Name: Dorothee Oberlinger
Nationality: Recorder player, professor
Current release: Dialoge, a duo album featuring Dorothee Oberlinger and lutist Edin Karamazov is available via deutsche harmonia mundi.
Recommendations: I love "Journey to Cythera" by Watteau. And "The ghost of the coldness" by Purcell/ King Arthur, sung by Klaus Nomi.
If you enjoyed this Dorothee Oberlinger interview, visit her official website for more information.
When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started playing when I was five and my mother was my first teacher. She brought us two recorders from her holidays and taught herself and me the first flute notes. At that time, we had a lot of LPs by Frans Brüggen in our record collection and my parents listened to baroque music all the time. That certainly influenced me a lot …
I always loved the simplicity of the instrument. It is made of wood, and you blow directly into it. It's an extension of the windpipe and the ego, so to speak.
And of course I love the many different sizes and sounds. I come from a family of priests and organ builders and actually it is a kind of "registration" that I am constantly doing.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I have and had many role models – not only musicians! With the recorder these include Frans Brüggen, Pedro Memelsdorff, Walter Van Hauwe (especially with contemporary music) or Giovanni Antonini, also Dan Laurin.
With each of them I admired a different aspect. One of them had an uncompromising quality about him. Another achieved a tremendous sensuality of sound or a special timing, the eccentricity in a distinct personal style, a deeply personal art of ornamentation, etc. Like a mosaic, these influences come together and merge with one's own experiences to form something new and unique.
For me, it was above all the confrontation with opera that opened my eyes once again in a completely new way to dramaturgy, text and theatricality and also to my own instrument (and its parallels to singing and breathing).
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity? What were some of your main challenges when starting out as an artist and in which way have they changed over the years?
A big challenge was, of course, the instrument itself and its limitations. I simply wanted to prove that it is an instrument that can do everything in the end!
Even within the early music scene, and even within the classical music scene, there is snobbery and there are supposed hierarchies of who has to take a back seat and be just a little light. I was never interested in that and tried to ignore it! I didn't want to be a submissive little mouse.
At the very beginning, a fellow player said to me shortly after the founding of the ensemble: "You are a fantastic flautist, but I don't trust you to be an ensemble leader." I am grateful for that comment in the end, because it challenged me even more!
You're not just active as a leading recorder player, but also as a conductor. Tell me a bit about the different rewards of those two activities and how they mutually influence and complement each other.
Conducting was a logical consequence of my playing. Because I already rehearsed and conducted all my programmes with the ensemble anyway and planned everything dramaturgically. Rehearsals are the most important thing, the preparation with the orchestra. As "Prima inter Pares", I have studied the scores intensively in advance and can shape the orchestra according to my plans.Through my recent work with singers, I've learned a lot about psychology, handling the voice, rehearsal efficiency, etc. My goal is ultimately teamwork – a situation where everyone is highly motivated and wants to achieve a high-level performance together.
I am interested in the dramaturgy and architecture of a piece, contrasts, bridges between recitatives and arias, flowing transitions. I approach purely instrumental programmes in a similar way, imagining them as an opera. I find nothing more boring than playing one sonata after another in the same instrumentation.
Tell me about your current recorder, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results, including your own performance?
A recorder has to work, even if you don't warm it up for ages beforehand, even if you play it for several hours, in rehearsal and in the ensuing concert. It needs to have a sustainable sound, not necessarily in terms of decibels, but resonance. I like it when you can give a lot of air, vary with it and the instrument doesn't overreact (intonationally). I like a full depth and a smooth treble. I also enjoy different timbres. Some recorders sound noisy, which suits some works very well. Others are very brilliant and fine ... It's like singers in a way ...
Using your recent Bach CD with Edim Karamazov as an exampleHow would you describe your approach to interpretation? Where do you start and how do you develop your view on a piece, what are some of your principles and what constitutes a successful interpretation for you?
I met with Edin for the first time in Salzburg and we just played.We have to get to know each other as performers first. Our playing is based on a real dialogue with timing, impulses, many colours.
Sometimes Edin prepares the bed on which I can comfortably sprawl, sometimes we are in competition, sometimes I push him, sometimes it's the other way around ... It all depends on the texture of the piece.
Collaborations can take on many forms. If you compare your work with Yello for Touch on the one hand and Edim Karamazov for your most recent album on the other – what did you personally draw from these interactions and how would you describe these experiences?
It is a gift to be able to work with such personalities. In Yello, Boris Blank creates entire worlds of synthetic sounds, composed of many different layers. He works with strong images of nature and harmonic spheres. I was fascinated by that. Boris took the improvisation, which I offered him, and created a whole new mesh and real soundscapes from it.
Edin on the other hand is a shifter between worlds, be it new music, rvg, classical, old music, pop. He is simply an original musician with a very strong personality. Without being biased. He brings his entire personality into the recording!
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I wish I sometimes had a more regulated daily routine! So I'm always writing new to-do lists for fear that I might forget something important, in a bid of setting priorities. Sometimes it weighs on me that there's never an end to them and there's never actually a point when you've worked through everything. I have to admit that the combination of artistic director, conductor, instrumentalist, professor and above all mother of a son of 8 years is a challenge and it wouldn't work at all if I didn't have my husband. I simply wish I could sit less behind the computer and work much more on content than on organisational matters.
But it is a self-chosen destiny and if it couldn't be done at all, I would certainly downsize one area ....
For some, your recent triumph at the Opus Klassik awards might be considered a milestone. But often, for the artists themselves, entirely different events can be much more meaningful. Can you talk about a personal breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
A milestone was, for example, meeting the Italian ensemble Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca. I was a no name and they had confidence in me and took me to important venues right from the start, always supported me. Their way of living as musicians and experiencing music together has totally shaped me!
My first major conducting job was also a milestone. To have the feeling of changing perspective ... As a conductor, I have an absolutely mobile and big "body of sound" in front of me and can shape it ad hoc even without my recorder. It was completely new perspective and has allowed me to advance as an artist.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
In order to be creative, you need sources of inspiration, which are quite different for me and often extra-musical. I often start from stories, texts, pictures. I was enthusiastic about film from a very early age and even wrote scripts myself. Sometimes I have the impression that I'm still writing scripts.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I think music is able to heal. That's how I feel. When I feel bad, I immediately feel better when I play myself or listen to others playing wonderful music.
My mother is very ill at the moment, I have played for her at her bedside and I have noticed that it has been good for her. Very loud music or very aggressive music really hurts my ears. Maybe it's a necessary evil occasionally, if you want to achieve a sense of alienation. But if that's it's only purpose, I can't stand it.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
Some synaesthetics really see very clear colours when they hear ringing. I feel music more physically. I really get goosebumps and at really good concerts I have the impression I'm floating and not even sitting in my chair!!!
I find this state of flow in timelessness absolutely desirable.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I was asked this question on the radio - strangely enough, I couldn't answer it other than that music is my language and I rarely raise my voice in any other context. Maybe that's wrong and I'm making it too easy for myself.
My godfather, who died recently, used to say that you can achieve so much with music, that you can have an positive effect on society - maybe I'm just too much of an idealist.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Above all, music can express eternity, which cannot be described in words and cannot be grasped intellectually.