Born: May 21, 1939 in Langenthal, Switzerland
Genre: Concerto, Chamber Music
Heinz Holliger (b. 1939) is considered one of the world's leading oboe virtuosos, as well as a noted composer and conductor. He began playing recorder at age four and piano at six. Eventually he switched to oboe, studying with Cassagnaud and Veress at the Berne Conservatory. He then moved to Paris to study oboe with Pierlot, and piano with Lefebure. In 1959 he won a first prize for oboe in the Geneva Competition, and in the same year was hired as an oboist by the Basel Symphony Orchestra. Meanwhile, he studied composition with Pierre Boulez form 1961 to 1963. His career as an international oboe virtuoso began in 1963. His tours included solo appearances, performances with his wife, the harpist Ursula Holliger, and chamber music appearances with the Holliger Ensemble, a chamber group he founded. He was appointed professor of oboe at the Staatliche Musikhochschule of Freiburg in 1965.
He quickly became known as the outstanding oboist of the time. He adopted the smoother, thinner French sound rather than the wider German quality. Even by comparison with the French sound, his tone quality is exceptionally bright. He has a deep understanding for the performance practices of all eras of music, and has garnered particular praise for his mastery of the many extended techniques related to the performance of twentieth century music. He is credited with having extended the technical range of the instrument more than any other oboist. Some of these extended techniques include harmonics, double trills, multiphonics, and glissandos. In interviews he has disputed this accreditation, saying, "I have invented nothing." He points to instances where these techniques appeared in earlier music, such as an oboe glissando in Mahler's Third Symphony, but in fact he was the first to make extensive use of these techniques. In addition, he has introduced new sounds attainable only by placing a microphone inside the instrument.
He is very alert to the need for expanding the repertoire of the instrument. He has been critical of oboists for not commissioning challenging new works. He has commissioned works from Berio, Stockhausen, Penderecki, Frank Martin, Pousseur, Henze, Krenek, Jolivet, and Lutoslawski. The Lutoslawski work, a double concerto for oboe, harp, and orchestra, written for Holliger and his wife, is considered a masterpiece of twentieth century literature.
Holliger began composing when he was young, and has compiled an extensive catalogue in many genres. His music is thoroughly influenced by Schoenberg, Webern and Luigi Nono. Holliger composed The Magical Dances for two dancers, chorus, orchestra, and tape, a work of exceptional aural density and fine nuances. He has also used Indian rhythms to represent specific poetic imagery. In Pneuma (1970) for thirty-six winds, four radios, organ, and percussion, he requires the performers to make specific breathing sounds into microphones, and Cardiophonie uses an amplified stethoscope attached to a solo wind player to add the players pulse to the music. Usually Holliger's music has a very tight internal logic caused by the strict use of serial procedures, and his musical textures can range from slow, attenuated wisps of sound to combinations of instrumental sound so thick that they practically become "white noise." His compositions are almost uniformly technically difficult to perform, and highly challenging to listen to.
- Joseph Stevenson (All Music Guide)
With contributions to the world of music which extend far beyond his principal instrument, Heinz Holliger is one of this century's truly outstanding musicians. A noted conductor and composer as well as an outstanding oboist, he is devoted to preserving the classic repertoire while at the same time promoting works by living composers and other repertoire of the 20th century.
In the 2004/05 season Heinz Holliger returns to the US for a tour with the Juilliard String Quartet performing oboe quartets by Mozart and Elliott Carter at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco presented by San Francisco Performances, the Detroit Chamber Music Society, the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Montreal's Theatre Maisonneuve presented by the Pro Musica Society and two concerts in Alaska for the Concert Associations of Fairbanks and Anchorage.
Last season Mr. Holliger and distinguished guests appeared at the Da Camera Society in Houston and in two concerts at New York's 92nd Street Y featuring the complete Zelenka Trio Sonatas and contemporary repertoire of Elliott Carter, Isang Yun and Henri Dutilleux. Recent highlights in Europe include a week long celebration of Heinz Holliger and his work presented by the Citй de la Musique in Paris including performances of his own compositions, appearances as soloist as well as conductor and forum host. Eminent artists and ensembles such as Andras Schiff, Thomas Zehetmair and the Freiburger Barockorchester took part in this festival, which is repeated in Lisbon in November 2004 by the Gulbenkian Foundation.
Mr. Holliger has performed and conducted throughout the world with major orchestras, in recital, and at international music festivals including Salzburg, Berlin, Edinburgh and Lucerne Festivals. He has appeared with the Chicago Symphony at Ravinia, the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood, the Cleveland Orchestra, l'Orchestre de Paris, the London Philharmonia and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and has conducted the Vienna Philharmonic. In 1993, he performed the world premiere of Elliott Carter's Oboe Concerto in Geneva, and the American premiere later that year with Herbert Blomstedt and the San Francisco Symphony in New York's Carnegie Hall, Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
His own compositions include the opera Snow White (Zurich Opera, 1998), Partita (performed by Andras Schiff, Berlin Festival in 2001), and the song cycle Puneigд (performed by Juliane Banse, Wien Modern, 2002). He conducted his major work, the Scardanelli Cycle for chorus, flute and orchestra, on tour in Germany and Switzerland and recorded it for ECM.
Mr. Holliger's repertoire embraces virtually all the great works written for oboe. Among the composers who have written works for him are Luciano Berio, Elliott Carter, Witold Lutosawski, Hans Werner Henze, Andre Jolivet, Frank Martin, Krysztof Penderecki and Karlheinz Stockhausen. His extensive discography includes releases on Deutsche Grammophon, Erato, Teldec, Philips, Monitor and Vox; and he has earned many awards several times over, including the Deutsche Schallplatten Prize, Edison Award, Grand Prix du Disque, and numerous Grammy Award nominations.
The son of a physician, Heinz Holliger was born in Switzerland and attended the Bern Conservatory as a student of piano and oboe. He studied composition with Sandor Veress, a pupil of Bartуk and Kodбly, and with oboist Pierre Pierlot and pianist Yvonne Lefйbure in Paris. He joined the Basel Symphony and Chamber Orchestra as principal oboe, and continued his composition studies with Pierre Boulez whom he considers to be one of his greatest musical influences. At age 20, he received the first of a series of many important prizes at international competitions, the First Prize for Oboe in the Geneva International Music Competition. This was followed by the Josef Pembauer Prize for Piano, and first prizes in oboe at both the Swiss Musicians Association Competition and the Munich International Competition.
Mr. Holliger is a member of the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts, and an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in London.