Aspiring conductors from Weimar and Dresden experiment with the MDR Symphony Orchestra

Maximilian Otto is 23 and in the middle of his bachelor’s degree exam – learning to train at the Hochschule für Musik in Weimar. But in the program of the award-winning ceremony in Weimarhalle, his name is next to the names of Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky. Because Maximilian Otto not only performs – he also wrote a piece called “Furan”.

It begins with a kind of rondo, as the young composer puts it, “part round, part cheerful, part naive, a little aimless. You have the feeling that you are pushing something. It has no clear direction.” And it is not at all easy to carry out every minute detail with an orchestra.

Otto turns what is supposedly aimlessly into Pascalia: “Suddenly this piece gets a vision, a train. You’re pulled, somewhere. You ask yourself where it’s all going. Then it rips and practically falls.” Now it’s up to the 23-year-old to transform these feelings, the nuances of tones and sights of sound from his head into a spatial sound.

Balancing work in action

One thing you learn very quickly as a guest at rehearsals: It’s a balancing act when young conductors have to be very careful about communicating what they don’t like, what they want to improve and how they visualize the sound to be perfect.

Friedrich Praetorius also does this in a brave and cautious way and knows that when communicating with an orchestra, tone is important: “It is always a matter of discovering and researching how to approach an orchestra, because of course every orchestra is different,” says the young conductor. “But basically I achieved my goal with patience, love and kindness. With this belief I try to approach it. Sometimes it works better, sometimes worse.”

The 25-year-old is currently studying in Weimar. There he learned how to remain confident – as a young man in front of a large orchestra with people who all have 10-40 years of professional experience. “You are constantly at the mercy of this phenomenon, especially as a young leader.” At the award ceremony, he performed Tchaikovsky’s dramatic symphony No. 6, the famous “Pathétique”. And so he stands before the orchestra in a focused and dynamic way but also in a binding way and announces nuances that need to be refined.

Serenity in front of the orchestra

Friedrich Pratorius won first prize in the management competition for the Central German Music Academies with the MDR Symphony Orchestra. The second prize went to fellow student Tobias Mischner, who directed the concerto for piano and orchestra by Sergei Prokofiev.

The 27-year-old Berlin has been studying for a master’s degree in management in Weimar since the winter semester 2019. He also uses technology to fine-tune small shifts, more or less instrument clusters – for a perfect sound. He works with a pianist who also supports him in his work.

The student asks himself, “You have to stay calm about what you’re doing. But how is that done?” He doesn’t have an active style in it, “but it’s kind of a basic behavior,” he says. “There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s accepting the situation as it is, dealing with it and responding to it. I think that’s one of the most important challenges.”

Awakening experience in Dresden

While Tobias Meichsner stands at the desk and concentrates on the exercises, Maximilian Otto sits to the side and learns from his teammates. He says that music has accompanied him since he was a child. He learned to play the piano early and also took composition lessons: “only through compulsion,” he laughs. “Then I saw Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony at the Kulturpalast with the Dresden Orchestra. It surprised me. Then I bought and studied a lot of pieces.” Now, more than ten years later, his authorship can be heard – along with the MDR Symphony Orchestra.

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