Comparisons with the human voice immediately leap to mind whenever Andreas Ottensamer breathes life into his instrument. The Austrian artist’s eloquence, virtuosity and beauty of sound combine to create music made with rare insight and soul. Alongside his extensive work as concerto soloist and chamber musician, he serves as principal clarinet of the Berliner Philharmoniker and is also co-artistic director of the Bürgenstock Festival in Switzerland and artistic director of Berlin’s Artström Festival. His heartfelt performances penetrate the surface brilliance of virtuoso showpieces to reveal hidden depths of emotion, while his multi-layered meditations on the most lyrical of clarinet melodies span a vast landscape of feelings and expression.
Ottensamer’s celebrated tone – rich, warm and infinite in its variety of colours – flows from the extraordinary empathy he has for his favoured Viennese instrument. This is complemented by a peerless technique and uncommon musical wisdom. “It would be hard to imagine classier performances than these,” concluded Gramophone in its review of his recent recording of clarinet concertos by Danzi and both Johann and Carl Stamitz. The critical consensus is clear in its admiration for his artistry. As Holland’s NRC Handelsblad neatly put it, he is “an übersoloist and a phenomenon”.
Andreas Ottensamer was born in Vienna in April 1989 into a distinguished family of Austro-Hungarian musicians. His late father Ernst was principal clarinet of the Vienna Staatsoper and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and his older brother Daniel is now co-principal clarinettist of the Vienna Philharmonic. Andreas took piano lessons before studying cello at Vienna’s University of Music and Performing Arts. In 2003 he began clarinet lessons with Johann Hindler, a member of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and stopped playing cello soon after. His progress was such that he formed an ensemble with his father and brother, collectively known as The Clarinotts, just two years later. “It was like being challenged all the time,” he recalls. The improvements were so rapid that I quickly made up my mind to stick with this instrument.”
Ottensamer’s decision was rewarded by competition successes and, at the age of sixteen, a first appearance as substitute with the Vienna Staatsoper Orchestra. After finishing school in Vienna, he enrolled as an undergraduate at Harvard University but interrupted his studies there to become a scholar of the Berliner Philharmoniker’s Orchestra Academy in October 2009. He launched his orchestral career the following year as principal clarinet of the Deutsches-Sinfonie Orchester Berlin and was appointed in March 2011 to the same position with the Berliner Philharmoniker.
In March 2013 Andreas Ottensamer became the first clarinettist ever to sign an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon. His debut disc for the Yellow Label, Portraits – The Clarinet Album, released three months later, included spellbinding readings of concertos by Cimarosa, Spohr and Copland, made in partnership with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin. The album also contained miniatures by Gershwin, Debussy and Amy Beach. It was followed in March 2015 by Brahms – The Hungarian Connection, a personal exploration of Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet presented in the context of works inspired by Hungarian folk music. Ottensamer’s album was recognised in 2015 with the coveted ECHO Klassik award for “Instrumentalist of the Year”. He also recorded an album for the Yellow Label with his father and brother, The Clarinotts, described by The Times (London) at the time of its release in January 2016 as being “so virtuosic that it sounds as if there must be at least four of them rather than three”.
Released in February 2017, New Era featured Ottensamer’s performances of concertos by father and son Johann and Carl Stamitz, Danzi’s Concertino for clarinet and bassoon (with Albrecht Mayer), and two reworkings of arias from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The clarinettist also recently joined Nemanja Radulović to record Khachaturian’s Trio for violin, clarinet and piano for the Serbian violinist’s latest DG album, Baïka, released in November 2018. Ottensamer’s next Yellow Label album will be Blue Hour, which is set for release in March 2019 and comprises arrangements of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words and pieces by Brahms for clarinet and piano, recorded in company with Yuja Wang, as well as his account of Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No.1 in F minor, recorded in 2017 with the Berliner Philharmoniker and Mariss Jansons.
Andreas Ottensamer has reached out to work with musicians working in other genres, including Tori Amos, and has cultivated chamber music partnerships with, among others, Yuja Wang, Leonidas Kavakos, Janine Jansen, Lisa Batiashvili, Nemanja Radulović, Sol Gabetta and Nicolas Altstaedt. Forthcoming highlights of his touring schedule reflect the breadth of his musical activities. They include a Yellow Lounge club night in Shanghai with Yuja Wang – part of an Asian tour that also features recitals in Japan and performances with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra. In February 2019 he will perform Weber’s First Clarinet Concerto at the Royal Festival Hall with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Vladimir Jurowski; in April he makes his Carnegie Hall debut, performing again with Yuja Wang, then returns to Europe for three dates at the Aix-en-Provence Easter Festival; in May he undertakes a tour of Australia; and in August he will return to the Salzburg Festival.