There's more in it than you think

In the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra's music library

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When the members of the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra rehearse in the Laeiszhalle for a new evening of Brahms, Beethoven or Bach, they can't do it without Nikolai Brücher. The music librarian manages their collected orchestral works – enabling him to fulfil the dream of a lifetime: to devote his existence to classical music. Author Sascha Ehlert paid him and his archives a visit.


Sascha Ehlert

Sascha Ehlert is a freelance journalist, one of the Korbinian Verlag publishing house's three publishers, and founder and editor-in-chief of the arts magazine Das Wetter.

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Nikolai Brücher's office is in the basement of the Laeiszhalle, and although the outside of the turn-of-the-century concert building displays a wealth of Neo-Baroque embellishments, this windowless room comes across as bare. The most important thing here isn't obvious at first glance: shelves stretch across three walls, stacked to the ceiling with blue files. In them lie slumbering the scores of all the great works of European classical music.

The music librarian takes his seat behind the desk, his pale blue shirt is a precise fit. Nikolai Brücher is in his thirties, open, curious, and no, the word eccentric doesn't even occur to you when you talk to him, you’re more struck by his engaging aura of serenity. His task is to prepare the sheet music for conductors and musicians as soon as a piece has been confirmed in the programme. “And when we play works of composers who have been dead for less than 70 years, it's also my job to sort out the legalities and arrange to get the music from the responsible publisher”.

The Laeiszhalle sounds amazingly good even from outside

There's no room in his job for him to make music himself, but in any case the librarian is surrounded by music all day. Today, for example, the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra is rehearsing in the Grosser Saal (grand hall) of the Laeiszhalle, you can hear it clearly even in his office. “Shall we go and take a look?” he asks – and already we're on our way. A walk through the empty corridors of the Laeiszhalle fills you with peace. The venue sounds amazingly good even from outside. We enter the grand hall on the dress circle level, through the luminous glass roof light falls on the stage where the Symphony's musicians are now playing. “Of course I am privileged to be able to come here any time and listen to something like this,” says Nikolai Brücher.

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Nikolai Brücher listens to the Symphony rehearsal: "A priviledge." Starting January 2017, they will also play the new Elbphilharmonie concert hall.

In actual fact, I feel the uplifting and exalted spirit of the orchestral music much more strongly in an empty concert hall, in the morning. A large space, absolutely empty except for the stage – it also opens up a different thinking space from that of a concert evening, which isn’t just about enjoying music but also a social event. “Yes, this is indeed a good place to think in the forenoon,” the music librarian agrees. “Of course I don't always have time to sit here, but I come up whenever I can”.

“The cultural landscape was what attracted me to Germany”

Does he sometimes wish for something to counterbalance all these scores and the orchestral music? A punk concert, maybe? Nikolai Brücher laughs, “No, no” – he was interested in European classical music even as a youngster. “I go to classical concerts in the evening for entertainment, as well. Sometimes out of professional interest too, though, and because I want to know what's happening in new music.

He actually studied composition, originally in Brazil, the country of his birth, then in Germany. “Orchestral music is still much more of a closed, elitist space in my home country than it is in Germany. I didn't just want to come here for educational reasons, but because the cultural landscape in general attracted me”. However, he wasn't granted the opportunity to compose immediately. He first went to Munich to continue his studies, but ended up in Berlin not long afterwards. There, too, he only stayed for a few years, in the end he went to Hamburg for work, first to a small orchestra and finally to the Symphony Orchestra, where he has been employed for two years now. He has always carried with him the hope that one day he'd have the chance to distribute the sheet music for a composition of his own.

He’s currently composing his own first work for the Symphony Orchestra

And he's actually going to have that chance in the coming year: he’s currently composing his first ever piece of his own for the Hamburg Symphonic Orchestra. “It is incredibly difficult to find a job as a composer,” says Nikolai Brücher. Even a single recording or rehearsal is expensive because of the many musicians involved, there's little chance of getting into the repertoire of one of the major orchestras. Most of today's composers have been in the industry for decades, they often work in parallel as conductors, lecturers or musicians themselves. Because even if their works are played now and then – it won't make them rich.

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Nikolai Brücher started studying composition in Brazil and finished in Germany.

In any case, Nikolai Brücher is not driven by wealth: “I believe that the beauty of a good composition is so universal that it really can reach everyone”. He feels that this applies to younger people as well, for example. “Of course I'm preoccupied by the question of how you can inspire young people with enthusiasm for what we are doing here”. A person here and there may find the magnificence of the Laeiszhalle intimidating. “I can also understand youngsters being reluctant to go to an orchestral performance, because you're sitting there for two hours without a break”. I suggest a piano concerto with a glass of wine in hand as the perfect synthesis. Nikolai Brücher smiles.

We've had a long talk, the music librarian has to prepare the next rehearsal soon. And by the time I pass the sculpture of Brahms in the main entrance, heading for Hamburg's Jungfernstieg, Nikolai Brücher will probably be pulling one of the many blue files from the shelves to help create something very special from its unremarkable-seeming contents.