Born: June 19th, 1973
Country of origin: Germany
Conductor: Duncan Ward
January 1st, 2015 | Philharmonie - Köln - Germany
January 14th, 2015 | BR, Studio 2 - München - Germany
Whoever encounters the music of Jörg Widmann for the first time is astonished at its directness and intensity. Not infrequently, the music breaks like a raging torrent over the listener: it is excessive in its effervescent virtuosity or its infinite sadness. (Markus Fein)
Jörg Widmann was born in Munich on 19 June 1973. He studied the clarinet at the Hochschule für Musik in Munich with Gerd Starke and later with Charles Neidich at the Juilliard School in New York (1994-1995). He additionally began to take composition lessons with Kay Westermann at the age of eleven and subsequently continued his studies with Wilfried Hiller and Hans Werner Henze (1994-1996) and later Heiner Goebbels and Wolfgang Rihm in Karlsruhe (1997-1999). Widmann’s great passion as a clarinettist is chamber music and he regularly performs with partners such as Daniel Barenboim, Tabea Zimmermann, Heinz Holliger, András Schiff, Kim Kashkashian, and Hélène Grimaud. He has also achieved great success as a soloist in orchestral concerts in Germany and abroad. Several works have been dedicated to Widmann by fellow composers: in 1999, he performed the premiere of “Music for Clarinet and Orchestra” by Wolfgang Rihm in the musica viva concert series; in 2006, he performed "Cantus" by Aribert Reimann with the WDR symphony orchestra, and in 2009, at the Lucerne Festival, the world premiere of Rechant by Heinz Holliger. In 2001, Jörg Widmann was appointed as the successor to Dieter Klöcker as professor of clarinet at the Freiburg Staatliche Hochschule für Musik where he also took up the post of professor of composition in 2009.
It is the string quartets which form the core of Widmann’s œuvre: String Quartet No. I (1997), followed by Choralquartett (2003/2006) and Jagdquartett which was premiered by the Arditti Quartet in 2003. This series was completed in 2005 by String Quartet No. IV (first performance given by the Vogler Quartet) and Quartet No. V with soprano, Versuch über die Fuge [Attempt at a Fugue], premiered by Juliane Banse and the Artemis Quartet. The five string quartets are intended as a large cycle, with each individual work following a traditional form of setting.
Widmann has composed a trilogy of works for large orchestra on the transformation of vocal forms for instrumental forces consisting of the compositions Lied (2003/2007), Chor (2004) and Messe (2005). In 2007, Christian Tetzlaff and the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie gave the premiere of Widmann’s first Violin Concerto. The same year, Pierre Boulez and the Vienna Philharmonic gave the first performance of Armonica for orchestra: Widmann combines the heavenly tonal colours of a glass harmonica above the orchestra to produce a homogenously breathing body of sounds and sound effects. This was followed by Con brio, an homage to Beethoven, performed for the first time by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Mariss Jansons. For pianist Yefim Bronfman, Widmann wrote the piano concerto Trauermarsch. It was first performed in December 2014 with the Berlin Philharmonic under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle.
Three music-theatre projects prove Widmann to be an outstanding composer for the stage: the opera Das Gesicht im Spiegel was chosen by the German magazine Opernwelt as the most significant first performance of the season 2003/04. Am Anfang (2009) is the result of a unique kind of collaboration between a visual artist and a composer; Widmann created the work together with Anselm Kiefer and conducted the world premiere on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Opéra Bastille in Paris. The most recent stage work Babylon (2011/12) is a commission by the Bayerische Staatsoper Munich. Jörg Widmann and philosopher Peter Sloterdijk in his first venture as librettist present a new interpretation of the Babylon myth in this musicaldramatic Gesamtkunstwerk.
Jörg Widmann has received numerous prizes for his compositions: the Belmont Prize for Contemporary Music from the Forberg-Schneider Foundation (1998), the Schneider-Schott Music Prize, the Paul Hindemith Prize (both in 2002), the Encouragement Award from the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation, the Achievement Award from the Munich Opera Festival (both in 2003) as well as the Arnold Schönberg Prize (2004). In 2006, Widmann received the Composition Prize from the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg as well as the Claudio Abbado Composition Prize from the Orchestra Academy of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2009, he received the Elise L. Stoeger Prize of the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, New York and in 2013, he was awarded the Music Award of the Heidelberger Frühling and the GEMA German Music Authors Award. He is a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin and a full member of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts, the Free Academy of the Arts in Hamburg and the German Academy of Dramatic Arts. He was composer-in-residence of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Salzburg Festival, the Lucerne Festival, the Cologne Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Vienna Konzerthaus.