Thomas Quasthoff Leaves The Stage

Bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff. i i

hide captionBass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff.

Kass Kara/courtesy of the artist
Bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff.

Bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff.

Kass Kara/courtesy of the artist

Devastating news came yesterday: One of the world's great geniuses of song, bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff, announced that he was retiring from concert life at age 52 due to persistent health concerns. He had announced last September that he was cancelling his singing engagements through the end of 2011; now that decision has been made permanent. With an incredibly empathic feel for text and a tone my colleague Tom Huizenga rightly called "burgundy-colored," Quasthoff's presence onstage will be very sorely missed.

In the official announcement of his retirement released by his management, Quasthoff said, "After almost 40 years, I have decided to retire from concert life. My health no longer allows me to live up to the high standard that I have always set for my art and myself. I owe a lot to this wonderful profession and leave without a trace of bitterness."

I first met Quasthoff in the mid-1990s, during the period he was signed to RCA Victor Red Seal. I worked at one of his label's sister divisions, and later had occasion to interview him a couple of times. He was always a gracious, warm and sweet artist with a ready laugh.

His presence and demeanor were a consistent and utter refutation of all the factors that could have made him bitter and resigned to a lesser life: his profound physical disabilities, difficult childhood (with the first three years of his life spent in a hospital) and later struggles that included being denied admission to a conservatory in his native Germany because he was unable to play the piano, which was considered an unbreakable degree requirement.

When his mother was pregnant with him, she took thalidomide, a prescription drug that caused serious birth defects. As Quasthoff wrote of his body in his 2008 memoir, The Voice: "Here is a 4-foot, 3-inch concert singer without knee joints, arms or upper thighs, with only four fingers on the right hand and three on the left. He has a receding hairline, a blond pig head and a few too many pounds around his hips."

Quasthoff plans to continue teaching at Berlin's Hanns Eisler Academy of Music and at master classes around the world, and he will continue as artistic director of the "Das Lied" international song competition he founded in 2009. He also will continue to host his "Thomas Quasthoff's Night Talks" series at the Konzerthaus Berlin, in which he leads conversations with celebrities from politics and the arts.

Thomas Quasthoff Leaves The Stage

Cover for Schubert: Winterreise

Schubert, 'Winterreise'

The opening of Schubert's haunting Winterreise with pianist Daniel Barenboim at the Berlin Philharmonie in 2005.

Medici TV/YouTube
 
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Schumann, 'Dichterliebe'

A gorgeous collaboration between Quasthoff and pianist Helene Grimaud: "Hör ich das Liedchen klingen" from Schumann's song cycle Dichterliebe, recorded at the Verbier Festival in 2007.

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Cover for Schubert: Die Schöne Müllerin

Quasthoff Teaches

An excerpt from one of Quasthoff's masterclasses on Schubert's lieder, in which the bass-baritone demonstrates why he is such a sought-after teacher.

Masterclass Media Foundation/YouTube
 
Cover for Bach: Cantatas

'The Dreamer'

In 2005, a German documentary was released about Quasthoff's life and career titled, appropriately enough, The Dreamer.

YouTube
 
Cover for Tell It Like It Is

'Georgia On My Mind'

A longtime fan of jazz and the American songbook, Quasthoff has in recent years increasingly performed and recorded standards. For the 2011 album Tell It Like It Is, Quasthoff drew upon many such classics, including Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell's 'Georgia On My Mind.'

YouTube
 

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