German conductor, teacher, director of church music – Jürgen Budday molds into different professional shapes as a creative mind and a lover of music. His main accomplishment is concert series at the Maulbronn Abbey (an UNESCO World Heritage Site), where he leads such choirs as ‘Maulbronner Kantorei’ and Maulbronn Chamber Choir. His creative work was noted by various awards – including Bundesverdienstkreuz am Bande (German Cross of Merit) and the Bruno Frey Prize from the Baden-Württemberg State Academy of Music. In this interview the musician shares his views on inspiration from the Abbey of Maulbronn, his biggest lesson as a teacher, and simplicity of his conducting style.
What would you name as musicians that inspired you; or pieces that introduced you to something new at the beginning of your career?
In choir conducting and choir music my main inspirational figures were Eric Ericson and John Eliot Gardiner with their ensembles. Pieces which inspired me at the beginning of my career were “Elijah” from Mendelssohn and the contemporary Scandinavian choir music. As organist I was very attached by the organ works of Bach, especially by Prelude and fugue E flat major…
How did you imagine your profession at the beginning of your career? What was your motivation and aspirations? How does the reality differ?
At the beginning of my musical studies I had no special expectations. My first intention was to improve my skills in order to make music which satisfies me. Seen like this I was humble. In the meantime I can say that everything went beyond my expectance.
Define inspiration – does it exist? How does it manifest in your everyday life?
Of course it exists. My greatest inspiration is the building in which I had the privilege to work for 40 years, the Abbey of Maulbronn. If you enter this 870 years old church, the Refectorium, the cloister, you are directly touched by the spirit of this speaking and sounding stones. You immerse yourself in a spiritual world and out from this silence inspiration is directly tangible. And if you make music in this surrounding there are moments where you are hovering between earth and heaven.
The precondition for the concert series has been the monastery itself. The atmosphere of the different rooms is unique and you have the possibility for open-air concerts as well. I felt the responsibility to the public, to open these rooms and to fill them with art and music. So I built up a concert series up to 35 concerts over the summer with artists from all over the world.
You are a founder of the Maulbronn Chamber Choir. What was the purpose and thought process in this foundation?
As I built up my festival Klosterkonzerte Maulbronn I looked for a possibility to interpret a cappella choir music on a high level. So I added to the big oratorio choir Kantorei Maulbronn an a cappella choir, Maulbronn Chamber Choir. And in this consequence we also performed and recorded a series of oratorios from G.F. Händel in historic informed performance practice, which was a great desire for me.
You are a successor to competition founder Dolf Rabus. What does it mean to you to step into such possition?
Before I took over the position of Dolf Rabus I already had the position as an artistic director and Head of the Board of the German Choir Competition. So to run a competition was very familiar to me. The competition in Marktoberdorf is a very outstanding one and the whole concept of this festival as well. Dolf Rabus was a very creative and assertive person. I admire his work and I feel the responsibility to maintain this level of the festival, to develop it and make it fit for the future.
You studied musicology and church music at the State University of Music and Performing Arts in Stuttgart. What do you take away from your studying period?
Since my youngest years I loved music very much. So for me it was a dream to improve my musical skills. During my studies I got a very solid basis for making music and I am very grateful to all my teachers who brought me to a higher level. But the most I learned in conducting was to do it in practice and to complement my skills in specific private studies.
Do you choose or audition singers with whom you are working? What do you value the most in a singer?
Both. In the meantime as the choir was well known, many singers applied for singing in this choir. For me the sound of a choir is most important. That means to have a homogeneous, balanced cast from very deep and sonorous basses to very high and light Sopranos. And for me also important is, to have a good community in the choir.
You are a conductor, director of church music and music teacher. How do you balance and combine all the practices in your everyday life?
The position I had (in the meantime I have retired), was an ideal combination between making church music, teaching music, conducting several ensembles and running a concert series as an artistic director. During the week my main job was teaching young students, rehearsing and organizing. On weekends I was conducting and running my festival. As everything took place in the UNESCO world-heritage Maulbronn Abbey, there was no loss of travelling-time. Of course I had no free weekends and only 3 weeks holidays in the year.
What kind of impact do you want to have to the listener? What musical message would you want to convey to others?
I have no special message as for example in politics. For me music is emotion and that’s a very sensitive situation. You turn your innermost outside. And if the audience realizes this, it gets touched. You are transporting your feelings by the music. And that’s the moment where you are authentic. This brings the audience to deal with the message you are singing.
How would you describe your conducting style?
I try to show the essential, not more. I trust in my choir.
How could you describe your lifestyle as a musician? What elements of it challenge you the most?
I am very interested in new things and I am looking for it. Especially to design stringent programs. To have a headline for my program, to find pieces which follow this idea.
What did you learned from your teachers? Maybe they have shared some wisdom which is guiding you even today?
I learned a lot from my teachers. But one essential thing I learned is always to be focused on what you are doing in this moment.
What do you think that your career gave you the most? What do you value the most in the journey?
Wonderful music, wonderful people to work with, fascinating concert-tours around the world.
What is the biggest lesson on creativity you had to learn? How did it shape you as a musician?
The biggest lesson I had to learn was as a teacher: When you get new students every year and you have to teach them essentials, not to resign, to be patient and to be confident in their possibilities. And after some years you often get splendid results. That‘s the identic pattern for a teaching musician: Never give up and never lose hope…
Are there any future projects that excite you the most?
A very actual and fascinating project is building up the new National Youth Choir of Germany. This means to invest in the future. And I love to work with young people.
Thank you for the conversation!