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Artist Conversations: Johannes Moser

When I first interviewed Johannes Moser and started writing this article, we were in the first stages of suffering this pandemic and the world as we knew it was just beginning to be shaken up. Since then, it feels like this country has been hit by wave after wave of great tragedy and demands for change. It’s been difficult to have a normal conversation without circling back to Covid-19, BLM, police brutality, basic human rights, or the protests that are occurring not only in every state in the US, but all around the world. All of a sudden, it seemed like the article I had written was completely irrelevant and I started over. I won’t change the content of our conversation or distort it in any way, but I felt it was appropriate to rewrite this so that I can be sensitive to current events. I remain aware of what’s happening in the world, and to the best of my abilities, I’m doing my part in fighting for change in this country and supporting minority artists. I know we are just beginning this journey to reform, and our social media feeds have turned into political platforms, but I’d like to take a brief breather from politics and share a little bit of what’s still going on in the music world from the perspective of Johannes Moser.

For those of you who don’t know who Johannes Moser is, he’s a German-Canadian cellist who tours the world as a soloist, chamber musician, and masterclass clinician. He’s constantly on the road performing and maintains a full teaching schedule for his students at the Hochschule für Musik und Theatre in Cologne, Germany as well as young cellists he teaches on his outreach trips. In addition to being the energizer bunny of cellists, he’s also just an amazing human being and I admire not only who he is as a musician, but how he has been approaching and handling what has been an uncertain time for artists and musicians alike.

When we got on our zoom call a couple months ago, we spent some time exchanging our personal experiences with the beginning of the pandemic and how it’s affected our careers. I was happy to hear that he was safe in Munich close to his family, and he’s continuing to teach his students via zoom, but all of his solo engagements through the rest of the season had been cancelled, including his debut with the LA Phil. The future landscape of classical music remains unclear for him, but he has used this time to learn what he needs as a human being away from his non-stop performance lifestyle and is using streaming technology in order to stay connected to his existing audience as he attempts to continue building a younger base for classical music.

As Johannes’s life came to a screeching halt, he was forced to slow down physically, but he realized his mind was still in hyperdrive. Like many of us, it was hard to find peace with just being still.

It is strange because I felt that up until this happened, I was very comfortably and passionately in a clockwork… a rat race. Having to come to a standstill, after this whole idea of ‘Ok, I’ve finished this concert, what is going on tomorrow and what can I do now to help make that possible’. I mean, it was never about the moment. It was always about the next moment and the moment after that. Now living day to day is amazing… I don’t know what I’m going to do the rest of the week and sort of just play it by ear.

I think what was so interesting, was that within those first 7-10 days, was that my body and brain were still on full speed but there was nothing to do. Frantically trying to grab anything that came my way that meant I could use my brain or that I could fulfill a task, it became a week of work for work, not work for result… I was just in that mindset. Like if I don’t have anything to do, it must be me, I must be lazy. It’s not just that there is nothing to do…

The wisdom now, for me, is to really look at what’s on the table and what needs to be done and when can I actually let it go and be fine with having a void. Having nothing in front of me and being fine with that.

This is probably the only time we will ever experience an over adjustment this severe in our lifetimes. If we won’t save us from ourselves, nature will find a way, and it did. One thing Johannes and I both feel very strongly about is that we don’t want to go back to “normal”. We’re excited about what our next normal will look like, a better normal. A normal that will incorporate rest, mindfulness, and being in the moment. This also extends over into classical music performance itself. Although musicians have found a way to temporarily fill the gap with virtual performances, we will return to live concerts. In Johannes’ own words, he is “not worried about whether or not we will come back to live music because [he] thinks there’s going to be an absolute hunger after the starvation for live performance”. However, with most of it existing audience being in the risk category for Covid-19, there’s room for growth in the demographics of it’s target audience.

When there’s less of the older generation of audience members, then the younger generation feels more inclined to claim or reclaim that space. That is also possible here. I’m naturally an optimist so I see this as a chance for growth in some sense, and maybe also to shake up an environment that perhaps otherwise has become a little bit complacent in some parts of the world.

He is absolutely right. And in light of recent events, we should not only be focused on creating an environment that welcomes a new generation, but an environment that appeals to a wider diversity of consumers. Between this pandemic and human rights protests, its every industry’s responsibility to practice inclusivity by educating and showcasing work by minorities. We cannot rebuild something that has not first been torn down, and I think we can only go up from here.

One of the last things Johannes said in our interview that was just so powerful to me was, “We have Corona in our life, but we are not Corona”. It sounds so simple, but it speaks to how resilient humanity is. We are not defined by this disease. The point he was also trying to make here, is that it is important to separate the news we so often overwhelm ourselves with from our lives when its necessary. There’s a difference between informing yourself and becoming so obsessed and engrossed in it that it affects your mental health and drains you of your potential.

Having followed Johannes on social media the past couple months, I’m inspired by his commitment to staying connected to his audience and trying to appeal more to the younger generation. He’s preserving his big performances for the concert halls, but using his online platform to host live Q & A sessions, interviews, and conducting masterclasses through YouTube (you can send in audition tapes if you’d like to participate, you can find info on his Facebook page and YouTube channel). These have been easy to access, highly educational, and enjoyable to participate in! I highly recommend following his social media accounts and can’t wait to see what he does next, and when he can finally take the stage again.

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