An Austrian shares his passion for the clarinet in Beijing
Andreas Ottensamer, the principal clarinetist of the Berlin Philharmonic, just had a hectic 48 hours in China.
Shortly after landing in Beijing, the 27-year-old Austrian played tennis to relax. The next afternoon, he gave a 90-minute master class and sat for interviews, and then played another round of tennis. On his last day in the capital, he played in a concert with Argentine pianist Jose Gallardo on Thursday, during the ongoing 15th Beijing Music Festival, the city’s annual event devoted to classical music.
“It’s boring to just have one thing in life to express feelings and experiences. Sports and music are two things keeping me energetic,” says the clarinetist.
The performance he gave in Beijing included his adaptation of a combination of jazz and folk, such as Piazzolla’s tango pieces, Carlos Gardel’s Por una Cabeza and Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No 6.
“In our time of fast entertainment and unlimited access to quick information and attractions, classical music sometimes seems dusty and strange. Withmy choice of program, I would like to speak to the younger generation in particular and show how appealing and attractive classical music can be,” says Ottensamer.
“I always try to be authentic onstage. It’s like anactor, who feeds emotion to the audience.”
Ottensamer has been performing in China since2014. He sayshe’s always happy to return because Asian countries are enthusiastic about classical music education.
He says that music is the beginning of his life. His clarinet, he says, is like “the voice ofmy mother” — that’s so familiar since his youth.
His father, Ernst Ottensamer, and his older brother, Daniel Ottensamer, are both principal clarinetists with the Vienna Philharmonic.
In 2005, the father and sons formed a clarinet trio, touring Austria, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. This year, they have released the album The Clarinotts — Ernst, Daniel & Andreas Ottensamer, which includes pieces by Mendelssohn, Mozart and Rossini, and features the Wiener Virtuosen string ensemble.
“The process of learning music is not merely practicing skills. Music is always there. My family often plays music together, which is a lot of fun,” Andreas Ottensamer says.
Clarinet was not his first instrument. He had his first piano lessons at 4 and his second choice — when he was 10— was the cello.
“One day, I picked up the clarinet at home andmy father just let me go ahead,” he says.
“I like the sound of the clarinet, which can be melancholy, outgoing or crazy.
“I am very lucky that I had the chance to experience various instruments. It helps a lot to understand the difficulties and possibilities of different instruments and broadens your imagination of sound and interpretation.”
The young Austrian gained his first orchestral experience with the Vienna State Opera and the Vienna Philharmonic.
In 2009, he interrupted his Harvard studies to become a scholar of the Orchestra Academy of the Berlin Philharmonic. In 2013, he became the principal clarinetist of the Berlin Philharmonic.
Despite his achievements at a young age, the clarinetist says that he has never had goals in his life “because it’s dangerous”.
“I just focus on the things I am doing, like the show I give in Beijing,” he says.
In 2013, he forged an exclusive recording partnership with Mercury Classics/Deutsche Grammophon — the first solo clarinetist to sign an exclusive deal with the label.
His debut album, Portraits — The Clarinet Album, was released internationally in June 2013. It explores his love for both jazz and classical music, with a program of wide-ranging musical styles — from the early-Romantic intensity of Louis Spohr to the jazz inflections of George Gershwin.
He has just finished recording a newalbum, which goes back to the beginning of the music pieces written for clarinet.
“In 1777, Mozart heard the clarinet in Mannheim, a small town in Germany. Being impressed with the instrument, he wrote a letter to his father, saying that he would write more music for this instrument,” says Ottensamer.
For the newalbum, he also invited his colleagues at the Berlin Philharmonic to join in the recording.
“One of the biggest challenges I faced during the recording was being without a conductor,” he says. “I did the job mostly by myself and it was fascinating.”
Clarinetist Andreas Ottensamer on his recent visit to Beijing.