The German violinist speaks about finding your own path and classical music’s way forward

01_CWidmann_187 - Lennard Ruehle

Photo: Lennard Ruehle

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The teacher who was most pivotal in making me become a professional violinist was Ali Tas, from the Munich Music School. I learnt from him between the ages of nine and twelve. He had the perfect mix of being ambitious and caring, but also tough. From a very young age he made me realise how hard this profession is, but also made me want to work as hard as possible because I loved the music and him. His approach, even though adapted for young children, had such musical depth. To this day I still admire how great a pedagogue he was.

Perhaps the most influential teacher in my education was Michèle Auclair at the New England Conservatory. Unlike my other teachers, she had had the life of a soloist that I now lead. She would tell me that whenever you are in a busy season, and have only 30 minutes to practise, not to waste it. Play scales or exercises rather than running through a concerto. She was a very tough teacher, however. And so after a very intense four years with her, it did me so much good to go to David Takeno in London. He completely freed me up. Half of our job as musicians is to have the confidence to think we can do it. He gave me the self-belief to know that I was good enough to have fun and just play. Sometimes when things are too intense, we lose the sight of why we chose to do music in the first place.

‘Be crazy, I don’t care – just be you!’

Although I finished my formal education at the age of 25, the 15 or so years that followed held some of the most interesting experiences of my life. These are the years when you need to decide, for yourself, who you want to be as a musician. It’s not enough just to play the right notes any more. For those who are at this stage today, I would advise them always to be themselves. Be crazy, I don’t care – just be you! It will forever touch audiences. I would also recommend finding a special interest in some kind of music. For me it was contemporary music, and it gave me an opening into the industry. Offer something that others can’t. Everyone has something that makes them special.


Carolin Widmann in 1984 playing with brother Jörg Widmann in Unterhaching

Classical music is perhaps the only industry that limits itself voluntarily in terms of what we play. Everyone is afraid that non-standard repertoire won’t sell, but promoters need to be more courageous. If we look at popular music there are lots of genres, such as indie music, that have smaller audiences than, say, rock music. And yet that makes them stylish. For some reason when it comes to classical music, if it doesn’t appeal to the masses, it is a failure. All these young players who are bravely venturing into new genres need to be rewarded, not punished, for their courage. It is not always the number of people in the room that matters, but instead how deeply you touch those – even if only a few – that are there.


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