CULTURE

Formidable ThomasQuasthoff in Athens

Thomas Quasthoff, one of the most important bass-baritones to come out of Germany the past decade, will be in Athens on Saturday and Sunday to perform as a soloist in Bach’s Mass in B Minor at the Athens Concert Hall, with the Zurich Opera Orchestra and other soloists. Quasthoff has twice been awarded the German Echo Prize, as well as having received a Grammy in 2004 for Best Classical Vocal Performance. His 2004 appearance as Amfortas in Wagner’s «Parsifal» with the Vienna State Opera received rave reviews, both for his vocal and acting skills. Below are extracts from a recent interview with the opera singer. Bach seems to feature strongly in your repertoire. Why? Bach is a visionary and at the same a connoisseur, more so perhaps than any other composer. His music possesses grandeur, in the literal sense of the word. I began singing his works very early on, in cooperation with the conductor Helmuth Rilling. Ever since, his music has followed me. I always go back to it, because it is a medicine for the voice. You have interpreted his works with large symphony orchestras and ensembles of historical instruments. What is the difference between the two? There are many differences in the way the phrases are formed, and even in tempo. Furthermore, ensembles of historical instruments have conductors that require singers to limit – or even eliminate – the natural vibrato in their voices. Personally, I work well with both. I would not like to limit myself to either one or the other, as long as I find each individual approach convincing… You have also performed a great deal of songs of German Romanticism. In contrast to opera, where there is a spectacle, in song, the performer alone – with the accompaniment of a pianist – is required to reach out to the audience. Do you believe that this type of performance can appeal to a broad audience or not? It certainly does not appeal to the cognoscente only. Throughout the world there are many people who are interested in attending song recitals and it is important that at each performance an artist wins over at least one or two young people. However, I believe it is hard for classical music to win over young audiences because it does not hold the same place in today’s society as it did in the past. When I was a boy, we were taught to analyze everything, even poetry… This happens at very few schools nowadays. I would say that this method of teaching does not hold the same place in today’s society as it did in the past… What do you prefer, performing in a song recital or in an opera? I do not like questions where I have to answer in black and white. Anyway, as Amfortas in «Parsifal» with the Vienna State Opera, I was on stage with many other people, but I still sang alone. Furthermore, it was conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, who gave Wagner’s sound a chamber music character. Therefore, the differences are not always that great. How was your overall experience with that production? Fascinating. Of course, I am perfectly aware that I will never become an opera singer, because I cannot afford the time it takes and because, at the end of the day, it is entirely up to the director, though I have no complaints with Christine Mielitz, who directed «Parsifal.» [Thomas Quasthoff was born a «Thalidomide baby.»] In concerts, I am slated to sing Verdi’s «Falstaff» and Richard Strauss’s «Rosenkavalier,» while in 2009, I will return to the Vienna State Opera to perform as King Marke in Wagner’s «Tristan and Isolde» in a stage production. How did you become involved with singing? I come from a musical family that always gave me its support. My father made sure I took singing lessons and I worked with my teacher for a full 17 years. The result seems to be successful. What does success mean to you? To be able to work with excellent orchestras and to appear in places such as Athens with conductors such as Franz Welser-Most. You recently published your autobiography. You are 41 years old and still have many plans for the future. Why publish it so soon? Because of my problem, so many things have happened in my life and my experiences are a lot different than anything you will ever see in another artist’s biography. The proposal was made to me by a publisher, and as my brother is a journalist, the conditions seemed ideal. Is this the first time you will be visiting Greece? Of course not. I came here first as a student and visited Ithaca, Igoumenitsa and Santorini. I was taught Ancient Greek at school and have always been interested in the history and people of this country… Thomas Quasthoff will appear with soprano Malin Hartelius, mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink and tenor Christoph Strehl, the Zurich Opera Orchestra and the Singverein Choir of Vienna, under the baton of Franz Welser-Most, at the Athens Concert Hall on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 210.728.2000. Performing with the elite Thomas Quasthoff was born in Hildesheim, Germany, in 1956 and began studying music in 1972 in Hanover with Charlotte Lehmann. Though he has recorded with the BMG, Haenssler, EMI-Electrola, Philips and Bayer labels, in June 1999 he signed an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon.  He has sung with leading American orchestras under the batons of great maestros such as Daniel Barenboim, Colin Davis, Mariss Jansons, Kurt Masur, Seiji Ozawa and Franz Welser-Moest, while in Europe he regularly appears with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the London Philharmonic and Symphony orchestras, under such eminent conductors as Sir Simon Rattle, Claudio Abbado, Bernard Haitink and Daniel Barenboim. This year he will perform recitals in Amsterdam, Vienna, Florence, Milan, Paris, Zurich and London.