Name: Christoph Müller
Occupation: Cellist, Artist Manager, President Joseph Haydn Stiftung Basel
Current Project: Haydn 2032
Festival Recommendations: Solsberg Festival; Gstaad Menuhin Festival.
When did you start in a curatorial role - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
From the beginning of my professional career I have been a „multi-tasking“ music manager: playing as a professional cellist in the Basel Chamber Orchestra for almost 15 years whilst also managing the orchestra. It was a very demanding role but a wonderful introduction into this crazy music world. From early on, the music of the Baroque and classical periods have been a passion of mine This music really touched me as child. Handel’s Messiah always used to be a kind of ritual to our family when I was young.
What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your work and/or career?
As student of 17 years old I organised, at my own risk, a concert with our Youth Orchestra and a Youth Choir to perform the Mozart-Requiem in the church where my father used to be a priest. It was both a naive and crazy idea as I took a huge financial risk of my own. But the concert was a huge success and I, playing as a solo-cellist in the orchestra, was the happiest and youngest manager of the time.
How would you describe and rate the music scene of the city you are currently living in and how much does it get featured in your programming?
Basel consists of 2 completely different types of audience: a strong traditional audience who prefer listening music no later than 1911 and, on the other side, a growing younger audience, families, students, expats etc who are curious enough for new formats and new types of concerts.
Is objectivity in any way a goal in your own work? What, other than your personal taste, are criteria for defining quality?
My personal taste is not a factor in deciding if we play a piece or not. It is more about what ideas or concepts the work is trying to convey and if it is a good idea strategically. The artists themselves are also crucial although they are personally responsible for their own quality of playing. Once we have worked together on a project, I can trust them.
How would you describe your role in the creative process?
I always see myself as a go-between between artists and audience. For the Haydn-2032-projects it is even more than this, as several artists are part of the process: conductors, musicians, authors, musicologists, photographers, cooks, patrons...
Haydn 2032 came about in a moment during a concert in the Tonhalle Zürich. It was like a flash, a spark and in the interval of the concert I told Giovanni Antonini about it. In those first months I did not tell anyone about the idea and looking back now, I would say that it was one of my most creative periods of all time. Only after the funding had been secured did the Haydn-2032-child begin to walk and then other creative partners became involved and have been asked to step into the process. It was also important to me that I shared this baby with people who I trusted.
Programming music can occasionally lead to deeper insights into the music itself. In which way, do you feel, can curating change the way music and certain styles of music are perceived?
With Haydn there is a lot to discover but it needs to be researched in the profound way of Antonini. He has something to tell and his approach is a more rethorical way of music making; Haydn needs to be cared about in this way. Antonini gets inside the language of Haydn which is existential in every sense.
It has often been mentioned that "the future of music is in live". What's your perspective on this? What kind of unique experiences does a concert experience continue to offer to this day?
That’s exactly our concept: The Haydn-Nights are events for all senses: hearing, sight, taste, touch ... music is part of an experience and we feel that audiences are exploring this possibility. Concert-organisers have to trust in new formats and new ways to present the essence of music. Society is moving and developing. People are not banal but they want to be inspired more and more. Perhaps there is less education around music but the desire to enter a spiritual world by experiencing music (with all the senses) is not getting smaller.
Can festivals or concert spaces survive just by presenting music these days? What's your take on extra-musical concepts like presentations, discussions, art exhibitions and the like as an enrichment of your musical program?
We are starting every Haydn-Night with an exhibition of photos about the theme of the concert (in cooperation with Magnum Photo). After this there will be some music, followed by a discussion between a musicologist and conductor. After the interval (food will be provided), there will be more music alongside extra text read by an author.
How do you see the relationship between music and the location it's performed at? What are the special characteristics of your concert space, would you say?
Regarding venues, people (audience and promoters) have to become more flexible with new ideas and concert formats. Every venue has its own atmosphere. In choosing certain venues you can attract different types of audiences. An old factory hall such as the Berlin Radialsystem for example, offers so many different options to enrich a musical-evening.
How would you define what differentiates a successful live performance from a poor one? What can artists do from your point of view to improve their live act?
Artists have to be authentic and honest musicians. They should be able to touch the soul of each listener. Only if a performancer reaches this level can one call him an „artist“, I think.
Live performances are often considered as one-way forms of communication. In which way, however, can an audience actively contribute to them as well?
I think that social media are a wonderful way for the audience to express themselves and share opinions with like-minded people. But also the famous "spark" during the performance between artists and audience is important. Joy and enthusiasm from the audience during a performance is motivating and inspiring to the artists.
The role of the arts is always subject to change. What's your view on the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of the arts today and how do you try to meet these goals in your own work?
It is important that we distinguish arts from entertainment. The problem seems to me that the arts put a question mark behind our society and the life of everyone, poses existential questions whereas the entertainment business is 100% commercial and does not have an innovative spirit. Politicians often are not able or willing to distinguish these two sectors and the general public also play a key role in this confusion as they consider commerical musicals or Hollywood films as "art." In my work I try to combine the issue of "learning" and "intermediation" with joy, dreaming and entertainment as far as possible.
Music-sharing sites and blogs as well as a flood of releases and more and more live performances in general are presenting both listeners and artists with challenging questions. What's your view on the value of music today?
I think that classical music is easier to access now through several streaming services. Perhaps this is encouraging younger people to listen more to Mozart and Beethoven. But as good as it seems to be, it is much more superficial than putting a CD into a player and taking time to listen to it and reading the accompanying booklet. Music then becomes an article of consumption like a sandwich or coffee for take-away. This is not negative in every sense. But if you go further than just consumption, it can be gateway to deep and colourful experiences.
Read more about Christoph Müller on his personal website.