Bettina Aust, clarinettist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

The idea of becoming a professional musician came when I played in youth orchestras. At school I sometimes felt like a stranger, but in youth orchestras I was among similar-minded people. It felt like “my world” and I still call many people who I met those days close friends.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Probably my clarinet teachers (Sabine Meyer, Johannes Peitz, Pascal Moraguès), but also my Alexander technique teacher and my physiotherapist, who were also kind of coaches for me.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

At the end of my first semester I suffered from an elbow joint inflammation. I couldn’t play the clarinet for a long time and then started practicing again 6 times a day but only for 5 minutes. The rest of the day I practiced mentally. I had to start from scratch again: creating a reasonable practice plan, working on my posture, resetting my goals, recognizing my physical limits and not constantly comparing myself with other musicians. It really was a tough time. Today I am grateful for what has happened because I was able to grow from it and I would certainly not have come so far without the power which was needed to overcome these obstacles.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My new album: “Fin de Siècle” (released in April 2021). There are works for clarinet and piano written within 21 years, each covering a different stylistic epoch. For me, the CD is really a total synthesis of the arts: the choice of pieces, the recordings, the photos, the booklet text, the packaging. There is a lot of heart and soul in every detail. You can watch the trailer here:

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

If I name a piece, doesn’t that mean that I perform other works less well? But maybe it’s the Clarinet Concerto by Carl Nielsen or together with my brother Robert Aust (pianist) the four pieces by Alban Berg which we recorded for the upcoming album. The answers of those around me are: Première Rhapsodie by Claude Debussy, the third solo piece by Igor Stravinsky and the Clarinet Concerto by W.A. Mozart.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

Inspiration and musicians … Isn’t that also somehow a cliché? What about the many hours of work that go into producing a CD, for example, or that I spend finding the best material for my instrument?

Inspiration is something I experience best while teaching. Images, moods or conversations inspire me. A few years ago I gave a concert in Poland. My mother had done some research to learn more about our ancestors who used to live in that formerly German, now Polish area. Before the concert she told me the story of my grandfather’s family, who had to flee at the end of World War II and had to walk long distances with often just a suitcase in their hands. During the 3rd movement of the Sonata by Camille Saint-Saëns the image of refugees walking suddenly rose up in my mind. That was a very moving moment and it truly was an inspiration for the performance of this very piece.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

The Royal Albert Hall during BBC Proms. I played there back in 2013 with the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester. It was just incredible seeing, hearing, even feeling all the positive energy of around 4,000 people. The performer pass still hangs on my pin board at home.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

Thinking out of the box. Combining different arts. Creating more interactive concerts so that the audience can be part of it. One example: If the audience wants to clap between the movements, let them clap! Why do they always have to stick to certain norms? Isn’t it great if they like the music and want to express that immediately?

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Last year my brother Robert and I were invited to perform a livestream concert for the Goethe-Institut Mexico. The whole concert hall was filled with technical equipment, cameras and cables; only the small stage gave me the feeling of a concert. The programme included the premiere of a work by the Costa Rican composer (Manuel Matarrita), whom we had met on our last concert tour to Central America. I knew exactly which friends would be listening to our concert 10,000 kilometers away. And during this work I could feel it as well: I felt so connected to the people as if they were sitting right here in the concert hall. My voice nearly failed during my praise for Manuel because I was so flashed. You can watch the concert here:

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

In the past, awards, highly acclaimed concerts or external recognition were significant to me and I defined these achievements as success. Today I reconsider and would rather say: Success is when your profession is what you really like to do (whatever that is) and that you earn a living with it.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

1) Listen to yourself while playing your instrument. This seems so obvious, but often we don’t listen carefully enough. Recording yourself can be very helpful.

2) Music always consists of waves. Notes and phrases are most of the time not cut off, but are connected to each other in a swinging way.

What is your most treasured possession?

I consider the relationship I have with myself as most valuable. A few years ago I treated myself with an Ayurveda cure in Sri Lanka which was a turning point. I really discovered the true inner core of my being. Being in good contact with myself is probably the most essential thing to be able to build valuable and deep relationships with other people. If “possession” has to be an object, then it is my “flat-mate Benjamin”. It’s a giant ficus tree that takes the space of almost an entire room in my flat.

Bettina Aust is considered one of the most promising young clarinettists. In March 2015 she won the prize of the German Music Competition. In 2014 she was awarded the 1st prize as well as five special prizes at the International Music Competition Markneukirchen. The clarinettist not only sets new standards with her solo playing, but has also distinguished herself in the national and international chamber music scene with her ensembles (Duo Aust, Rheingold Trio). Concert tours have recently taken her to London, Paris, Spain, Macedonia, Monaco, Poland and Finland, as well as to Pakistan, Algeria, Bolivia, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama and Haiti.

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