Interview Anja Bihlmaier: Women on the rostrum

As a conductor, Anja Bihlmaier feels just as much at home with opera as she does with symphonic repertoire. How did she find herself in this profession? And what’s it like as a woman to step up to the rostrum?

Anja Bihlmaier grew up in the hills near Stuttgart, surrounded by horses, birds and the elements. As a child, she played the recorder. However, whilst at grammar school, she caught the classical music bug. “There was a school orchestra and I wanted to play in it!”

The conductor, one of the teachers, ensured that she received violin and piano lessons. “A couple of years later, I found myself playing the violin in Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, although I probably didn’t play all the notes,” she says with a laugh. After a few years, the same teacher had Anja rehearse and conduct Günther Kretzschmar’s Till Eulenspiegel Cantata. “There I was in front of 90 children. When I felt all that energy flowing back and forth, I knew that was what I wanted to do!”

Anja began by studying music education and was 24 before she was able to concentrate on learning how to conduct in Freiburg and Salzburg. “I started as a rehearsal pianist at a small opera house where I also played piano in the orchestra. I later conducted my first ‘Marriage of Figaro’ there.”

Since then, she has built a great track record as a conductor of operas and symphonic repertoire. “Both are very different, but it’s precisely that variety that I find so satisfying,” Anja says.

It’s still usually men who step up to the rostrum. So, has Anja, as a female conductor, ever faced opposition from an orchestra? “Perhaps there are orchestras that don’t invite me to work with them because I am a woman; I don’t know. And, as a young conductor, you are working with older, critical musicians who are highly experienced.”

Anja explains, “After just a few minutes, however, an orchestra already knows whether it wants to follow a conductor or not. It doesn’t matter whether that conductor is a man or a woman: quality is always recognised and valued. There are still only a few female conductors, but this has a lot to do with the fact that even now there are not too many women who choose this fabulous profession.”

Anja is very conscious of the social value of music: “Music is a very pure form of communication. The musicians and the listeners experience the music intensely together on a spiritual level. Nothing connects people like music. And that’s very important, especially in times like these!”

Ronald Touw

America First

Friday 9 November, 20:00
Zuiderstrandtheater, The Hague

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