A Photographer in the MCO’s Ranks

7 March 2017

For MCO violinist Geoffroy Schied, getting ready for a tour means more than “just” learning repertoire, organizing travel logistics, and packing. Very often, it also involves thinking about how to capture the MCO – its facets, personalities, and complex identity – all from a photographer’s perspective. 

Geoffroy discovered photography at a young age. However, with the rise of digital cameras, he felt disconnected with the medium and it wasn’t until 2014 – during a conversation backstage with a photographer during the MCO’s Beethoven Journey with Leif Ove Andsnes, and upon seeing this photographer’s work – that he felt it was time to return to photography. 

After the MCO’s celebrated debut in the Elbphilharmonie with Artistic Partner Mitsuko Uchida, Geoffroy Schied shared his thoughts on discovering the Elbphilharmonie, juggling his roles as musician and photographer, and what he hopes to convey with his work. 

What were your first impressions of the Elbphilharmonie? 
Actually, I couldn’t wait to get close to the Elbphilharmonie. We have waited so many years for it to open, often catching a glimpse of it during our short tour visits to Hamburg, a peculiar silhouette in Hamburg’s skyline.

On the evening we arrived, I took a city bike down to the Elbphilharmonie, stopped a ways away and walked the rest to soak in the atmosphere. Even though a storm was announced for the next day, I stayed as long as I could up on the plaza. It felt like being aboard a large ship arriving at the dock. 

How are these similar or different for you as a photographer and as a musician? 
Obviously as musicians we are impatient to discover the stage and acoustics, feel the hall, get the vibe. At the same time, as a photographer, I crave the visual discovery of a new building: a new space, how the light plays, the surfaces, the materials, the lines, the colours. There are so many layers to unveil in a building of such high architectural value.

On the day of the concert, I followed Matthias [Mayr, our Stage Manager], who would unload the truck and set up the stage. After a long wait, I could roam freely in the hall as the stage was being prepared. What a luxury to be practically alone and wander around, seeing and capturing. I could focus on details of the architecture, textures, lighting and colours, and try to understand the idea and essence of the auditorium. When the MCO musicians started to arrive, it was time to focus on two more things: the playing and capturing images of musicians in the Elbphilharmonie. Time to walk around with violin and camera.

What are the challenges of taking photos in a new hall (one which you haven’t been to before, such as the Elbphilharmonie)? 

With a new hall, I always feel I have too little time. On tour, we basically have part of the afternoon and evening to test the acoustics and play the concert. In that same time, I am also taking photos. New buildings such as the Elbphilharmonie are complex in structure, full of surprises, so one cannot rely on common knowledge of other concert halls. I try to find out as much as possible beforehand about the layout, different spaces, and possible angles for images. I walk around, explore, and sometimes I get locked out behind doors and walk much more to find my way back in!

Is there a routine that you follow when you photograph the MCO on tour?

The tour schedule is always quite full and extra things always pop up, so I make sure I start a tour knowing the music really well. This frees my mind for photography. I typically need to capture a wide variety of situations, so it means that I am basically always either a photographer or a musician. As I constantly switch between being a musician and photographer, my mind becomes more alert and my senses are more in tune with my surroundings. I feel I see and hear more since I am photographing so much on tour. In fact, it has become even more enjoyable.

What do you try to convey through your photos of the MCO?

I try to engage our remote audience with us on tour. Each tour has a distinctive flavor depending on the location, mix of artists, repertoire, and season. The journey is our home and I want to share that with everyone. I know it will leave one more trace for us to get back to when the music has gone quiet. The images will bring the sound back to our ears. 

I recently rediscovered photos of rehearsals during our first tour with Claudio Abbado in Aix-en-Provence in 1998, and Don Giovanni rushed in my ears, as well as the colours of the stage, the feel of our stage costume as we played in the stage band. Photos can be a powerful trigger to experience past events again.

How does your role as an MCO musician influence the way you take photos of the MCO?

I am one of the band and have been for 20 years now, ever since we started the MCO fresh out of the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester. I feel the pulse of the orchestra from inside. I live in the middle of it and not besides it. I share the experience. I believe I can get closer, show more, without bursting the bubble. 

My role is to tell a story with visuals, making sense with series of images, rather than focusing on the single perfect photo. This is definitely a common point with music making.

What are some of the challenges you face as a photographer who also plays during the concerts? 

I used to see the musician and photographer as a different roles. More and more the roles are merging and feeding each other. Sound and image are the orchestra’s score. I live both and try to express my vision in both forms.

What’s the best hall you’ve ever photographed the orchestra in?

It’s hard to say. The hall isn’t everything; it’s a backdrop. Sometimes it makes photographing easy, sometimes harder, but the main subject is the orchestra, the musicians, the mood of the tour. Ferrara and Reggio Emilia’s theatres are special for their atmosphere, and because of our history there. There is so much character in the old Italian theatres, all more or less built on the same model, yet so different. They invariably sit in the middle of town and we stay nearby, living alongside the locals. This has always been a strong aspect of MCO life: music as integral part of people’s life. 

Share a particularly memorable anecdote with us.

Exploring the hall, looking for a good angle, getting locked out of the auditorium and stuck in a corridor, waiting for someone to appear and free me. By chance someone saw me on the security camera!

View more of Geoffroy Schied's work on his blog: