With more and more musicians creating than ever and more and more of these creations being released, what does this mean for you as an artist in terms of originality? What are some of the areas where you currently. see the greatest potential for originality and who are some of the artists and communities that you find inspiring in this regard?
I think these days originality comes from those who are the most honest and real. To be real is to be original, since there is so much 'plastic' music out there. It's very hard to know what is timeless when making your own music, but to be original it's important to keep your ear out to the world of music around you, to stay grounded, and secure the sound you hear instinctively without trying to be something else. It's tempting to look around and think "they're doing well, what are they doing, I should do that and I will succeed too". That is false. You can only succeed if you find your own way. Copying another artist directly will only place you behind them. It's very hard, of course. The competition is immense, and life is unpredictable. But there is also great inspiration to be gained from other musicians, and from seeing how we are all striving so hard for something so intangible.
How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
Well, I guess you have to improvise to begin a composition. But the difference I see is that improvisation does not ask for repetition. You create an idea and send it off into the ether. For composition, you pluck an idea from the ether and then cinch it down into the earth until it is repeatable and even interpretable.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
Well, sound, space and composition all exist together. They are all ingredients to create the whole. I approach composition in a way that uses space a lot; I need a moment of space in order to find the sound. Living in a city, my ears are bombarded with not just sound, but noise, so I'm often amazed I'm able to compose in such an environment. My composition technique is something I don't question, I really need to just tap into a silent place and let it happen.
What's your perspective on the relationship between music and other forms of art – painting, video art and cinema, for example – and for you and your work? How does music relate to other senses than hearing?
I think they're all connected. I'm also a painter and love dancing and movement. I find different forms of art vital to my music, and they all feed into each other like many mouths of a stream leading to one waterfall. Music relates to many other senses, from emotion to physical sensation. I love exploring other forms of art from music, as it brings me closer to the heart of where the music is coming from.
What’s your view on the role and function of music as well as the (e.g. political/social/ creative) tasks of artists today - and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?
I think musicians have a great potential for changing the world for the better through positive, powerful, and political messages. Composers have achieved this throughout history. Music is a great healer and connector; it is a universal language and a way of breaking down barriers between people. I love working in communities, teaching children, travelling and bringing music to people who need it most. This year I was in Mumbai teaching choirs of some of the poorest children, and it was amazing to see how powerful music and song is in that environment. I would also like to mention my grandmother here, Anita Lasker Wallfisch. Music was her lifesaver. Born in Breslau, Germany, she was born a Jew and was persecuted during the Holocaust and was sent to Auschwitz. In her book Inherit the Truth, she describes how when she arrived to Auschwitz, the guard who was processing her happened to ask what she did before the war, to which she responded, "I played the cello." The guard handed her a toothbrush, and said "wait here, you will be saved." Soon my grandmother was introduced to Alma Rose, the women's camp orchestra leader and she was brought into the orchestra, and thus her life was saved. The story that preludes this moment and ensues thereafter is one of sheer survival, but with the aid of music. Music saved her life because she was a necessary cog in this hellish machine's wheel, but it was also a place she, and many of the other prisoners could escape to in their minds. My grandmother describes the way music was always safe inside of her, and was a place she could go that nobody could touch or take away. After the liberation she moved to England where she since has made her life and career as a cellist, like my father after her and my brother also. So, music has always been, to me, a life source and a vital part of everyday existence.
Listening is also an active, rather than just a passive process. How do you see the role of the listener in the musical communication process?
The listener is the witness to something that is otherwise nothing more than an invisible force. The listener breathes a new life into the music; there is an exchange, like a conversation or a kiss. You kiss into the air and it feels one way, you kiss someone directly and you receive a kiss back. This is why I find performance to be so inherent in my music making; I create something, not just for myself in private, but to have this exchange, and thus, to make the invisible visible.
Reaching audiences usually involves reaching out to the press and possibly working with a PR company. What's your perspective on the promo system? In which way do music journalism and PR companies change the way music is perceived by the public?
I used a PR company for both my last albums. It's a very expensive endeavour and I still can't work out whether it is vital or not. But these days, with so many artists out there vying for attention we have to do all we can to have our art shine out amid the crowd. It's a big business, and of course the question is, does the investment you put in to PR as an artist pay back both in success and money in the end? It's a gamble but so far I have been willing to throw that dice.
Do you have a musical vision that you haven't been able to realise for technical or financial reasons – or an idea of what music itself could be beyond its current form?
Yes and no. I have album and concert projects coming out of my ears that I can't afford to create, at least not all at once. But these limitations are also useful because they force you to choose and prioritize. I've found ways of making the music I want to make through being resourceful and imaginative. The bigger frustration is touring and live shows. I've made this album with string quartet, voice and piano and venues don't want to cover a group of this size. So as a bandleader I am always losing money. This is a situation where I struggle against wanting to give it up. The fact that people think music is easy and should be free is wrong; it's a job, and it's also a necessity and a luxury. If I knew I could cover the costs of bringing my music to life on stage then I would be booking five times as many shows as I am now around the globe and making a name for myself in this way much faster than I am currently financially able to. As it is, I am doing OK, but I would like to be doing much, much more.