Young Austrian prodigy Andreas Ottensamer is letting his clarinet do the talking. In Sydney off the back of his debut album Portraits, he sat down with Garrett Bithell.
As a 24-year-old football-playing, modelling clarinettist, it’s fair to say Andreas Ottensamer has cultivated a nice little niche for himself.
Born into a musical family in Vienna, Ottensamer dabbled with the piano and cello before taking up the clarinet. But, as he tells SX, making a career out of the instrument was not a decision he came to lightly.
“It was kind of inevitable that at some point I would pick up the clarinet and try it, because it was very present from the first day of my life, because my father and brother play it,” Ottensamer says. “So at the age of 12, the moment just came and I tried it! But deciding to stick with it was a whole different story – growing up in a musical family, I knew what it meant to be a musician, and the discipline and work it takes. So deciding to do that was not something I did lightly.”
Ottensamer took his first stint in the pit at the Vienna Staatsoper at the age of 16 for the opera Don Giovanni. He then went on to join two of Europe’s great youth ensembles – the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester and the Verbier Festival Orchestra. But without question the pinnacle of his orchestral career has been his collaboration as principal clarinettist with the Berlin Philharmonic over the past two years. He also has a bulging diary as a soloist and collaborated with Tori Amos on her 2011 release Night of Hunters.
Ottensamer’s highly skilled and charismatic ease with the instrument culminated in an exclusive recording contract earlier this year with theMercury Classics label, in partnership with Deutsche Grammophon – which makes him the first clarinettist to release exclusively through Deutsche Grammophon.
His debut album Portraits – The Clarinet Album presents a diverse repertoire that encapsulates his wide-ranging experiences with the instrument so far. Combining the first Spohr and the Copland concertos, two of the epic centrepieces of clarinet repertoire, with exciting new arrangements, the album is a wonderful showcase of what the clarinet can do – moving from jazz-infected Gershwin to the serene, filmic sounds of Copland and Debussy, and from the romantic vigour of Spohr to the neo-classical concerto of Cimarosa.
“The clarinet is probably the only woodwind instrument with a really big romantic repertoire,” Ottensamer asserts. “There is a large number of romantic solo concertos for the clarinet, which you won’t find for any other woodwind instrument – at least not of the same value.
“But more than that, the clarinet is a very diverse instrument – and I would hope the album is not only a portrait of me, but a portrait of the instrument. It’s very flexible and has the ability to feel at home as an instrument in so many different genres, and so many different time periods.”
Outside of the musical sphere, Andreas has done a spot of modelling, forgoing this path to accept a place at Harvard. But as soon as he arrived in the US he was back on a plane to Europe to audition for the Orchestra Academy of the Berlin Philharmonic. After a year in Berlin, he deferred his Harvard place again when he was made principal clarinettist of the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin. Another hobby on the side is the Vienna Virtuosos, the soccer team he plays in with his brother Daniel.
Ottensamer spent the last week in Sydney in support of Portraits, leading a master-class at the Conservatorium of Music and a gig for Universal Music’s Yellow Lounge. Looking forward, he reckons variety is key.
“The great thing about being a musician is the variety, and it’s really important to have,” he says. I don’t ever want to be only a soloist, or only an orchestra musician, or only playing chamber music. The combination of those different fields really helps you as a musician to grow and access different points of view.”
Andreas Ottensamer’s Portraits – The Clarinet Album is out now.