Superstar clarinettist kicks off national tour – Sabine Meyer in the West Australian
Rosalind Appleby, The West Australian
November 2, 2011
When I was a clarinet student, the library recordings of German clarinettist Sabine Meyer were battered and scratched from overuse. For decades Meyer has been the superstar of the clarinet, the artist who almost singlehandedly brought the liquorice stick to the front of the concert platform. It would be hard to find a better champion of the instrument.
“The clarinet even was Mozart’s favourite instrument,” Meyer says. “It can express so many different feelings, there are so many different possibilities; it can sound very sweet and sensible, brilliant, dangerous.”
Meyer’s Perth concert on Saturday will launch her first Australian tour for 15 years. On her previous visit she was described by one reviewer as “the Steffi Graf of the clarinet”. Her phenomenal technique has afforded her accolades around the world; the New York Sun summarised Meyer as “a musical and technical paragon”.
I have always wondered how someone can reach such perfection on an instrument that depends on variables such as the temperature of the room, the type of reed and the miniscule movement of lips and fingers. It appears there are no shortcuts. Meyer began learning the clarinet at the age of eight from her father, a professional clarinettist, and she hasn’t stopped practising since. She made her debut at 16 playing one of Weber’s virtuosic concertos with an orchestra in Bonn.
In fact, practising day and night is also how she met her future husband Reiner Wehle at the Academy for Music and Drama in Hanover.
“My professor told his students that he never saw me outside as I was practising so much and that someone should please take care of me. Reiner immediately volunteered… and so it goes on until today.”
Wehle and Meyer have two children together and share the task of organising the family between them. They also share a professorship at the Lubeck Academy of Music. Their home is in countryside Lubeck where they have realised their childhood dream to own their own horses.
Meyer balances this idyllic family life with regular tours of Europe, Japan and the US as a soloist and chamber musician. In 1982, she made history when Herbert von Karajan appointed her as the first woman in the Berlin Philharmonic. At the end of her nine-month trial, the orchestra voted her out. But it was more complicated than a gender scandal; her departure also coincided with the breakdown of the relationship between von Karajan and the orchestra. “At the end, the quarrel wasn’t about me as a woman at all, it was just a play of power between the orchestra and Mr Karajan. That’s why I in the end decided to quit.”
She has since made several recordings as a soloist with the orchestra and says there are no ill feelings. Her 2000 recording of the Mozart Clarinet concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic and Claudio Abbado won the Instrumentalist of the Year from the Deutsche Phono-Akademie.
Meyer is touring Australia with the French Modigliani String Quartet and her Perth concert will feature Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet. “In my belief it is one of the most beautiful pieces of music that has ever been written. One cannot perform or hear it too often as it never becomes boring.”
She also rates highly the clarinet music by Alban Berg and Johannes Brahms and the contemporary composers Yun I-sang, Toshio Hosokawa and Wolfgang Riehm. Meyer is a keen commissioner of new works for the clarinet and the tour will include the world premiere of Clarinet Quintet by Australian composer Ian Munro. Meyer will reveal nothing about the work in advance.
“I think we keep this a secret so that the audience has something to be curious about.”