Thursday, December 21, 2006

Quasthoff - An Ordinary Kind of Bloke

I can see why someone said that they did not care for how this book, The Voice - A Memoir, was written - but it's a matter of taste. After this comment I expected it to be written in the hallmark TV kind of style (overcoming adversity and all that), but in fact Thomas Quasthoff and his brother Micha put it together in a very entertaining, blokeish kind of way. This emphasizes the fact that he is just the bloke nextdoor, good for a party, good for a trip to the pub, and he happens to sing. In his book he remorselessly takes the p*ss out of critics and other media folk! Understandably since he, as a 'Promi' (a celebrity) suffers a fair bit at their hands.

As it happens, he was born with thalidomide damage, causing him to be very short, amongst other issues. At the time, Germany was not that up to integration of persons with disabilities, so he and his parents went through the usual periods of institutional care, since, for example, no school would admit him initially. Also the music academy at Hanover rejected him since he could not play another instrument. However, he and his family persevered, and despite his lack of formal (ie supported by a piece of paper) music education he ended up winning the ARD competition in 1988. And the rest is history. He is welcome in every concerthall and opera house in the world. His repertoire is very wide, including jazz , due to a misspent youth and his brother's keen interest, including performing, in jazz. His voice (baritone) is like velvet, or hot chocolate - he himself suggests that this smoothness comes from also singing jazz and popular American songs, like Sinatra. I suspect that if it has notes, he'll sing it. Here are some sound samples.

Recently he has also taken to singing opera to raving reviews, and since the late 90s he has been teaching (though, Mr Quasthoff, I don't think you were the only performing teacher at Detmold Hochschule fuer Musik - Nobuko Imai also taught there, and performed a lot. I know, it's 'only' the viola...). He must be the only music professor in German history who does not have a single academic qualification!

It seems he is mates with our own Yuri Bashmet. He suggests that the Moscow Soloists who regularly perform with Bashmet are supported by him so that they have a reasonable quality of living (unlike other Russian orchestral musicians). Well, maybe.

If his mother had been pregnant with him 20 - 25 years later, with ultrasound scanning and interventions being available, one wonders what would have happened. This is a very sobering thought.