Guy Braunstein

Author: Clemency Burton-Hill

Guy Braunstein is about to embark on a US tour with the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra, with whom he is artist in residence.

You are currently artist-in-residence with the Hamburg Symphony how’s it going? 
Wonderfully well! We worked together a couple of years ago and it was such a pleasure that we wanted to continue, to do something really special. So we kept talking. They decided the residency should offer up different sides of me – the whole package, if you like – so I have done some playing, some conducting, some new music, some old favourites. From Brahms to Berg, we keep adding to the salad!

And you’re about to embark on an American tour together…
It’s very exciting. I’ve played there as a soloist and with my orchestra in the past and I think American audiences are very different from those in Central Europe, which is always a good thing.

How do you find working with Jeffrey Tate?
I absolutely admire Jeffrey; he is a musical authority for me, and we seem to speak the same musical language, which makes life easier. When you collaborate like this and you prepare a score with someone, you don’t always get to take a piece to that next level, but with Jeffrey we see eye-to-eye on so many things musically that we often don’t have to discuss it, we just move in the same direction. It’s a lot of fun and very rewarding to work with him.

Does the Hamburg Symphony differ much from your orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic?
Yes, this is all very different from the culture of playing that I’m used to, but that’s the fun of it! Their sense of timing, phrasing, playing, all of it is very different from my orchestra but they are wonderful and I try to take from them, to learn from them.

This residency has also seen you conducting as well as playing -is that an important new development for you?
It’s a little bit of a new territory for me but it’s extremely exciting. I never had the desire, career-wise, to be a conductor, but I’ve been watching and working closely with the very best of the best. So this is like a baby with lots of parents, in a way: there are different aspects of many things I have learned and experienced and I’m trying to bring them all into the picture.

Do you think you will do much more?
Not really a lot more, no; my main focus is my playing.

As well as this Hamburg residency you have a jam-packed schedule as concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic and as a major international soloist and chamber musician. And you’re also music director of Rolandseck Festival…
So long as I do not compromise on the professional quality, which I refuse to do, I always want to do as much as possible. Rolandseck is very important to me; we are constantly chartering new territory, finding more challenging programming and forging a good middle way between new music and the classic 18th and 19th-century repertoire. It’s a challenge, but I have a wonderful team.

You’ve also been involved with the Arab-Israeli West-Eastern Divan Orchestra for many years – why is this ensemble so important to you?
It has changed my personality as a human being. It is amazing to me, how much you can get from different cultures, different people, and that becomes very obvious in Divan projects. It is an incredible melting pot, the process is different and interesting and I get so much from it. I hope to be involved for a long time to come!

Do you have much time for anything outside of music?
Well unfortunately there are only 365 days a year; I have to figure out a way to sleep less! No, like anyone, I enjoy wide interests and I have a big circle of friends in Berlin from all sorts of cultures and walks of life – it’s like my own little melting pot.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve ever learned?
I think something from the music itself. For example, it doesn’t matter how many times I have played it; I pick up the Beethoven violin concerto and I start almost from scratch – I look at every millimeter, with my mind open, with fresh eyes, and I always find new discoveries. Every single time, they are coming.

Who’s your greatest inspiration?
Artur Rubinstein. For me, more than anybody else, either conductor or instrumentalist, he was able to totally change his skin – like a lizard. He was able to play Mozart as a Viennese, de Falla as a Spaniard, French music in a way you would never guess he wasn’t French; I don’t even need to speak about his interpretation of Chopin. For me that is the most important aspect about being an artist; to try to capture the culture behind the music. He did that better than anyone.

What advice would you give to someone at the beginning of their musical career?
Stay humble! And never be content with where you are – your best concert is in front of you, not behind you.

Hamburg Symphony Orchestra

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