Author: Tobias Möller
ca. 2 minutes

Jörg Widmann | Picture: Stefan Höderath

Jörg Widmann’s compositions are enormously diverse, and for a simple reason: he doesn’t want to bore himself with doing the same thing. The chief beneficiary of this passion for discovery, of course, is the audience. Jörg Widmann is the Berliner Philharmoniker’s Composer in Residence for the 2023-24 season.  

“My main driving force in composing always comes from the emotion. Beethoven once wrote: ‘From the heart – may it return to the heart.’ My art comes from the heart. Or I would go even further: Art comes from necessity. I cannot do anything other than compose a piece that’s weighing on my mind.” Jörg Widmann is regarded as one of the most exciting musicians of our time – and as one of the most versatile. For more than two decades, he’s been receiving commissions from leading orchestras and ensembles. As one of the finest clarinettists, he tours the concert halls of the world and regularly inspires composers to create new works for his instrument. And for several years, his third area of activity has been conducting. Widmann was principal conductor of the Irish Chamber Orchestra until the end of 2022 and is constantly expanding his activities as an orchestral director. In addition, he teaches young composers, currently at the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin.

The most important thing for Jörg Widmann: the sound

If one can still talk about musical child prodigies nowadays, then Jörg Widmann was one of them. His first clarinet instruction at seven, compositional instruction at the age of eleven, major concert appearances already in his youth. After that a solid musical training as instrumentalist and composer with the most renowned teachers in Munich, Karlsruhe and New York, among them Hans Werner Henze and Wolfgang Rihm. By his early 20s, Widmann, born in 1973 in Munich, was numbered among the most interesting musical personalities of his generation.

From the beginning he has addressed people of the most diverse backgrounds with his music. His mainly large-scale scores are just as impressive in a specialized avant-garde forum as in a traditional symphony concert. His musical language is modern, experimental, while at the same time of such clarity and urgency that it wins over laymen as readily as experts. The sound is everything for him. It isn’t by chance that he calls himself an “instrumentation fetishist”.

Dialogue across the centuries

As an interpreter of the clarinet concertos of Mozart and Weber, he is fundamentally preoccupied with a critical examination of the tradition. “I find the most exciting programmes to be those which combine music of the past with music of today. It sometimes isn’t enough for me to hear only contemporary works. But the same is true of an entire evening of just Baroque music. Music really catches fire for me in a dialogue across the centuries.” Widmann the musician is constantly being driven into the open-ended, into the uncertain: “I wish for my own sake that each work is different, quite simply because I don’t want to bore myself. When somebody always does the same thing all his life, at some point they call that style. For me, the new and different is much more important.”