The 2018 George Enescu Cello Competition: a Premiere in the Final Round and the New Best Cellist of This Prestigious Event, Marcel Johannes Kits (Estonia)
For the first time in the history of the George Enescu International Competition, the jury of the cello section (led by its president, Lithuanian cellist and conductor David Geringas) decided to send not three, as it was habitual, but four musicians in the finals, out of the 57 competitors in this section. The reason for this– obviously the very high level of the musicians. The winner ultimately turned out to be the last one to have entered the finals, Estonian Marcel Johannes Kits, the only competitor out of the four finalists without Asian roots (the others being French Stanislas Kim, Chinese Yibai Chen and Japanese Shizuka Mitsui).
In the hands of this very modest but highly perfectionist young musician, who boasts an already substantial activity as a soloist with various orchestras in Estonia, Germany, Russia, Japan and other countries, lies an instrument of great quality and historical weight: the cello created 344 years ago, in 1674, by Francesco Rugeri, the famous Italian luthier who influenced the way cellos are built even nowadays. This instrument was loaned to Kits by the German Deutsche Stiftung Musikleben, following his winning three years ago of the Deutsches Musikinstrumentenfond competition, an initiative of the DSM foundation and the German federal government that offers its winners the chance to play on old and exceptionally good instruments. These are given to the musicians for generally a period of 1-2 years, and in cases of exceptional performances during this time they can remain with the musician until he or she turns 30 – and this is exactly what the Estonian cellist aims to achieve.
Marcel Johannes Kits has been studying the cello since he was 5, and became for the first time a participant (subsequently also the winner of the second prize) in a cello competition when he was 8 years old. By 9 he became a member of a cello-violin-piano trio. During the past four years, Kits studied at the Trossingen University of Music in Germany together with teacher and cellist Francis Gouton, also participating in numerous masterclasses and also concerts with orchestras.
As he was modestly and emotionally receiving the congratulations after winning the George Enescu Trophy, when asked what he thinks is his strong point as a musician and a competitor, Kits said he tried to take this competition and each of its rounds as a concert with orchestra and public, not a race. “The specific of a competition makes playing on a stage much more difficult than it should be. You listen to the others play and inevitably you start comparing and becoming nervous. I tried to approach each round as I would a concert in front of an audience. I am particularly happy I had the chance in the finals to play the Cello Concerto no. 1 in E flat major op. 107 by Shostakovici, which was a first for me alongside an orchestra.”
Regarding what he knew about Enescu’s music before entering this competition, the Estonian musician said he was acquainted with the cello sonata no 2 (whose final is marked “a la roumaine”). “The first time I listened to it I was very surprised, I wasn’t aware Enescu had written such music, full of glissandos, very different from other cello works and with a pronounced folk character.”
What excites him the most about the cello career he has been involved in since already many years ago? „Of course, first I am in love with the exceptional sound of the cello. But I also am very fond of sharing this beautiful music with people. I don’t want to make people cry, of course, but sometimes when people from the audience come to me after concerts and say they were moved to tears, that is a very special compliment. It is paramount that the music touches the souls of people, and that is what I strive to achieve.”
For the future, Marcel Johannes Kits aims at maintaining a good balance between intensive study and his performing schedule. “And just to play good music.”
What he sees as a successful concert? “One during which I have given my best, as preparation as well as focus”, says the winner of the cello Enescu Competition. Things are (or rather seem to be) quite simple and clear when talent combines with passion, a strong desire to constantly become better and also, necessarily, with a great joy to create music with the beloved instrument.