With String Visions and Ovation Press co-founder Hans Jensen preparing to return to Europe over the summer, I’m very excited to release to you a special featured interview that Hans conducted last year with the brilliant young Danish cellist Andreas Brantelid. Hans was teaching at the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen for one week in August of 2011 and had the good fortune to be able to visit with and interview Mr. Brantelid.
String Visions (Hans Jensen): I am delighted to be able to visit with and interview you here at The Royal Danish Academy of Music. First of all congratulations with all the success you have already had, including the half-million Danish Crown Culture Prize awarded to you by the Danish Crown Prince a couple years ago. That is a remarkable accomplishment, and I’m sure you were delighted to receive such a distinguished honor.
I would like to discuss a number of topics and issues related to cello playing, our profession and – if possible – some of your visions, dreams and hopes for the future for classical music in general.
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String Visions: But first, I’d like to know a little bit about your background as a cellist and your early upbringing. I understand that you grew up in a musical family and that you first studied with your father, Ingemar Brantelid, a cellist in the Danish Royal Opera orchestra. Tell us a little bit about your early studies.
Andreas Brantelid: Yes, absolutely. I grew up in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. For those of you who hear this, you will probably hear that I’m speaking with the same accent as Hans.
String Visions: [Chuckles] Yes, except mine is heavier.
Andreas Brantelid: [Chuckles] Yeah. We both have a heavy Danish accent. My father, Ingemar, is also a cellist who plays as principal cellist in the Royal Danish Opera Orchestra, and so of course I was very fascinated by the instrument and by the music right from the start. So, when I was 3 years old, I think, I started to beg my father for a cello of my own. In the beginning he didn’t think that was a good idea. He wanted me to play the violin, piano or maybe football or something instead [chuckles], because he, well, there are too many cellists in the world. Anyway, I didn’t give up, so finally I got my first cello, and that was the size of a viola actually.
String Visions: Do you remember any thing from when you first started playing the cello?
Andreas Brantelid: Yes my father would practice one hour every day with me and we kept that up for 10 years.
String Visions: Wow. That’s fantastic. Did you also practice some on your own or did you only do it together?
Andreas Brantelid: Yeah, sometimes I practiced on my own, but maybe not the first few years. But I played a lot for fun also. But one thing that I now, later, think is very important when I look back is that I got this one hour of concentrated practice every day, where I learned it the right way, right from the beginning. I think that it was a very good thing that there was a lot of playing around and a lot of, you know, just having fun, but also every day a little serious practice. I learned how to hold the cello and the bow properly, it was not only a game, and maybe most importantly, I learned how to play in tune. My father helped me develop a great sensitivity for intonation.
String Visions: Yes to develop a great ear is one of the most important aspects of being a musician.
Andreas Brantelid: Yes I actually believe that anything to do with music and cello playing is about what you hear.
String Visions: Absolutely.
Andreas Brantelid: It’s all in the ear, and when I now try to develop something new in my playing, I always realize that it’s all in the ears. I can never learn anything unless I first have it in my ear.
String Visions: Yes in your inner ear… in your mind.
Andreas Brantelid: Exactly, in my mind.
String Visions: And then, when we perform, we use our ears to make sure that the sounds we create are very close to what we visualize.
Andreas Brantelid: Yes, and that could be numerous things, including timing, intonation, etc.
String Visions: What about your studies as you grew older?
Andreas Brantelid: Well, the interesting thing is that I always had other teachers in addition to my father.
String Visions: Oh really?
Andreas Brantelid: That was also a good thing. So I could… if it didn’t work with him… if we were not friends…
String Visions: If you disagreed?
Andreas Brantelid: Exactly. If we disagreed, I could always say to him [my father]: “Oh, my real teacher says something else.” I first began my studies with the Suzuki method here in Copenhagen, and then I went to study with Henrik Brendstrup, a terrific Danish cellist. When I was about 11 years old I went to Mats Rondin, who was a professor in Malmo in Sweden. He was really wonderful and exceptionally good at teaching younger students. He has a very concrete way of teaching. It’s not so philosophical and it’s very straightforward.
String Visions: Right to the point.
Andreas Brantelid: Yes, right to the point, and he has a great way of relating to children. One great thing I will always remember is that he made me play a lot of Popper etudes, and [chuckles] it was probably good for me then… along with a lot of scales… and yet, I have never touched the Popper etudes since that time.
String Visions: Did you learn all of them?
Andreas Brantelid: No, no. But, that was also because when I practiced with my father he insisted that I play them well.
String Visions: Yes, perfect. I agree with that. There are a number of different ways to study and learn etudes, but in the end they have to be mastered in great detail. Otherwise, it doesn’t mean or help anything.
Andreas Brantelid: Yes, exactly. I think it’s actually the opposite. It would be bad for you to learn them incorrectly, to play them out of tune for example.