Sad news on New Year’s Day. The very fine German cellist Christoph Marks has died unexpectedly of heart failure. Christoph (on the right of the photo) was the principal cello of the NDR Radiophilharmonie in Hannover, but we in Britain knew him best as principal cello of the Gaudier Ensemble with whom he played for 28 years. He plays on all the group’s highly-praised recordings on the Hyperion label including the Schubert Octet, a wonderful disc of Strauss Dances, and our CD of Mozart piano concertos. For many years Christoph was also a faithful participant in the International Musicians’ Seminars in Prussia Cove, Cornwall.
The Gaudier Ensemble has an annual festival in the Dorset village of Cerne Abbas. A couple of years after the festival began, I joined in as the pianist, and so I played with Christoph for almost 25 years. It was always heartwarming to see the mutual love affair between Christoph and this picturesque old English village. He found his yearly trip to the Dorset countryside a delightful foil to his life in Germany, and our audiences treasured him. I used to enjoy the sight of him walking down Abbey Street in his stately way, being welcomed back by residents who hadn’t seen him since the previous year. Christoph was tall, slim and handsome with a big smile and a naturally bald head. In every way, he shone under the platform lights. It was a measure of his affection for Cerne that he chose to celebrate his 50th birthday by putting on a concert of solo Bach cello suites in the village church, raising money for charity. He stayed with the same lovely people every summer for 27 years, becoming ‘part of the family’ as they fondly said.
In any chamber group, the members find themselves playing particular ‘roles’. Christoph was our diplomat. He always spoke sincerely and considerately in rehearsal. Whenever there was anything tricky to be discussed, we used to push him forward as the spokesman because we knew he would stay calm and phrase things tactfully (indeed, beautifully: his command of English was as elegant as everything else about him). His long experience of orchestral life in the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and in the NDR Orchestra had trained him in the art of defusing tension with finesse. He, conversely, savoured our ‘English’ way of doing things, divertingly different from what he was used to. He found our working methods fast and slightly chaotic but also fruitful. He was very proud of the standard of playing in the Gaudier’s concerts and recordings.
Christoph was very popular, both inside the group and with its fans. Over the years, he had become a sort of figurehead of the ensemble. He will be greatly missed.