How Yulia Mahr met Max Richter: ‘My first impression was, who is this sweaty man?’ | Life and style


For the composer Max Richter it was love at first sight when he spotted the visual artist Yulia Mahr at Edinburgh festival in 1988. She was performing in a play of the Mahabharata, and he was impressed by her talent and beauty. “There were only a few people there. I saw this woman acting and fell in love instantly,” he remembers. “Of course, I never thought I’d see her again, and she never saw me.”

Two years later, their paths crossed again. Yulia was working as a director for a theatre company in London called the Arts Threshold. “It was set up by Brian Astbury, to give young people their first chance in theatre. There was a lot of experimental stuff going on,” she says. “I needed a composer for a show called The Painted Lady, and someone suggested I speak to Max.” Having studied music, Max was in the early stages of his career, performing regularly as a pianist and trying to make a name for himself as a composer. The interview took place in Maison Bertaux, a Soho patisserie that was a popular hangout for artists at the time. “He cycled there, so my first impression was: ‘Who is this sweaty man?’” laughs Yulia. As they began chatting, she was impressed by his “inquiring mind … He was really up for experimentation. He was clearly happy to question himself and the world,” she says. “I hired him to do the composing role, as I thought he’d turn up and be committed, which is what I really needed.”

As soon as they began working on the show together, their bond began to grow. “She was very smart and full of ideas,” says Max. “I felt immediately we had a shared sense of what was important in the world and what wasn’t. There was common ground in books, theatre and music as well.” Although there was clearly a spark between them, neither of them wanted to rush. “I had this calm sense of sureness that we could take our time,” says Yulia. “There was some sort of certainty there, which I’d never felt before.”

In May 1991, they shared a kiss at a friend’s wedding and began dating from then on. “We would go to the cinema, for walks and kite-flying on Hampstead heath,” says Max. “We also went to a lot of art galleries because of Yulia’s interest in visual arts.” The couple moved in together in Islington in 1993, and went on to have three children, born in 1998, 1999 and 2008. They married in 2003 and celebrated with a garden party. “We had no money, just £150 to spend, but it was great,” says Yulia. “My ring cost £1 from the Monsoon leftover bin. The woman on the till was cracking up.”

In 2008, they moved to Berlin, where they lived for eight years. “I’m from Hungary originally, and Max is originally from Germany. We wanted to go back and connect with our European roots,” says Yulia.

They returned to the UK in 2016, setting up an artists’ studio at their home near Oxford. “As well as housing our own work, others can use it as a creative space,” says Yulia. Just before lockdown in 2020, they were able to reconnect with their old mentor Brian, when he came to one of Max’s performances at a concert at the Barbican. “It felt like a beautiful reconnection of all our values. It was one of those time machine moments from when we first met,” says Max. “He sadly died a few days later.”

After more than 30 years together, the couple have faced many challenges, but know the stresses of life can never break them. “If you can get through those things and stay the course, your relationship becomes something so profound and unshakable,” says Yulia. “We are always there for each other.”

Free + Equal by Studio Richter Mahr is out now

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