The winner of ICMA’s 2023 Discovery Award is 16-year-old Austrian violinist Leonhard Baumgartner, a scholar of the International Music Academy Liechtenstein. He already won prizes like 1st Prize at Zhuhai International Mozart Competition, 1st Prize and Grand Prix at Stockholm International Music Competition. He also was Wiener Symphoniker Talent and made his debut as soloist in Vieuxtemps’ Concerto No 5 with the Wiener Symphoniker at Wiener Konzerthaus in 2022. his studies took him to the Universities for Music Graz, Vienna and Munich. His main teachers there are Regina Brandstätter since 2019, since October 2022 Dora Schwarzberg and Ingolf Turban. He answered questions of ICMA Jury members.
How did it come that you play the violin?
When I was two years old, I listened to my father practicing the viola. Several times he laid the instrument down and I tried to do some pizzicato and also arco, which my father did not really appreciate. But when I asked to get a violin, he bought me one for my third birthday. Then I started my first violin lessons with a teacher who was specializing on kindergardeners, Szilvay method. At that time, playing the violin was just for fun. Then I started also to sing in a choir and the whole involvement with music became more serious and above all more exciting for me.
What do you like about the violin?
There are a lot of aspects which I like, mostly the wide range of sound and the development of sound on single notes. The violin allows me to play various types of music. And when I am on stage I am fully concentrated on making music, I try to be totally absorbed by the music. Of course, I need to think about music and this is something I do before and after the performance. Or even before and after practicing. When I play, I focus totally on the sound.
So what is your idea of sound?
I think every musician is searching for the ideal and the right sound. Developing a sound is something which is influenced by many things, the momentary situation, the hall, the type of music. I recently played quartet and we all had the same strings. That’s important too, so there are many factors and the decision of which sound to go for has to be adapted to many things and of course the music you play.
Which violin school do you feel close?
I think I cannot name one violin school, because I am getting inspired by various schools. I could not see taking one special direction. I am open to experiment and to find my own way. Generally I like a holistic approach to teaching and making music.
Which violinists inspire you, among those of yesterday and today?
For me a musician is not only a person who makes music, but I consider him or her as a human being. I not only listen to what and how he plays, I want to listen to what such a musician has to say. So if I name Ivry Gitlis it’s not only because he was a great musician, but because he was such a nice man and could tell you many inspiring things. I am happy of media, documentations and interviews with him and I love the stories about him told by great Dora Schwarzberg. Also all my teachers and mentors up to now inspire me and by that interview I want to express my deep thanks to them!
Do you have a favorite musical genre, such as chamber music or recital or playing with orchestra?
I like all kinds of music and I adore making music together with other musicians. But currently my focus is on solo playing and building a repertoire. At home I like making chamber music with my siblings. At the EMU symposium 2023 I was selected to play 1st violin in the Mendelssohn Octet. And I always try to get some orchestra experience, to participate in orchestra projects, for example in March I play under the baton of Emmanuel Tjeknavorian Beethoven‘s 9th in a charity concert at Konzerthaus Vienna and I take part in projects for youth by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
Do you have a favorite composer?
No, I like the whole range of great composers and I am sure to find music I like to play in different epochs of the musical history. And even then, each composer is particular and has his or her own characteristics. So I think it is not so important to focus on some favorite composers, but to play a broad repertoire in which the aim should be to get the knowledge about what the composer wanted, to express and then to serve the ideas in music. I try to make each piece my favourite one, the moment or period of time, I play it.
What about baroque music which has a great repertoire? Do you imagine playing in a historically informed manner?
Well, there are different ways to get there. For instances you can use a baroque bow or gut strings. But this is only the technical side. The most important is, to be informed about playing techniques. Well, in that sense, the use of vibrato is an important aspect. Generally I must say that when I practice, I really often play without any vibrato, because it helps to get more precision and also a better intonation. But on stage I will add vibrato to get a nicer sound. However I always have to consider the period to which the music belongs and to choose the vibrato which is suitable. But again, very often on stage you do automatically the right thing, depending on the hall and on the sound quality you have to reach in particular acoustics.
You are still fully involved in the daily school routine, which is not easy to cope with. How do you generally manage school and music studies and still keep some free time as well?
I try to swim through, like a fish, my zodiac sign. Joke aside – there are fields about school where I am really interested, especially nature, history and literature. I am though really scarce of time and I don’t get much of a rest. When there is an important grade to do that decides about my upcoming school year, I focus on that for a few days and practice less. The headmistress of Musikgymnasium Wien is a very warm and understanding person who wants to make a difference, gives freedom of missing classes if there is a serious musical reason and to support students to get to the Matura, which gives the possibility to study at a University a variety of subjects. I am thankful for that.
You are young and you want to become a professional musician in a musical world in which it looks like there is much pressure. How do you feel about that?
One can certainly feel pressure, but I see that the musical world around me is also a beautiful circle of friends. I just come back from an intensive week at the Music Academy of Liechtenstein. We were six students with wonderful Ingolf Turban. We had our masterclass but we were often sitting together to talk, we cooked together and generally had a great time. We learn a lot of each other and I would say I prefer to take profit from this rather than seeing pressure from competitors. I am especially thankful to Drazen Domjanic, a great philanthrop and supporter of young musicians and to Musikakademie Liechtenstein! I feel at home there and very happy. I think if I stick to that feeling and do what I love – playing music – I am on the right way.
What does it mean for you as a young musician to have won the Discovery Award of the ICMA?
I am really happy and thankful. The perspective of playing at the ICMA Gala concert is exciting. I am so happy to be able to share my music with the audience in Wroclaw and wherever listeners will be able to follow the concert. Of course the award is giving me a new and greater responsibility towards music and for myself.
Do you also feel that you have a responsibility towards young people, to get them more involved with classical music?
We, the young musicians, have to show the other young people what music is, what it brings you, and that besides sports and other pastimes, it is exciting to make music. I went to a normal high school without a focus on music and once took my violin with me and played it. My classmates were very interested, and I had the feeling that they wanted to hear more. They also kept asking me afterwards how I was getting on with the instrument. So it’s not that there’s no interest, it’s that there’s a lack of information more than anything else.