For violinist Carolin Widmann and her brother, composer and clarinettist Jörg Widmann, footballing rivalries mask a deep-seated respect for each other’s abilities 

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Carolin Widmann © Lennard Rühle

Jörg Widmann © Marco Borggreve

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This was published in the March 2014 issue of The Strad

Carolin Widmann

Jörg and I grew up in a little village outside Munich and started making music together at a very young age. When I was about seven and he was about ten, he would play piano reductions of opera scores and I would sing along, and we’d get through entire operas together. We used soft toys as the characters: for The Magic Flute we had a sheep for the Queen of the Night and a really boring dog that used to be Tamino. Whenever Jörg had a birthday coming up, his biggest wish was for piano reductions of operas.

When we were young, I sometimes got frustrated because I felt that I was having to work harder than him. When you begin playing the violin, you have to put in many hours of practice before you sound any good. At the start, it is more difficult to get the technique down than with the clarinet. But as we’ve got older, I’ve realised how much work he has had to put in to get to where he is now in his life and career.

Jörg is my best friend and we have always had a lot of fun together. Besides music, our greatest shared passion is football. When we were small, we used to play out in the street with the other children from our neighbourhood. One time I broke his thumb — but I scored! I kicked the football really hard and he was in goal. But he never resented that. He understood that scoring the goal was the most important thing.

The clarinet and the violin are very different instruments, and we are very different people. Many people say we are completely the same in our gestures and how we talk, but I think our personalities are quite dissimilar. He stays up until 4am and doesn’t care, whereas I think about what I have to do next day. He can be quite impractical and sometimes needs bringing back down to earth. At Christmas he always says, ‘It would be really nice to have a cup of tea now,’ and that means, ‘Carolin, will you make me a cup of tea!’ It is sometimes like taking care of a child.

I admire Jörg’s persistance. If he happens to be criticised or get bad reviews, he listens to them but he always keeps going. I once pointed out to him that some people just decide not to read reviews, but he said that if you don’t read them, you’re not above it. You have to read it, face it and then forget it. He is very sensitive but he keeps on persevering.

Jörg Widmann

When Carolin and I were small we used to practise in rooms next to each other. It was funny to hear her playing all the time. I honestly don’t think I would compose in the same way without her influence. I could always hear her doing crazy things in the other room.

Once she was playing this really wild piece that I assumed was something avant-garde from the 1960s or 1970s, and I was intrigued so I went next door to ask her what it was. She told me it was Ysaÿe and I said it sounded incredibly hard but she said, ‘No, actually it’s pretty easy to make it work because it’s written so well for the violin.’ I was fascinated by that, and when I wrote my Third Violin Etude for her, it was based on some of her improvisations on Ysaÿe.

When I wrote new music for the violin, I would show it to her before anyone else. Usually her fi rst reaction would be, ‘This is crazy — no one could ever play this!’ But then the next morning I would come down to breakfast and there would be a sheet of paper on the table with a few amendments. She was always able to find a solution, and that says a lot about her. She will always struggle to reach the next level.

We still play together when we can, and it’s like breathing when we do — we don’t even have to look at each other. We also have a lot of fun: in rehearsals we often have to stop several times because we are laughing so much. The more serious the occasion, the more we laugh.

It is rare for us to disagree on interpretation, and we love similar string players. But we often disagree about football. In the last Champions League final, she supported Borussia Dortmund and I was backing Bayern Munich. I still don’t understand it — we come from Bavaria and Bayern Munich has had such a troubled history in the competition. My team definitely deserved its win!

We have very much different personalities: she is a Scorpio and I am a Gemini. I often have different opinions depending on the mood I’m in, but Carolin has very strong principles and sticks to them. I admire that, because I don’t. As a Gemini, I tend to veer between extremes, but she is always consistent.


This was published in the March 2014 issue of The Strad

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