Intuition, trust and an irresistible pull

By Annette Zerpner June 4, 2023


For Christoph Eschenbach, Johannes Brahms is a "master of the emotional side of symphonies" whose work is particularly close to him.

At the end of his time as Chief Conductor, four principals look back on the joint Brahms project and tell us why they are particularly looking forward to further collaboration.

Suyoen Kim

"I learn an incredible amount in the rehearsals with him."

Suyoen Kim (Leader of the Orchestra)

Our Principal Conductor Christoph Eschenbach brings years of experience and a fund of great tranquility to rehearsing the Brahms with us. That, and his huge confidence in us to feel the music, is what marks him out. He gives us time to do so, without giving us too much of a commentary at the beginning. Our ears open, and we naturally slot into place. When someone trusts us so completely, and gives us as much scope as he does, we as an orchestra have a great responsibility. As orchestra leader, I must be especially sensitive and alert to catch his signals. What he is keen to change during the run-throughs is very subtle. You cannot wait, you have to be wide awake to make music together well. He notices at once when more specific directions are necessary. I learn a vast amount in our reherasals with him.

Ralf Forster

"... a pull you can't resist."

Prof. Ralf Forster (Principal Clarinet)

Fortunately, the clarinet was treated very well by Brahms - in the first, especially in the third, but also in the slow movement of the fourth symphony. During the Brahms recordings, I was often in direct contact with Christoph Eschenbach because of the corresponding passages, and I noticed: he never turns you inside out, but always demands beautiful subtleties. And when you offer him certain nuances (a small echo in a certain place, for example), he happily incorporates them into his concept without overturning any of them. It is a give and take in the most pleasing way, but it is never accidental. In the freedom he gives us, something incredibly compelling unfolds, a pull that you can't escape.

Christoph Eschenbach has thought Brahms through extremely well and yet has a very intuitive connection to him, "via the gut", so to speak. I listened to our recordings of all four symphonies many times in the run-up to the release and am really happy about how coherent and rounded they have become.

Michaela Kuntz

"Now we are his instrument."

Michaela Kuntz (Principal Oboe)

Christoph Eschenbach is a guarantor of a very round, dark, embracing Brahms sound. I look forward to that every time we play Brahms together. Our principal conductor is thus part of a German tradition that I like very much. He rehearses very precisely in shaping the sound and never lets up until he has exactly the result he has in mind. That's probably how he used to work when he opened up a work as a pianist. Now we are his instrument.

Christoph Eschenbach is not a conductor who speaks in pictures or explains a lot. You have to get used to that, because we musicians usually want to know the reasons why something is repeated. He leads us step by step to his performance, is enormously persistent and never gives up. Even if we sometimes feel impatience in the course of this process – we know that it's always about the music for him. That distinguishes him just as much as his basic trust in us. In concert, he then hands off and lets us wind players play our solos quite freely. Working with him is always good, harmony is important to him - that also distinguishes him.

"He brings out colours we otherwise don't have."

Friedemann Ludwig (Principal Cello)

Christoph Eschenbach is not at all interested in superficial impressions – through speed, volume or other "sporting" achievements. His domain is poetry, drama, musical content. Christoph Eschenbach's Brahms interpretations, which he has recorded with great orchestras all over the world, are very different – but his intuition speaks from all of them. And his state of mind, which, as with every human being, is always in flux.

He does not pursue an academic concept – those who listen to him should feel something with him. Everything else is secondary. He is incredibly sensitive. In the Brahms symphonies, which we already know so well, we can feel what he wants. I often orientate myself by his gaze, his posture and his breathing. He thinks long and hard before he tells us something. And he never says too much. I find that wonderful. In the end, he brings out colours from the orchestra that we don't usually have – you can hear that in our Brahms interpretations.


Fotos: Marco Borggreve (Christoph Eschenbach); Tobias Kruse / Ostkreuz (KHO-Porträts)

Christoph Eschenbach mit Brahms' 1. Sinfonie

zum Konzert

Christoph Eschenbach mit Brahms' 3. Sinfonie

zum Konzert


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