<< -- 3 -- Tess Crebbin DIVING INTO THE MUSIC
TC: Were you good at violin?
WR: Perhaps not more than average. I don't think I'd have landed a great position as first violinist, but my violin teacher said I would have a good chance in a smaller orchestra. That is why I continued to do both. I only decided on the piano as a career half way through my studies but that was not because of the available solo literature for piano. In fact, I am a team player at heart and the thought of having to be alone with the piano put me off a bit. I had initially considered violin for its options of orchestral or chamber music. Violin as a soloist wouldn't have interested me as much. So you see, in hindsight it all goes in a certain direction.
TC: You were studying, there were all these auditions, plenty of work, one supposes. And yet, you still decided to take voice lessons also. Why did you do that?
WR: It was on offer at the school. To this day, I consider it very important for any instrumentalist. Now as then, there are still options to study voice as a sideline. In fact, singing lessons led to my first official encounter with being an accompanist. There was a time when everyone who came in to sing had to accompany his predecessor because there was no official pianist for that. So when I accompanied the chap who came before me, the teacher noticed that this came easy to me and recommended me to her own singing teacher who happened to be looking for someone to help out during singing lessons. She was Charlotte Kaminsky, an old lady, unfortunately not alive anymore who had studied voice in Berlin. She still looked after a few singers as an expert and she was the first one to treat me as an accompanist from the start. I didn't want to hurt the old lady so I never contradicted her. Very soon, I realised that accompanying is a lot of fun. As it happened Charlotte Kaminsky had a small foundation, too. Her late husband had left her a little money, which she had put into a foundation for singers, not pianists necessarily, but that ran alongside. Two times a year she did master courses. One of these was with Eric Werba. Werba met me and invited me to audition for him at the music school, to join his class for the following semester. That was how it all came together ... once I went to Werba and played for him, and he took me into his class, things happened very quickly. Very soon I accompanied a lot of singers in Munich, at his classes.
TC: Could you put a timeframe on that for us?
WR: It would have been from 1984 onwards. In 1982, I started studying and in 1983 was my first contact with Mrs Kaminsky. From 1984 onwards, I was in Werba's class. At some stage, I was accompanying some ten singers and I still don't know how I managed to do that. In 1987 I did my exams in piano and violin but I have laid violin aside completely ever since. Werba retired in 1986 or 87 and Helmut Deutsch was his successor. They were very different. Werba was very generous, a bit laissez-faire, laid-back, and he brought that out in you. Deutsch, one the other hand, was a very precise man with great attention to detail, so he brought out that total discipline in you. It was good for me to have both of them as teachers, in succession. From Werba I learned to love music in a very embracing, laid-back kind of way and Deutsch always made me look for the bottom of things, to be stricter with myself. Those years I was with Deutsch were very important and parallel to that was the contact with Fassbänder.
TC: How old were you when you did your first concert with Frau Fassbänder?
WR: I was twenty eight. We had a sort of try-out concert here in Munich, before some three hundred people. The next one, funnily enough, was in Regensburg. Coming from Waldsassen, we all orient ourselves toward Regensburg as our nearest big city and so it was almost like playing a home concert. That was in front of eight hundred people and it went well enough that she said: let's do things together in future.
Wolfram Rieger talking to a student during his summer course in Spain.
TC: Were you freelance, or on her payroll?
WR: Freelance. We are always freelance in my job. The singer never employs the pianist on a salary. The way it works is that either the promoter hires you and the singer as a package or each of you is being hired separately. So, when they hired Mrs Fassbänder, her management would say: please call Mr Rieger and book him as her accompanist.
Copyright © 29 July 2004
Tess Crebbin, Germany