embracing the instrument is something very special and many people say that its warm sound is human-like. I feel more and more that the cello’s invention has changed many people’s lives. It certainly changed mine.
Tell us about your teenage years as a young cellist?
I struggled with the cello at first. It took many years of determination to overcome the technical aspects of playing the instrument properly, and develop discipline and patience, before I was able to make a beautiful sound and express myself in the music. So, my teenage years as a cellist were a struggle and very challenging.
Did you always want to be a soloist?
Yes, I always felt that I wanted to express myself in a very free way. Of course, as a cellist, one often depends on other musicians and are keen to share music with others. But whilst I love chamber music very much, the feeling of playing a cello concerto at the very front of an orchestra, and telling an intensely expressive story though the music, is something that always fascinated me deeply.
When was the first time you performed in public and how did you feel?
I was 6 years old. I can’t exactly remember how it felt (being such a long time ago!), but playing on stage always felt like a positive challenge to me and so I was never afraid of performing. Starting young helped me to become accustomed to being on stage and focus purely on the music when performing, rather than the surroundings.
Who were young Daniel’s musical mentors?
My mother and my teachers. I have been very lucky to have the support of many wonderful teachers throughout my career, including Walter Nothas with whom I studied for many years in Munich. Later I studied with Steven Isserlis (who became my “Cello Dad“) and Heinrich Schiff. Anne-Sophie Mutter was also a great mentor, and she recommended me to Mstislaw Rostropovich when I was seventeen.
You were taught by celebrated Russian cellist and conductor Mstislaw Rostropovich for a year. In what ways did this shape your musical career?
Not least, he showed me the traditions of Russian expressiveness and “belcanto” playing and I could always ask him for advice which was incredibly valuable. Also, I played the works of some great composers with whom he was close friends, including Britten, Shostakovich and Prokofjev. Being taught by Mstislaw Rostropovich influenced me in innumerable ways and still impacts my playing today.
What impact did winning first prize at the 1992 Moscow International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians have on your life and playing?
This was a turning point for me, because it was the first time I truly believed that playing the cello could really be my future. So, winning the competition essentially changed my life, and there followed many invitations from orchestras around the world.
It’s said that you have a childhood love for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. How does Bach’s music speak to you differently to that of other composers?
My mother often played Bach at home, on the organ as well as the harpsichord. She also took me to famous oratorios of Bach’s music as a child, so I developed a love for his music early in my playing. When I began to study Bach’s Cello Suites they felt very familiar to me. Some years later, it seemed very natural to play them as a whole and record them on CD. Today, Bach is always at the centre in my work and daily life as a musician. I honestly feel like I am surrounded by Bach all the time.
You have guested with numerous orchestras around the world. How does it feel to be a soloist in the midst of an orchestra of talented performers, and how do you handle the pressure of everyone’s eyes being on you when you play?
Playing with different orchestras is wonderful because over the years you get to know many people around the world, especially when playing with them over and over again. I don’t think much about the pressure – instead I focus on the music and how we can combine our energies by communicating through the language of music. As a soloist, I forget about myself when I’m playing and concentrate on what is most important in the music. This frees me to make the music sound more special.
You are an ardent supporter of the educational project Rhapsody in School, which presents classical music to schoolchildren and teenagers in Europe, the States, Asia and Australia. How did you get involved?
My support of Rhapsody in School started over ten years ago. Lars Vogt was the founder and asked me if I would like to join the project. Since music has unfortunately become a lesser part of a general school education, we, as musicians, strive to show that classical music is an important part of our culture and cultural identity. I visit schools and speak to pupils about music; my life with music; why it is inspiring to play an instrument and how it feels to make music.
You have already won a number of awards and much recognition around the world, including the Diapason d’Or in France. What do these accolades mean to you?
They act as motivators and remind me that I am on the right path. I am also very grateful that so many people in the classical music world have noticed my work.
What responsibilities come with being a prominent cellist of your stature?
I believe that my “mission in music” is to pass on something to future generations, and convey the same to societies in different countries for them to build on.
Aside from classical, what other music genres do you enjoy?
I enjoy many different types of music, including jazz, pop and rock. I recently saw a very good documentary about Michael Jackson, some of whose concerts I attended when I was a teenager. His singing and dancing always really impressed me. I believe that something can be learnt from every different genre of music.
Who is your favourite modern-day classical composer or musician and why?
André Previn, Peter Ruzicka, Sebastian Currier and Sofia Gubaidulina. I also love the works of Polish composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki; French composer Henri Dutilleux; German composer Hans Werner Henze, and American composer of modern classical and avant-garde music, George Crumb. Composer Pierre Boulez’s music is also wonderful. The music of our time is truly colourful.
Which holiday destination holds the fondest memories for you?
Whilst I was fascinated by Australia and New Zealand, I also love visiting the mountains around Munich. There are also many places in Austria and Switzerland that I often visit. I love being close to nature – whether by the sea or in the mountains – since being surrounded by purely calm elements is very refreshing. I get a lot of energy from these places.
You have toured the world performing. Of all the countries you have visited, is there one which you feel especially connected to?
It’s hard to pick one because I enjoy traveling around Europe so much. London is a great city with wonderful museums and an amazing energy. I always love visiting New York. Asia is fascinating. I enjoy being in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Please tell us about your 2017-released album Cello Reimagined and the inspiration behind it?
Cello Reimagined was exciting (especially for me!) because it enlarged the cello repertoire. For, whilst many wonderful pieces have been written for my instrument, a number of composers never wrote for the cello. Mozart adapted his Oboe Concerto for the flute. So, I thought this would be a great opportunity to turn the same piece into a cello concerto, not least because Mozart didn’t write any cello solo pieces. The Mozart piece was actually the basis of Cello Reimagined, which is essentially a mix of transcriptions I produced, plus some of my own cadenzas.
Please reveal to our readers a secret in-flight tip?
My in-flight routine is very un-special – I just sit, relax and enjoy. I sleep and read a lot. Of course, I also enjoy listening to music or watching new movies in-flight. But, most of all, I enjoy the cell phone-free time and often use it to study music scores and reflect.
What’s your favourite hotel in the world and why?
I don’t have a favourite, but I really liked the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, which boasts stunning harbour views from its rooms.
What has been your career highlight to date and what impact did it have on you?
Speaking of career highlights is always difficult because I have had so many wonderful experiences for which I am grateful. I was recently on a wonderful tour with Julia Fischer (German classical violinist), Kirill Petrenko (Russian-Austrian conductor) and the Bayerisches Staatsorchester (Bavarian State Orchestra), which included playing at Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie and Carnegie Hall in New York. Playing in such incredible venues is always special. The first time I performed with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and played Dvořák’s Cello Concerto, with Alan Gilbert, was definitely a career highlight.
What’s top of your travel bucket list?
Whilst I have visited many countries around the world, there are some that I would like to see which are less connected with classical music. These include South Africa, Thailand and India.
What is your ultimate goal as a cellist?
Share my music; move people with music and, basically, invite everyone to enjoy the world of music.