In general, as one gets older, it gets more and more difficult to find true mentors - something that is so important for any artist's continued growth. As classical musicians, we are lucky that our art form still has its elder statesmen: the conductors who keep trekking along, waving their arms and guiding musicians through masterpiece after masterpiece, week to week. I've been incredibly fortunate to work with many of the greatest our field has to offer over the years, and one of the most generous and challenging that I have encountered has been Helmuth Rilling, who celebrates his 85th birthday today.
I met Helmuth under some rather extreme and incredible circumstances on Valentine's Day of 2009, when I jumped in on a few hours' notice to perform Haydn's Creation with him and the Orchestra of St. Luke's at Carnegie Hall (you can read about that surreal experience in an old blog post, here). Since that fateful day, Helmuth has been an unbelievably generous and supportive mentor - offering me many fantastic and transformative opportunities over the years. Over the past 9 years since we met, I've toured with him everywhere from the Kennedy Center to the German churches in which Bach worked and premiered his masterpieces hundreds of years ago. Among the most rewarding experiences I've had making music with him, my summers with him at both the Oregon Bach Festival and his recently-founded Weimar Bach Cantata Academy, have been extra special. In both of these places, we have had the luxury of time. Those summer weeks with him have proven to be invaluable, in which he has unlocked so many of the multiple layers of Bach's music for me in ways that feel luxurious in these fast-paced days of professional concert life. My perception of Bach's music and the importance of his work has been forever changed because of my time with Helmuth, and I always treasure every moment I get to work with him on these incredible masterworks.
I find that the greatest musicians are the ones who never lose their sense of wonder at what incredible beauty these composers have created. It is so inspiring that despite having lived with Bach's music for so many decades, Helmuth has never lost his sense of wonder and respect for these masterful compositions, and that he even continues to find new things in this music as the years pass. For him, the answers are always to be found in the score, and in what the composers demand of us musicians through the notes they have written down on the page. To experience Helmuth's discipline and insight and to be perpetually challenged by him to do the best work possible has been and continues to be a privilege.
The happiest of birthdays to you, dear Helmuth. It is an honor to be a part of the incredible musical family that you have brought together worldwide. Thank you for all you have given and continue to give the world through your work!
Check out this wonderful documentary on Helmuth that just aired on SWR: