Jörg Widmann

Jörg Widmann
Widmann in 2006
Born (1973-06-19) 19 June 1973 (age 50)
Munich, Bavaria, West Germany
  • Clarinetist
  • composer
  • conductor
  • academic teacher
Years active1990–present
Notable work
FamilyCarolin Widmann (sister)
Websitewww.joergwidmann.com Edit this at Wikidata

Jörg Widmann (born 19 June 1973) is a German composer, conductor and clarinetist. In 2018, Widmann was the third most performed contemporary composer in the world. Formerly a clarinet and composition professor at the University of Music Freiburg, he is composition professor at the Barenboim–Said Akademie. His most important compositions are the two operas Babylon and Das Gesicht im Spiegel, an oratorio Arche, Kantate and the concert overture Con brio. Widmann has written musical tributes to Classical and Romantic composers. He was awarded the Bavarian Maximilian Order for Science and Art in 2018 and the Bach Prize of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg in 2023.

Education and career

Widmann was born on 19 June 1973 in Munich, the son of a physicist and a teacher. His sister is the German classical violinist Carolin Widmann. He first took clarinet lessons in 1980. Four years later he became a composition student of Kay Westermann. Widmann attended the secondary school Pestalozzi Gymnasium [de] in Munich. He later studied composition with Hans Werner Henze, Wilfried Hiller, Heiner Goebbels and Wolfgang Rihm. He studied as a clarinetist at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München with Gerhard Starke (1986–1997, Meisterklassendiplom 1997) and at the Juilliard School in New York City with Charles Neidich (1994–1995, Advanced Certificate 1995). He furthered his studies at the Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe (1997–1999). From 2001 to 2015, he taught clarinet as a professor at the University of Music Freiburg. From 2009 to 2016 Widmann was a part-time Professor of Composition, succeeding Mathias Spahlinger, at the Institute for New Music at the University of Music Freiburg. From 2011 to 2017, Widmann was Principal Guest Conductor and from 2017 to 2022, Principal Conductor and Artistic Partner of the Irish Chamber Orchestra. Since 2017, Widmann has held the Edward-Said-Chair as Professor of Composition at the Barenboim–Said Akademie, Berlin. Since 2022, he has been Associated Conductor of the Munich Chamber Orchestra for three years. He is guest conductor of the Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg. From the 2023–2024 season, Widmann will be principal guest conductor of the NDR Radiophilharmonie for three years.

He lives and works in Berlin and Munich.

Musical works and performances

Widmann has achieved success both as a clarinetist and as a composer.

Clarinet career

As a soloist, Widmann has performed with major orchestras in Germany and abroad, including the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, under conductors like Valery Gergiev, Christoph von Dohnányi, Sylvain Cambreling and Kent Nagano. He has premiered several clarinet concerti dedicated to him: in 1999 through "musica viva", he played Music for Clarinet and Orchestra by Wolfgang Rihm; in 2006 with the WDR Symphony Orchestra, Cantus by Aribert Reimann; and in 2015 "über" by Mark Andre at the Donaueschingen Festival. Widmann's core repertoire as clarinetist includes Pierre Boulez's Dialogue de l'ombre double, which he performed on Boulez's 85th birthday in Paris.

Widmann mostly plays a Herbert Wurlitzer clarinet from his student time.

Career as composer

Widmann's compositions draw on different musical genres. For example, he has written a trilogy for orchestra examining the projection of vocal forms of instrumental ensembles. The trilogy consists of Lied (premiered in 2003 and recorded on CD by the Bamberg Symphony with Jonathan Nott), Chor (premiered in 2004 by the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin with Kent Nagano) and Messe (premiered in June 2005 by the Munich Philharmonic under Christian Thielemann). In 2007, Pierre Boulez and the Vienna Philharmonic premiered his orchestral work Armonica.

His early string quartets are of particular note among his chamber music: the First Quartet was written in 1997, followed by the Chorale Quartet and the Hunting Quartet, the latter premiered in 2003 by the Arditti Quartet. 2005 saw the first performances of the Fourth Quartet and Experiment on a Fugue (Fifth Quartet, with soprano), with Juliane Banse and the Artemis Quartet. These five one-movement quartets form a cycle.

Widmann was Composer in Residence at the Salzburg Festival and at the chamber music festival Spannungen, Heimbach in 2004. Octet was premiered on 4 June 2004 at the power plant Kraftwerk Heimbach. In 2008, Siemens Arts Program sent Widmann to Dubai. Widmann premiered Am Anfang by Anselm Kiefer in July 2009 as part of the 20th anniversary of the Opéra Bastille, in which he acted as composer, clarinetist and made his debut as conductor. He was Composer in Residence at the Lucerne Festival in 2009, where on 13 August 2009, Heinz Holliger performed Widmann's oboe concerto, commissioned by the festival. On 5 September Widmann premiered Holliger's Rechant for solo clarinet. Widmann's Free Pieces for Ensemble: Number X is used in Sophie Fiennes's documentary Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow (2010), about the postwar German artist Anselm Kiefer. His sister Carolin Widmann premiered his études IV-VI for violin (2004–2010) at the Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik on 23 April 2010. From 2009 to 2011 he was the Daniel R. Lewis Young Composer Fellow at the Cleveland Orchestra. He performed his Fantasie for Solo Clarinet (1993) to celebrate Walter Fink's 80th birthday at the Rheingau Musik Festival on 16 August 2010 and in 2014 was the festival's Composer and Artist in Residence. Widmann was the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich's Creative Chair in the 2015–16 season.

On 9 September 2015, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra announced they were commissioning a work from Widmann as part of a planned collaboration by the two organizations beginning in the fall of 2017. The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra announced Widmann's appointment as its first-ever Gewandhauskomponist (Gewandhaus composer) for the 2017–18 season.

Widmann's oratorio ARCHE had its world premiere on 13 January 2017 on the occasion of the opening festivities of the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. The Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra conducted by Kent Nagano performed it. A concert by Widmann, Daniel Barenboim, and Anna Prohaska opened the Pierre Boulez Saal on 4 March 2017.

Hagen Quartet in Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ with clarinetist Jörg Widmann on 27 January 2018

On 27 January 2018 Widmann and the Hagen Quartet performed his Clarinet Quintet, as part of a European tour, at Amsterdam's Muziekgebouw aan het IJ. Partita, five reminiscences for large orchestra, commissioned by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was premiered in Leipzig on 8 March 2018 with Andris Nelsons conducting.

After the world premiere in 2012 at the Bavarian State Opera, in 2019 a new Berlin version of his opera Babylon was performed at the Berlin State Opera on Unter den Linden under the musical direction of Christopher Ward.

Anne-Sophie Mutter is the dedicatee of String Quartet No. 6 (Study on Beethoven, 2019). With this piece, Widmann began a new series of works in the genre.

Widmann held the 2019–20 Richard and Barbara Debs Composer's Chair at Carnegie Hall. During the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, he contributed to the online Festival of New Music with his composition empty space. Barenboim and Emanuel Pahud curated the festival in the empty Pierre Boulez Saal.

Another commission from Leipzig and Boston is the lyrical trumpet concerto Toward Paradise. It was premiered on 23 September 2021 at Gewandhaus with Håkan Hardenberger playing trumpet and Andris Nelsons conducting the Gewandhausorchester. This work refers to Miles Davis.

On 8 June 2023, Kantate for soli, choir, organ and orchestra was premiered by Andreas Reize conducting Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and Thomanerchor in Leipzig, Thomaskirche, on occasion of the 300th anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach taking office as Thomaskantor.

In the 2023/24 season, Widmann is Berliner Philharmoniker's Composer in Residence.

Musical style

In his experimental, absurd breathtaking and technically extreme early work, Widmann integrates serialism and noise in traditional sources. Sounds, not tones, have been in the focus of his thinking. Widmann has written pieces without pitches and also purely tonal pieces with exaggerated familiar gestures. In many of his compositions, Widmann is in a musical "dialogue" with Classical and Romantic composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert and Brahms. He wrote musical tributes to these composers. The scores show extremely precise, well-considered structures and instructions. A common instruction is, that the soloist moves around the stage, for example in Viola Concerto, Towards Paradise and Kantate. He uses extended techniques in many compositions, such as Con brio. Beside his musical idols, Widmann finds inspiration in literature, poems, paintings and sculptures and frequently uses literary sources for his compositions, like Matthias Claudius, Klabund, Heinrich Heine, Peter Sloterdijk, Clemens Brentano and Friedrich Schiller in his oratorio ARCHE. In his 2023 Bach-homage Kantate (called: "Friedenskantate", peace cantata), he used texts by Matthias Claudius, Jean Paul, Bertolt Brecht, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Paul Gerhardt and from the Bible.

According to Bachtrack, Widmann was in 2018 the third most performed contemporary composer in the world, behind Arvo Pärt and John Williams.


Honorary doctorates





  • Widmann, Jörg; Kiefer, Anselm; Missler-Morell, Andreas (2009), ... und es wird Klang – der Komponist Jörg Widmann (in German), [Erscheinungsort nicht ermittelbar]: ZDF, OCLC 916866277
  • Preuße, Holger (28 May 2023), Im Labyrinth – Der Musiker Jörg Widmann – Die ganze Doku [In the Maze – The Musician Jörg Widmann] (in German), Arte, Aired: 18 June 2023, 23:50 Deutscher Kamerapreis [de] (German Camera Prize) 2023

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