The Mahler Chamber Orchestra was founded in 1997 by Claudio Abbado and you have been a member of the orchestra since then. How do you feel to be a member of such a great orchestra?
Well, nowadays it’s very different from when we started. In 1997 it was very much an adventure, because we were all in our twenties or mid-twenties and it felt more like an experiment. We simply wanted to carry on playing together in the years to follow.
We didn’t really have a plan for the next twenty years, but we thought we would carry on making music together as we did in the Gustav Mahler youth-orchestra. It is with this idea that we went to Claudio, and he was immediately on our side. Now it feels very different of course. After twenty years the orchestra is very well-known and estalished. I have been here since the beginning and it is a privilege to be a part of the MCO. The Lucerne Festival is the highlight of our season, we come here during the summer, it is very special to be part of the festival orchestra and of course we also have also our own MCO concerts. It is always a milestone of our season!
Does the spirit or «identity» of Claudio Abbado remain?
Absolutely, very much! I think Claudio Abbado’s legacy is always present and we speak about it often amongst MCO musicians, how to preserve it and what it means to hand it over to new members. Since Claudio died we have new members, they are younger and they didn’t get to play with him. It sometimes sounds like an old cliché that we played with Claudio. But beyond that we really want to keep Claudio’s ideas alive. We don’t have a big philosophy about it, it just accompanies us every day when we are working, there are some details we can remember, and how Claudio would have spoken about it. Mainly I would say part of the outstanding legacy of Claudio is «listening to each other» – listen more than playing or listen more before you start to play. It is the most important and you have to be very aware of what is already there: the silence is already music and how to join this. In one way it is very simple, but when you try to practise every day, in every rehearsal or concert, it is not so easy. And this is something we would like or try to communicate to the new musicians joining us. I think it speaks to everyone!
Since the revival of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in 2003 with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, you perform during the summer with both orchestras. Is it a different feeling to play a concert as a member of the MCO or the Lucerne Festival Orchestra?
Yes, it is of course much different: the Lucerne Festival Orchestra is a much larger orchestra and also the repertoire is very different. For us it is very exciting to touch the repertoire we don’t normally play with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and it is on such a high level, it’s fantastic. We love this!
Another peculiar aspect is how the MCO musicians feel connected to each other within the Lucerne Festival, sometimes we sit very close to colleagues and sometimes further away, but it’s very nice to have this connection, seeing all the faces you know from all year round. It’s like a little chainlink within the orchestra – this is special ! It makes you feel a little bit more «grounded» within the orchestra too. Many of the musicians who are not members of the MCO at the Festival don’t play together during the year. And perhaps it helps a little bit, that we play a lot the whole year and we can bring that «base» into the orchestra. We know each other very well and know what we can expect from each other. It is great to come together year after year.
How do you feel when you return to the Lucerne Festival?
It does feel a little bit like home, because since 2003 I have played here every summer. I come with my family and also our parents join us during the festival, so they can look after our 5-years-old son, as my wife Emma also plays in the orchestra. I think for us who travel a lot, home is always where we are and we don’t necessarily need very much to make a place feel like a home. We bring a little bit your own spirit to a place. Of course when you return often to a place it becomes more and more a home. After 15 years, we start to know Lucerne well, what to expect and how everything works. For example knowing the acoustic of the concert hall, how it will sound, anticipating this amazing sound as we prepare for the Festival. There are also smaller details that make you feel more confortable after many years, you know where you can put your instrument, where you can practice. When you go to a new place, where you don’t know what to expect, it can be a little bit more stressful. We feel at home here in Lucerne – and that’s good!
Which was the most memorable «identity» you ever worked with?
This is a very tricky question because in my musician life there are many highlights. But it’s impossible to not mention Claudio Abbado again, because he means so much to me. We worked over 20 years together, and we met every summer in Lucerne. He has shaped my musical identity and the identity of us all very much. That’s very memorable, we will never forget him!
One of your hobbies is to take photographs. What’s your favorite subject and why?
Our life provides a lot of travelling, and it’s great to get to see so many places with new eyes. When you are at home it can be more difficult to keep your inspiration up as a photographer, because you become less sensitive to your environment, no matter how much beauty surrounds you. On the other hand there are always great images to be made, even when it’s bad weather, you just have to see them! I also enjoy very much the connection with musicians, as I photograph them on tour. I see differently and pay attention to many things I don’t normally see – it’s like going back inside myself and seeing things in a new way – it’s almost a meditative process. Then I put the camera away, and I’m «just» a musician.
Interview conducted by Jacqueline Saner | LUCERNE FESTIVAL
In 1997, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra was founded by Claudio Abbado and Geoffroy Schied has been a member of the orchestra since then. Geoffroy also plays with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the English Baroque Soloists, and the Opera de Paris. Since the revival of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in 2003 with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra as its core, Geoffroy has performed with both ensembles at the Lucerne Festival each summer.
Geoffroy shares some of his images via this blog, a life made of music and photography.