Saturday, July 3, 2010

Austrian 'cellist Erich Oskar Huetter directs fifth "Sounding Jerusalem" Festival

On June 25th 2010 I met with ‘cellist Erich Oskar Huetter, here to direct the 5th “Sounding Jerusalem” Festival. Born in Austria in 1973, E.O.Huetter studied with Hildgund Posch at the University of Music in Graz, with Reinhard Latzgo at the City of Basel Music Academy, also with Antonio Lysy (Montreal.) Further studies were taken with Janos Starker (Indiana University, USA), Ralph Kirschbaum at the Royal Northern College of Music (UK) and with Mischa Maisky at the Accademia Chigiana, Siena (Italy). E.O.Huetter performs widely, conducts master classes at various universities and at the Stift Admont International Summer Academy (Austria). A member of the Arcus Ensemble (Vienna) and the Hyperion Ensemble (Salzburg), Huetter plays recitals with Austrian pianist Paul Gulda and is the founder and director of the “Styrian Chamber Music Festival” and the “Sounding Jerusalem” Festival. “Sounding Jerusalem” is a chamber music festival providing an intercultural platform for musicians from Israel, Palestine and Europe.

PH: Erich Oskar Huetter, what were your earliest musical experiences?

EOH: I grew up in a musical family. My mother is a musician – she taught recorder and guitar - and music was always part of our family life. I began playing the recorder at age four. I attended concerts from a young age and, at a string orchestra concert, my mother, keen for me to play a stringed instrument, asked me which instrument I would like to play. I chose the ‘cello and started lessons at age five. Generally speaking, in Austria there is a strong musical tradition, with children attending music schools. I come from Graz, a small city, where music is very much a part of the cultural life. There was, however, a time in my youth when playing music did not seem “cool” to me and I set my sights at becoming a car racer; at that time I earned my living from playing music in order to realize my dream of becoming a car racer! However, at age 15 or 16, I remember the very moment (I was performing a Respighi work at a concert) when I realized that music was what I really wanted and needed to be doing; it was a powerful and decisive moment, one of feeling totally “alive”. I had been studying at a music high school, but stopped attending as my musical activities were becoming too time consuming.

PH: After higher studies, in which you studied under several great ‘cellists, what was your next move?

EOH: I returned to Austria, living in Vienna for a short while. My parents took upon themselves to support me during my studies and for some time after them, allowing me the freedom and luxury to establish myself as a performing musician, to start a festival in Austria and to play with other musicians; this gave me time and space to develop my career.

PH: So how do you work now?

EOH: I do much performing, playing 60 to 80 concerts a year, many recitals with pianist Paul Gulda and some ‘cello-guitar recitals - I love the possibilities of the sensitive, hair-thin delicate sounds of the guitar. With my very compatible colleagues of the Hyperion String Sextet we perform all over the world. Yes – I play in duos and various chamber music groups, but performing as a soloist with orchestra is not my milieu. And then, of course, there are the festivals in which I am involved. Traveling as frequently as I do, I feel I can not take on teaching at this stage of my career. The music student and learning process interest me and I see myself staying more permanently in one or two places at a later stage of the future and teaching. At this time in my life, I am totally independent, am not employed in any institution. This has its great advantages, but means a very long work day. Now that I have a family, I will need to rethink my daily schedule in order to have time set aside for family and not just for work.

PH: Do you have time for other interests?

EOH: I am a very curious person and interested in almost everything. I run around with open eyes. Performing feeds my soul – I could not leave that to just organize festivals. The little free time I have at the moment is for family. However, I do want to have more peaceful time for myself, time to think many things through deeply, to make decisions. This is best done in idyllic locations such as the Austrian Alps. Till now, I have had the need to do as much as possible but that need is changing.

PH: You put much energy into running festivals. “Sounding Jerusalem” is certainly a very unique project.

EOH: I love these projects. It seems I have the knack of bringing people together. In “Sounding Jerusalem” I need to bring artists together as well as organizers. Not just seen through the eyes of the performer or the manager who makes all the decisions, one sees the many aspects and levels of producing a concert. I am very interested in the whole picture - why and where one is organizing a specific concert, the logistics of it and the social background of all involved, thinking things out, often rethinking them, guiding players, programming. This demands much more than just being a musician. And there are many traps to avoid – the Middle East is full of traps. Running “Sounding Jerusalem”, I am getting to know many of the dimensions of this region – political, cultural, religious and social. All of these aspects are concentrated here in this small place. “Sounding Jerusalem” concerts take place in various and very different places, from a concert in a Palestinian village one day to one in Ein Karem (Jerusalem) the next. The diversity here is incredible and we need to be sensitive to all the people with whom we come into contact, to respect their thoughts and feelings. This awareness is indeed a learning process. We want to do something for the people, but this, after all, is the mission of all performing artists.

PH: Having spent two and a half years teaching for the Barenboim-Said Foundation in Ramallah and then founding and directing the “Sounding Jerusalem” Festival has certainly given you insight into life in this region.

EOH: It has been a process, from starting out in Ramallah in 2003 at the time of the second “intifada” (uprising), to then getting to know the Israeli point of view, leading on to a stage of asking myself so many questions about the situation…and also even trying to answer them! I am very clear on my own principles of right and wrong, but now no longer plague myself with all the questions I once did and, anyway, the situation in this region is so complex that I feel incapable of coming up with any kind of clear idea or solution! However, I think it is fair to say that I have spent enough time here to understand the situation on a deeper level than that of a tourist. Well, of course, I return to Austria to the peace and quiet of my life in an Austrian village. Creating a festival “without borders” means taking no one side and it has no political allegiance; our mission is to provide concerts for many people. We do, of course, question inhuman behaviour and its blind acceptance by some people and would like to see a new reality. I think all artists should have respect for humans living together.

PH: “Sounding Jerusalem” brings chamber music concerts to village people who have never been exposed to western music.

EOH: Yes. We are about to perform concerts in villages near Hebron and Nablus and we do not really know how it will work; the people there do not know us and we do not know them. But the atmosphere will be a “concert atmosphere” and we are very professional about what we do. The artists have plenty to say through music….in the same way as they do at a concert they might play in the Kennedy Center! The audience picks this up and respects the artists for their sincerity and musical capability. Over the years our programs have begun including oriental music: not exclusively Arabic music but also oriental Jewish music, Armenian music, etc…a mix of styles. So we offer these village audiences music with some elements familiar to them as well as works that will be new for them. The concerts are a challenge to both performers and audience. It is simplistic to think that chamber music should be performed only in acoustically fine concert halls to people who understand the medium and, consequently, feel the need to pass judgement. Some of my most powerful performing experiences have been when playing for people who have never before attended classical music concerts.

PH: How did you make your own personal connection with oriental music?

EOH: I must say that I myself am not an oriental musician at all, but, having spent so much time in this region, I have got to know people who are. In “Sounding Jerusalem”, we have concerts we call “Melange Oriental” (Oriental Mix) where players of different backgrounds form an ensemble to explore oriental music. Jazz musicians find the transition to improvisation in oriental styles easier than classical players do. Each player adds his own ideas. Although we have some oriental players in the group, you could say that European chamber music players will not create an interpretation typical of that of an authentic oriental orchestra; but we are open-minded and curious and we try our best to adjust and adapt to the style. With excellent, curious and enterprising musicians taking part in this experiment, one can have great success. After all, being a fine musician means being sensitive, open and flexible.

PH: “Sounding Jerusalem” is a totally different kind of chamber music festival. How do you choose your players?

EOH: Actually, for artists who play concerts in conventional venues and concerts in Europe and all over the world, this festival is refreshingly different and fascinating. However, I need to take care to choose artists who are easygoing personalities: we face daily inconveniences and delays. So I look for high quality players who are realistic and “grounded”. The problem is not in finding suitable artists, but in financing the festival. Each country supports its own artists, so I am limited in my artistic freedom. We are guests of the Austrian Hospice in the Old City but are much supported by the Representative Office of the Federal Republic of Germany (Ramallah). Most of the festival’s financing comes from Germany.

PH: Erich Oskar Huetter, many thanks for your time and for sharing so many interesting thoughts and ideas.