Quasthoff, Thomas

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Thomas Quasthoff

Opera singer

For the Record

Selected discography


Bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff demonstrated an aptitude and appreciation for music before the age of one. According to People magazines Patrick Rogers, he lay in the childrens ward of a hospital in Germany near his home in Hildesheim, where nurses played recorded music to calm the young patients. The following day, Quasthoff was singing one of the melodies and the nurses informed his mother that he had musical talent. New York Philharmonic guest conductor Sir Colin Davis said, [Quasthoff] is one of the great bass-baritones of our time. To me, he is a lesson in life. Quasthoff told Rogers, I dont like recording. I love audiences, and by the time Quasthoff was thirty nine years old in 1999 with more than twenty CDs to his credit, it was clear that this star of the classic music realm was equally loved by his audiences.

Quasthoff was born on November 9, 1959 near the industrial city of Hildesheim in the Hannover region of Germany, where his father, Hans, worked as a civil servant. His mother, Brigitte, was a homemaker who took the drug thalidomide for morning sickness when pregnant with him. As a result of the drug, Quasthoffs hands are attached to his shoulders and he stands barely four feet tall. As an infant, he spent a year and a half in a plaster body cast that helped straighten his twisted feet. At age six, he was placed in a hospital for mentally and physically disabled children by German authorities, but eventuallyafter a prolonged battlehis father persuaded authorities to allow Quasthoff to live at home. When speaking with Rogers, he explained how he seemed unfazed by these early experiences: He said, I learned to look around and realize there are people whose situation is worse than mine.

When Quasthoff was thirteen, he was refused a place at a school for the performing arts because it was physically impossible for him to play the piano. Though always small in stature, Quasthoff has always had a sturdy, exuberant personality and strong sense of self. His older brother, Michael, a journalist living in Hannover, told Rogers that his brother was never shy or timid. When other children taunted him because of his birth defects, he held his own. Michael said; One couldnt exactly call him shy. He had such a big mouth, he didnt put up with much. Quasthoffs parents began recording his renditions of pop songs when he was still in diapers. His hopes for a musical career, however, were temporarily dashed when his application to the Hannover Hochschule fur Musik und Theater was rejected because of his disability. Resilient and determined, his parents arranged for daily lessons in Hannover with concert singer Charlotte Lehmann, a well-known soprano, with whom he studied voice for 17 years. Quasthoff gives her full credit for his extraordinary technical proficiency. He also studied music theory with Professor Ernst Huber-Contwig. Quasthoffs first big break came in 1988 when he received Germanys prestigious ARD International Musical Competition, spurring a rush of concert bookings and recording deals. Oregon Bach Festival conductor Helmuth Rilling heard him perform in Germany and thought, Outstanding voice, outstanding person, and invited him to sing at the annual summer event in Eugene, OR in 1995. Quasthoff held on to his day job for a while, however, until his confidence grew. He continued to work as a popular Hannover radio announcer for six more years after that turning point in Munich.

Quasthoff rose to the apex of the musical world by utilizing his remarkably resonant voice. A Wall Street Journal reviewer described his delivery as Gutsy, declamatory, and Tower of Babel reviewer Pat Barnes described his voice as large and resonant, both on top and on the bottom. He is in complete control of this voice, both in its shading and its dynamic effect, which he uses to its full advantage in the interpretation of songs. [ Des Knaben Wunderhorn was] sung with rollicking humorchilling in its impactphrasing and diction were exceptional. Quastoff recorded Des Knaben Wunderhorn for the first time with mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter and the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Claude Abbado, and Byrnes described it as an exciting debut from a wonderful artist.

For the Record

Born on November 9, 1959 near Hildesheim in Germany; son of Hans (a civil servant) and Brigitte Quasthoff (a homemaker); brother Michael a journalist. Education: Studied voice with concert singer Charlotte Lehmann for 17 years; studied music theory with Professor Ernst Huber-Contwig.

Radio announcer in Hannover; performed at venues across the globe, beginning in the early-to-mid 1990s; taught special master classes; professor for life at the Musikakademie in Detmold, Germany; released many recordings including Carl Loewe: Ballads, EMI, 1989; Robert Schumann: Dichterliebe, Liederkreis Op. 39, RCA, 1992; Franz Schubert: Goethr-Lieder, RCA, 1994; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Mozart Arias, RCA, 1994; Ludwig von Beethoven-fidelio, RCA, 1995; Georg Frid-ericHandel: The Messiah, Hanssler Classic, 1997; Gustav Mahler: Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Duetsche Grammo-phone Gesellschaft, 1998; Krzysztof Penderecki: Credo, Hanssler Classic, 1998; Franz Schubert: Winterreise, RCA, 1998.

Awards: ARD International Musical Competition in 1998.

Addresses: Record company Deutsche Grammophone, 825 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10019; (212) 333-8000.

Quasthoff, who resides in Hannover, discovered that his frequent concerts in the U.S. have left him appreciative of Americans. He told Rogers, Americans respect accomplishment, and he recalled that a German critic once referred to him as a gnome. Quasthoff, however, is notthe type of person to let thoughtless slights deter him from happiness. He also told Rogers, I think its important to accept your disability. If you dont love peopleand that includes yourselfyou shouldnt be in this business. In April of 1999, he sang works by Bach and Mozart with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and has a seemingly limitless career ahead of him. His versatility and gusto, combined with his obvious enjoyment of the material, render him a memorable, unique performer. He has been undaunted by hurdles that would have left most people back at the starting gate decades ago, and his prolific output serves to underscore his success.

Since 1988, when he earned first prize in voice at Munichs ARD music competitionthe same competition that earlier launched the career of Americana soprano Jessye NormanQuasthoff has been winning over audiences. Time magazines Elizabeth Gleick wrote of Quasthoff, He is poised on the brink of world renown.With an impish sense of humor and an almost boisterous conviviality, Quasthoff presents a picture of a man who has never struggledand indeed, he lives alone, and often travels alone, needing little or no assistance. Beyond such nuts and bolts, though, there is the all-important matter of souland Quasthoff has that in abundance. In addition to performing, Quasthoff teaches special master classes and has been made a professor for life at the Musikakademie in Detmold. In a beautiful twist of fate, the conservatory that turned him away as a child later invited him to do a temporary instructorship, which he graciously accepted.

Selected discography

Carl Loewe: Ballades, EMI, 1989.

Robert Schumman: Dichterliebe, Liederkreis Op. 39, RCA, 1992.

Franz Schubert: Goethe-Lieder, RCA, 1993.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Mozart Arias, RCA, 1994.

Ludwig von Beethoven Fidelio, RCA, 1995.

Georg Frideric Handel: The Messiah, Hanssler Classic, 1997.

Gustav Mahler: Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Deutsche GrammophoneGesellschaft, 1998.

Krzysztof Penderecki: Credo, Hanssler Classic, 1998.

Franz Schubert: Winterreise, RCA, 1998.



People, March 8, 1999.

Time, June 30, 1997.


Thomas Quasthof Biography, http:www.ping.be/gopera/quasthoff (September 24, 1999).

New York Philharmonc Review, Tower of Babel Review, http://www.towerofbabel.com/sections/music/baton/reviews/nyphilharmonic/111298 September 24, 1999).

B. Kimberly Taylor