For Clarinet Month on Bachtrack, we decided to conduct short interviews with clarinettists of some of the leading orchestras to get a view from the principal's desk and to learn more about the role of the clarinet within an orchestra. Next up are the two Principal Clarinets of the Vienna Philharmonic, Matthias Schorn and Daniel Ottensamer.

Matthias Schorn © Lukas Beck
Matthias Schorn
© Lukas Beck

What made you choose the clarinet?

Matthias Schorn: My father was a passionate amateur musician with my home town’s marching band in the county Salzburg, and so I started wanting to play this instrument as well – until, on Christmas Eve 1990, a clarinet was waiting for me under the Christmas tree ;)

Daniel Ottensamer: My father was the principal clarinet with the Vienna Philharmonic, so the instrument was very present at home. I had a very natural approach to it and from an early stage, I wanted to have the same career.

Did you have any clarinet heroes, clarinettists you’ve looked up to?

MS: There are a lot: Matthias Schorn sen. (my father), Florian Tiefenbacher and Georg Winkler (my first teachers), Albin Rudan, Sabine Meyer, Armin Keuschnigg, Alois Brandhofer and, most of all, my teacher at the University of Music in Vienna, Hans Hindler.

DO: My father, Ernst Ottensamer.

How long have you been playing with the Vienna Philharmonic?

MS: since 2007

DO: since 2009

What’s your favourite orchestral solo? (Why?)

MS: There are countless solos, I can’t answer this question.

DO: The clarinet solo from Puccini’s Tosca.

What’s your most dreaded orchestral solo? (And why?!)

MS: Fear isn’t a good co-musician, I’m not scared of any solos. But, of course, there are some that are not my cup of tea… ;)

DO: Fear isn’t a good companion in music. I try to see every difficult solo as a challenge.

Daniel Ottensamer © Julia Stix
Daniel Ottensamer
© Julia Stix

What’s your favourite clarinet concerto?

MS: Out of the big concertos – a classic – the Mozart concerto, but also the Copland concerto, Debussy’s Rhapsodie or Cantus by Aribert Reimann.

DO: Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto.

Which clarinet work do you think is most unfairly neglected?

MS: The Clarinet Trio by Paul Schoenfield!!

DO: The Clarinet Concerto by Paul Hindemith.

Do you get opportunities to perform concertos with your orchestra? What’s your most memorable performance as a concerto soloist?

MS: I’m fortunate to say that, in the past ten years, I was allowed to play as a soloist in front of my own orchestra for three occasions. The strength and energy you get from your colleagues behind you and to (literally) perform at eye level with today’s best conductors as a soloist with the Vienna Philharmonic, are definitely the greatest, most memorable and impressive experiences in my (musical) life. In my case, it were the conductors Gustavo Dudamel, Christian Thielemann and the unforgettable Lorin Maazel, who sadly passed away, who made my performances irreplacable memories!

DO: So far, I had the opportunity to play the Nielsen Clarinet Concerto with my orchestra. The most memorable performance was the world première of Ivan Eröd’s Triple Concerto, with my father and my brother, the Vienna Philharmonic and Andris Nelsons.

Can you give us a funny conductor anecdote? (Anonymous if need be!)

MS: Conductor: “And now only those colleagues play who know what they are doing.” – Baton down. Silence.

And finally, for the real clarinet nerds, what make of clarinet and what make and strength of reed do you play? Do you play on plastic reeds as well?

MS: I play on clarinets by Otmar Hammerschmidt (Wattens, Tyrol) with a mouthpiece by Maxton (type “Schorn”), reeds by Pilgerstorfer, Leuthner and Steuer, no plastic reeds!

DO: I play on a clarinet by Johanna and Otto Kronthaler, mouthpieces by Hannes Gleichweit or Nick Kückmeir. For me, plastic is an equal alternative to cane and I like to change between cane and plastic reeds.