Report on the discovery workshop with Daniel Müller-Schott

1 May 2023

The Vevey Spring Classic Festival is committed to the idea of transmission. The principle behind its concert program is to bring together tomorrow’s best musicians with their mentors. These young musicians, whose talent has been recognized and rewarded in prestigious competitions, are destined to form the next generation of worldclass artists, playing chamber music to the highest artistic standards, with all the richness of exchange that an educational link brings. Imagining such a festival formula goes hand in hand with being anchored in the region hosting the festival. Nothing could be more natural than to create a fruitful link with the musical institutions of the Vaud Riviera, with its flourishing artistic activity and history! Wilson Hermanto approached François Grin, Director of the Conservatoire de Musique Montreux-Vevey-Riviera, with a view to organizing workshops alongside the concerts on the Vevey Spring Classic agenda. On Sunday April 30th, 2023, Madame de Warrens’ house, located just a few hundred meters from the Salle del Castillo and Théâtre Le Reflet, hosted a workshop by cellist Daniel Müller-Schott. In the small hall usually dedicated to local conservatory auditions, several students from the cello classes were able to benefit from the advice of the German musician and co-artistic director of the Vevey Spring Classic. In the presence of his cello teachers and François Grin, himself a famous cellist and former member of the Terpsycordes Quartet, as well as friends and parents of the young students, Daniel Müller-Schott listens, welcomes, values and explains the fundamentals of the interpretation and technique of his instrument to children and teenagers inspired by the art of music. These are not necessarily young people destined for a professional career. Imagining the content and spirit of a workshop is often accompanied by a preconceived notion of severity and solemnity. Not so with Daniel Müller-Schott. The master listens attentively to the executions of the pieces the students have prepared. He lets them play their piece in its entirety, then works on the pedagogical link with simplicity. After an encouraging overall assessment, the international musician begins the discussion with an open question : “How does the work affect you, how do you feel ?” Openness to others is at the heart of this approach. The seemingly vague question nonetheless captures the essence of what music is, its vocation, and has the distinct advantage of getting to the heart of the matter beyond mere technical considerations.

Louis, aged around eleven or twelve, ponders how he should respond after playing Tchaikovsky’s Douce Rêverie. The discussion slowly takes shape, and little by little the musical elements emerge. In the end, the young boy appropriates Daniel Müller-Schott’s conceptions, who insists on not playing too directly, but finding the spirit of the piece in order to capture the fluidity of the dream, its immanent sweetness. The cello line is a singing line. Encouraged by Louis’ teacher, young Louis is invited to hum along to the music. A little embarrassed, the child hesitates. Not to worry, Daniel Müller-Schott bounces back tactfully, sings the instrument’s song with a relaxed sense of humor and explains the elements inherent in agogics, dynamics and phrasing, then grabs the student’s cello to emphasize the spirit of the work. The art of relaxation is a conscious art; the notion of suppleness and fluidity must be integrated. And the child grasps the substance of what is being transmitted. When he takes up the instrument again, achieves noticeable improvements, progresses and gradually acquires the substratum of the onirism that must be read between the lines of Tchaikovsky’s composition. “OK, Wunderbar!” punctuates the virtuoso. A sort of quiet strength emanates from the experienced musician, who finds the complicity required to ensure that the pedagogical relationship is underpinned by mutual trust. A few exchanges on bowing round off the time allotted to Louis, who sits back to listen to the other pupils after exchanging a grateful smile with Daniel Müller-Schott.

Hortense, a little older than Louis, then played the Meditation from Thaïs with beautifully sustained lines. Once again, Daniel Müller-Schott’s question is “Do you like the piece?” to which it is impossible to answer anything other than yes, given that these pages by Jules Massenet are among the most beautiful in cello literature. “The middle section might reveal something of questioning, doubt, inner tension…” comments the master. Then he stresses the need to take physiological aspects into account, citing Mstislav Rostropovitch’s indications, from which he himself benefited in his early years, when his career was in the making. “The way to hold the bow should be as close as nature can show us”, explained the late Slava, who dared to use unexpected comparisons to describe how the wrist should be positioned to hold the bow properly and effectively. Daniel Müller-Schott advises Hortense to look in the mirror and examine the posture of the hand that holds the bow and, in fact, allocates the required weight and strength to it. Flexibility of movement is at the heart of playing the instrument. Of course, it is very difficult to change a posture in ten minutes or so, but playing at home with the strings open, in front of a mirror, finding a position that becomes natural and spontaneous, is an approach that provides the key to instrumental practice.

Now it is Elissa’s turn, a more seasoned and slightly older student. The gymnasium student in a special class at Lausanne’s Gymnase Auguste-Piccard has no intention of making a career out of cello, and neither does Arthur, who will succeed her in this afternoon’s workshop. With obvious experience, the young woman tackles a portion of the first movement of Lalo’s Concerto with generosity and commitment. “Very good”, says Daniel Müller-Schott positively. Looking beyond the fullness of sound and Elissa’s already confident attacks, the cellist comments on the various styles and esthetic trends present in the work, and anticipates the existence of an orchestra reduced for the exercise which consists in accompanying the pianist. 2023 also happens to be the year of the bicentenary of Edouard Lalo’s birth, whose birthday coincides with Mozart’s – January 27, incidentally – to lend credence to the artistic value of the composition chosen for the exercise. He explains how to push the energy with crescendos that are in tune with the orchestra, and works on the contrasts to be brought in, how to dare crescendos, or even rarer sonorities, how to develop the line and bring it to its conclusion in a soft, lyrical song that begs to blossom. Further on, he explains how to connect energetic worlds with suspended moments, while keeping the line… So many questions raised so that the young performer’s progress can be articulated.

At the end of the ninety-minute workshop, Elissa confides that she feels very grateful for the input she has received. Is she intimidated by the master’s artistic scope? Not particularly, even if she is fully aware of the extent of his talent and notoriety. “We met him last autumn. He’s very approachable, close to people. I quickly felt at ease. He’s respectful and patient. I like his general advice, which isn’t just specific or technical”. The afternoon of exchanges ended with a few questions from the plenary session. “How do you learn a difficult passage?” asks one of the participants. “Work on it, play it at a slow tempo, channel your concentration into a slow mode, be aware of what you’re doing, then continuously increase the speed,” answers Daniel Müller-Schott. “For my part, I do extreme readings, very slow and very fast. That way, you can be freer and play away from the difficulties you’ve overcome”, he adds. Then it is the turn of one of the Conservatoire’s cello teachers to ask a question about vibrato work. “Work on it in rhythm, at different tempi, so as not to reduce it to a simple tremor,” explains the cellist.

To conclude, Daniel Müller-Schott places the relationship with the instrument at a very high sensitive level: “You have to feel the connection with the instrument, a connection that is not a one-way street. The day the instrument becomes part of you, part of your life, you experience something wonderful that you have to welcome and cultivate”. A beautiful message!

Bernard Halter
April 30th, 2023