Austrian cellist, conductor Heinrich Schiff dies

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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Austrian cellist and conductor Heinrich Schiff's death was announced yesterday morning, having died overnight. He was 65.

Schiff's hometown Gmunden, from file.
Image: Eduard Schumm.

Born in Gmunden in 1951, Schiff made his orchestral début in 1971. His 1978 recording début earned him an Artist of the Year award at the Deutsche Schallplattenpreis. After achieving worldwide acclaim he retired as a soloist in 2012 following a 2008 stroke, becoming a conductor instead. He had already been taking conducting jobs as a sideline from the late 1980s.

Schiff studied at the Vienna Music Academy, and conducting roles included with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the Northern Sinfonia, and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra. Instructing jobs included at the Cologne Academy of Music and Dance, the University of Basel, the Salzburg Mozarteum, and Vienna's University of Music and the Pictorial Arts.

Awards included the French Grand Prix du Disque. Performances included the 1988 German Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, attended by the UK's Prince Charles.

Schiff complained in 1988 classical music was "very much mistreated" by contemporary artists. "Take the Mozart violin concertos," he said. "If you hear any of the top ten violinists playing them it's beautiful sound, fine technique, but the style is hopelessly wrong — it's almost a different language."

Fellow cellist Steven Isserlis said last year Schiff credited the music of Bach with his recovery following the 2008 stroke. "He looked at me, and said quietly: 'Bach saved my life'", Isserlis said. "I asked him what he meant and he told me that a few years ago, he had a serious stroke, and was in danger of losing all mobility on his left side. As soon as he got to hospital, and realised what was happening, he started (almost instinctively, I imagine) to go through the fingerings of the Prelude to Bach’s first suite, moving his fingers ceaselessly to the imaginary music. He did this for about 20 hours a day, he thinks; and gradually his whole body came back to life, powered by those fingerings." Isserlis lamented the "terrible, terrible" loss of a "person with a core of true goodness and humanity; and a wonderfully serious, genuine musician".

Schiff died early yesterday morning in a Vienna hospital.


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