Artist Interview: Christoph Richter, cello

By Jessica Wolford on February 22, 2018

Composer György Kurtág describes cellist Christoph Richter as “one of the best musicians and chamber musicians of all the outstanding cellists I’ve known.” As you'll read in our interview below, his approach to performance and education is rooted in the early influence of his musical family and his wealth of knowledge of and deep respect for the classical repertoire. One could also say that his generous and friendly manner also shines through in his work as an artist and educator. Some of our staff and many of our recurring artists have had the opportunity to get to know Mr. Richter during his two summers at Marlboro, and we are excited to introduce him to our audience on March 14 in recital, in addition to his appearance with Musicians from Marlboro II on March 6.

Jessica Wolford:  You performed the complete works for cello of Brahms and Webern back in 2008. What inspired you to select the specific Brahms and Webern pieces on the program for March 14?

Christoph Richter: I have played this program in several places over many years. In fact, it is one of my favorites. There are two reasons—the first is my wish to show that Brahms was regarded as the most progressive composer at the end of the 19th century by the composers of the second Viennese school such as Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern, although he was often classified as a traditionalist at the time. Even nowadays Brahms is looked at as the old man with the long beard. But Brahms developed compositional techniques which were then taken over by later composers, such as single theme or motif compositions, or the perfection of smaller forms like the last Intermezzi. The other reason is that, if possible, I like to give the audience the possibility to listen to everything that a composer originally wrote for cello and piano in one recital.

JW:  Tell us about your collaboration with Dénes Várjon—how did it begin and what you enjoy about playing with him?

Christoph Richter and Dénes Várjon

CR: Dénes and I met at the International Musicians Seminar in Prussia Cove quite a long time ago. He was still in his teens and me in my twenties... We had both been invited by the great Hungarian violinist Sandor Végh. The first work we played together was the Brahms piano quintet, which is still very much alive in my memory. Shortly after that I was asked to play a live broadcast on German TV of the Beethoven A cello sonata, for which I asked Dénes to collaborate with me. At that time Germany had just three TV programs, and we played at prime time. Dénes is one of the most curious, vivid, and fine players that I have had the pleasure to perform with.

JW: You were born into a family of musicians. What drew you to the cello? Who were your earliest inspirations?

CR: I actually started with the piano as my first instrument. But my mother, who was a fine viola player and a fanatic about string quartet, had the feeling the cello would be the perfect instrument for me. I am very happy about that since I later became addicted myself and joined the Cherubini Quartet. The moment I became a cellist was when I was about 12 years old and heard an evening of Beethoven works performed by the legendary cellist Pierre Fournier and the pianist Wilhelm Kempff! I was very fortunate to have been a student of Fournier later.

JW: With a lifelong career as a chamber, orchestral, and recital cellist, you also seem to have a passion for education as well. What is your approach to teaching, and what do you hope your students learn from you?

CR: The passion of teaching is linked very much to my main cello teacher, the great French cellist and pedagogue André Navarra, whose student I became at the age of 15. He was one of the most in-demand teachers worldwide, and his strengths were a very clear technical system, which he had developed under the guidance of Carl Flesch, his honest way of making music without any circus around it, the analysis of the score, understanding of different styles and making them sound different, his respect for composers, other musicians, and humankind generally; all these are ideals for me. That is what I hope to be able to carry on to my students.

Christoph Richter performing the Ravel Piano Trio at Marlboro with Tessa Lark, violin and Zoltán Féjervári, piano

JW: You’re embarking on your first Musicians from Marlboro tour next month (with a stop in Philly before your recital) after participating in the festival for two summers prior. What are you looking forward to about this tour? Is there a particular piece you’re excited to revisit?

CR: First of all to meet up again with these great musicians and share experiences! Particularly the Ravel piano trio is always a great challenge—I am looking forward to it very much!

Christoph Richter performs in recital with pianist Dénes Várjon on Wednesday, March 14 at 8 PM at the American Philosophical Society's Benjamin Franklin Hall. For tickets and information, visit the concert page. For more information about Mr. Richter, visit his website