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15 Questions to Christoph Denoth

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What’s on your schedule right now?
At the moment I am preparing for my new solo CD recording in April in Hannover. Also I have to play various solo recitals which are held all over the world, a lot of them in Germany and my home country Switzerland.

What is your earliest musical memory?

My earliest memory of music is when I heard the music of the Basler Fastnacht (mainly pipes and drums). I used to lie in bed as a young boy hearing the piccolo and all other instruments who were practicing for the Fastnacht in central Basel. I used to imitate the sound of the piccolo and what they were playing on my home recorder just all in secret.

Was there a deciding moment, which made you want to become an artist?
Yes, there where several of those moments. The first one was when I started playing the Flute, I was about four years old, and the second one when I got my first Guitar. I was maybe five years old. Later when I was in school and played my first concerts I was sure that playing Guitar would be my lifelong career and love.

How satisfied are you with life as an artist?
I am extremely grateful to be a musician and to share my music with so many people and friends and the audience. It is always magical when you are in a concert to share the same feelings and music all together. Also, I am very grateful to be the first Guitarist and Swiss Musician-in-Residence at Oxford University for the past couple of years. We have a lot of interaction here between different disciplines, and the environment is very much a natural platform on every possible artistic and scientific level. I really enjoy exchanging ideas and thoughts all across the genre and on different subjects with students and professors.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?

A good live performance is indeed to know the music completely. It should be a part of the body, the soul and the mind. This means that the artists needs to experience or understand how the composer felt when coming up with the piece and all the little details and correlations which make a piece unique and complete.
Also, the performance itself has to transport the music. The aesthetic aspect of interpretation and execution is one very important aspect which needs an accomplished technique of course.

How do you balance your personal emotions and the intentions of the composer in your interpretations?
Indeed, I always try to feel how the sound itself affects me from the perspective of the written composition and how the intervals and harmonies intertwine with what feels natural together. I always try not to project something onto the piece which isn’t there or let my emotions take over.

In which way, would you say, is your cultural background reflected in your performances?

I am very happy to have had many good teachers in my life who showed me the right way to assimilate the right kind of approach towards any type of culture, based on their wide experience. My interest to understand for example the historical background of the composers is very important for a good performance in my opinion. It is indeed very helpful for me and highly interesting to see what kind of literature and knowledge there was in a certain epoch and how the people thought about religion or philosophy, how and where they lived etc.
I think the spirit of music has always remained the same even over hundreds of years. But the facade or the clothes the music is wearing is in a constant change. The style and the instruments to express a composition have evolved. We can enjoy profoundly for example Bach’s music which is over 300 years old, but at the same time also a Mozart Piano Sonata which is a bit younger and represents a completely different period. The style of composition and the Zeitgeist are remarkable different, but the music is always in the centre and can be equally enticing.

How would you describe and rate the scene for classical music of the country you are currently living in?
At the moment I live in Oxford Great Britain which is only about 1 hour away from London. My impression is that London seems to be the most important centre for classical music in the UK. The variety and the high international standard I think is second to none in my opinion.As a Swiss citizen I have to also mention that Switzerland has a wonderful classical music scene on superior international standard. It is such a little country (only 6 million people live in Switzerland) and every city has at least one, two or more major symphony orchestras as well as opera houses and excellent music academies. There are also fantastic festivals taking place all across the country.

Do you consider it important that more young people care for classical music? If so, how, do you think, could this be achieved?

I think classical music is important for everyone. I think for young people it is vital to learn about classical music and it should be a major part of their education. It is part of our history and our cultural heritage.
There is also a medical importance in classical music, it is proven to improve your health and mainly your heart and the general circulation. It also is a bonding experience to listen to music together and music is truly without borders. It doesn’t matter what skin colour, language or geographical background you have everyone understands music. Music is a direct form of communication - from heart to heart. I think children should be trained in classical music. It is a very important part of our human future!!

How would you rate the importance of the Internet and new media for you personally?

Personally I appreciate the enormous possibilities of the Internet (otherwise it would not be possible to conduct this interview would be able to take place so easily). But I think the best experience one can make, is the LIVE and REAL experience itself. I use the Internet for emails and for research as well as sending photos and music. But I am very happy as soon as I can jump off it and I try to limit it to a certain degree. Even as technology advances and we get more gadgets, it will never replace human contact or replace the experience of live music. Also, a real phenomenon such as a thunderstorm or a birth can never be reconstructed by a virtual machine.

What’s your view on the relationship between musical education and music?

Musical education should include the social structure to make it possible to play music together as well. Music is an experience and all you can do is give the right ground and conditions for it but the music still has to be made by the musician. So the education should be the fertile ground to give people the opportunity to celebrate making music in their own ways.

You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season?

For certain, I would plan an evening or a series with proper Guitar recitals and Guitar Concertos. This is an ongoing struggle in the big halls to place classical guitar and obviously that is one of my life long missions to change this. Then I would plan some evenings with Schubert Lieder as I do love these. Also Liszts’ piano works and Bruckner Symphonies. You can never miss out some Mozart and the Haydn string quartets. (Next season would be different, of course)

How would you describe the relationship with your instrument?

Often I practice and play a piece in my head, just mentally, without actually touching the Guitar. Later, I will get back to my real Guitar to physically play what I mentally practiced. I know from other musicians like for example Arthur Rubinstein and my old teacher Sergiu Celibidache that they practiced also often with the same method which is very efficient. I still love the sound of the Guitar and I think my love is still growing more and more by the years.

Have you ever tried playing a different instrument? If yes, how good were you at it?
For my degrees, I had also to play the Piano. I was not a really good Piano player I have to say, although I love Piano music so much. I was also trained as a Conductor. This, apart from playing the Guitar, is my second big love. I just love to conduct and work with orchestras. I think, I should conduct again soon. The experience of music in general is absolutely great and magic.


Nocturnos de Andalucía/ Lorenzo Palomo (Live recording from the
Berlin Philharmony) 2001
Mr. Dowland's Midnight (Universal/Philips) 2002
An den Mond (Universal/Philips) 2004

Christoph Denoth

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