SPECIAL FEATURE – Interview with Cellist Andreas Brantelid

String Visions: Now, when you practice and have to learn a lot of music, time spent away from the instrument is just as important as time spent with the instrument. Do you spend time on mental practice? What are some tips that you would give to people about practicing away from the instrument?

Andreas Brantelid: For me, that’s something I do a lot. I could never be without it. I sit a lot with the music just looking at it, and sometimes when I’m in airplanes or trains, I’m just sitting with a score and maybe not even thinking so much about it, just looking at it graphically… you know, and then some idea pops up and I realize something that I hadn’t thought of before. I also spend a lot of time just seeing and visualising the music inside my mind.

String Visions: When you do that, do you have the music next to you?

Andreas Brantelid: Yes, most of the time, but sometimes I just walk around and think about it. I think it’s a little – for me it’s a little dangerous – that it becomes too much cello playing. Then you start to make decisions about how to play based on what is most comfortable on the cello. I guess that’s what I’m trying to do when I’m not practicing with the cello.

String Visions: To get a vision / concept of the whole piece?

Andreas Brantelid: Yes.

String Visions: Not from the point of a cellist…

Andreas Brantelid: Exactly.

String Visions: …but more from the composer or conductor’s point of view. That is truly great. It goes back to hearing it in our inner ear, our mind, first.

Andreas Brantelid: Yes, exactly.

String Visions: But I think it can often be hard to make younger students understand that practicing without the instrument is just as important, even more important, than practicing with the instrument.

Andreas Brantelid: Yeah.

String Visions: You seem to have a healthy balance of the two.

Andreas Brantelid: I’m really a believer in that, that it’s not a question of how many hours you practice but how you are doing it. For example, Rostropovich, whenever he would pick up his instruments and practice a new piece, he already knew how he wanted to play it or how he wanted to start playing it. He had a very clear idea of what he wanted to achieve with his practice.

String Visions: On another topic, it’s a different time now with the Internet: iTunes, YouTube, and so much music being shown and downloaded online. Do you think there could be a way of looking at classical music from a different perspective? And do you think there are things that maybe are problems in classical music today? Perhaps one of the problems is that the music and playing have to be so perfect, and because of that expectation of sheer perfection the message of the music is sometimes lost?

Andreas Brantelid: Yes, exactly. There’s a lot of tradition in classical music which I think is dangerous for us as classical musicians, that feeling that we have to fit into a certain mold and expected way of playing.

String Visions: Yes, the freedom to be intuitive or to really be creative in the moment can be suppressed because you are always concerned about fitting into the system of how it’s supposed to be played.

Andreas Brantelid: Precisely. When I think of the players that I admire the most – for example the wonderful Finnish violinist, Pekka Kuusisto… I don’t know if you know him – I think he’s wonderful because he sort of just gave up fitting into the system.

String Visions: No, I don’t know him.

Andreas Brantelid: And what he does actually is wonderful for classical music because he presents it in a way to the audience that is totally honest to himself, and he really shows that classical music is not about tradition; it is not about playing perfect or keeping up traditions. You can actually play music that is 200 years old and make it seem necessary to play it right here and now.

String Visions: You’re making a very good point. It’s important for performers not to seem like they’re bringing out some old dusty object from a museum, but rather like you are creating something totally new and fresh.

Andreas Brantelid: Exactly.

String Visions: What are some ways that you think people can be creative in that way. What do you think younger players should try to do.

Andreas Brantelid: I think that when you play in public, it’s important that you do it because you want to do it and that you are not afraid of being creative and giving into the emotions and feelings the music evokes from within you at the moment. It is also important not to worry about being perfect when you are performing. Like in ice skating where you get penalized for falling on the ice, skaters of course should not think about that when skating. They (and us) should dare to be free in the moment.

String Visions: From my perspective I think you absolutely have those qualities when you perform. Your playing is very unique, but it is also stylistically correct and beautiful.

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. I wish you lots of luck with your career as a performer. Thank you.

Andreas Brantelid: You are welcome.

Photo of Cellist Andreas BrantelidAndreas Brantelid is one of Scandinavia’s leading cellists and is quickly establishing an international reputation. He is currently a member of the Lincoln Centre Chamber Music Society in New York performing regular concerts in that city and elsewhere in North America. During the 2010-11 season Andreas made  his debut with the Munich Chamber Orchestra (Germany and Spain), Brussels Philharmonic (Amsterdam Concertgebouw) and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

Learn more about him by visiting Andreas Brantelid’s website.

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