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!”

Variety
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.

Opposition?
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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