A life dedicated to music. What does that even mean? Does someone live for music if it represents the source of one’s livelihood? Or did someone live for music whose composition is still considered ground-breaking after several hundred years? Ultimately, the definition is as personal as the music itself. Claudia Janet Birkholz has dedicated her life to music – and has set her sights on making the joy of sound art accessible to as many people as possible.
When Claudia Janet Birkholz finished her studies with Concert Diploma (Konzertreifeprüfung) and top marks in 1991, the path her life would take was already clearly visible. Without being guided by conventional expectations, the only compass she trusts is her passion for tones and sounds in all its conceivable facets.
The native of Bremen remained loyal to her roots and studied music at the University of the Arts Bremen (HfK). Her professor at that time, the chamber musician Kurt Seibert became a great mentor to the still young pianist. Radio productions followed in quick succession, for instance, with the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie accompanied by Klaus Bernbacher, as well as performances in the concert series Pro Musica Nova Bremen. An inspiring lifelong collaboration and friendship developed with the then music director and composer Hans Otte.
She also collaborated with established greats such as Elisabeth Leonskaja and Vitaly Margulis. Through Claude Helffer in Paris, she experienced the inspiration that would lead to her later passion for contemporary music. In these dynamic times she perfected her virtuous play, but also realised that this was not where her true passion lay. She wanted to create something new, dare to be unconventional, break the mould and exceed one’s limitations.
With her valuable experience and prizes she achieved (including a scholarship from the Richard-Wagner-Verband) as well as countless, already clear ideas, she began passing on her experience to young talents as a lecturer in piano and contemporary music at the HfK Bremen in 1993. Concerts and productions shaped the 90s, driven by her passion for experimentation. In contemporary music, she finally found the freedom she needed to develop her creative potential.
As a pianist of the “Quart“ ensemble as well as of the “ensemble Intégrales“ for contemporary music, she experienced concerts like the Messiaen-festival in Dusseldorf, Tage der Neuen Musik in Hanover as well as several productions for Radio Bremen. She also gained further stage experience at the Bodensee festival, the Schleswig-Holstein-music festival, Wien Modern, the Gaudeamus Music Week in the Netherlands in collaboration with the theatre director Johann Kresnik, as well as in projects with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. In the end, it was her travels that especially influenced Claudia Janet Birkholz, which not only led her through Europe but also to the US, Japan, Iran and Mongolia.
Never stand still: Claudia Janet Birkholz is always searching for new inspiration for the creation of unknown soundscapes. After experimenting with and finding her true passion in the early days of her career, she has been focusing on a whole new role for many years now. She sees herself as an ambassador of a form of music which is sometimes experienced as irritating, but always surprising.
This has been the focus of her commitment to the University of the Arts Bremen but is also what drives the development of new programmes. Unconventional works from the sphere of performance belong here, as well as uncommon concert formats where she collaborates with neuroscientists, psychologists, mathematicians and/or researchers from the field of artificial intelligence. Another milestone is the concert series “Let’s talk music”, which was developed in 2015. In this series, she exchanges ideas on stage with personalities from the fields of science, economy and/or music.
Her advocacy of contemporary music led to her association work. As chairwoman of the association “realtime – Forum Neue Musik e.V.” she set up, it is her aim to get as many people as possible enthusiastic about sound art – as well as motivate them to participate actively in it. In this context, the “realtime – internationales festival für neue music” will take place in Bremen for the very first time in 2021 and will focus exclusively on this special form of representation – with Claudia Janet Birkholz as the art director.
“Art is not measured by the number of works but by its complexity, interdisciplinarity and reception.” An abstract from the work of Claudia Janet Birkholz:
Compositions by Claudia Birkholz:
2020 Birmingham (prepared piano)
2018 Toy-Song One
2018 Pandora (ensemble)
2017 Im Spiegel
2015 Lieder ohne Worte (ensemble and playback)
2014 Schneewittchen-Szenen (performance)
2014 Spieglein, Spieglein... (piano, toy piano, flexatone, Kalimba, etc.)
2013 Geradeaus – zweimal rechts (performance)
2013 Between these Lines (piano, playback CD)
2011 Printmusic (prepared piano and playback)
2008 play toy-gameboy (toy piano and playback)
2007 Something yellow – and a little bit green (piano, toy piano and playback)
2006 Into The Blue II (violin, piano and playback)
2005 Into The Blue (piano and playback)
2003 Muscheln (prepared piano)
2002 Ohrenbilder (piano)
Compositions for Claudia Birkholz:
Hans Joachim HesposHm
Erwin Koch-RaphaelCompositions No.67, toy-variations
Thomas LäubliSortie d‘enfance
Bruno StroblEntführung um Acht
Tomohiro YamaguchiSol-fa song
Ottes Klänge, Das Buch der Klänge
Hans Otte, 2013
Entführung um Acht
works for piano and toy piano, 2009
Traces of Asia
with ensemble Intégrales, 2007
Voor het Hooren geboren
Kammermusikwerke by Marko Ciciliani, 2006
Young European Generation
with ensemble Intégrales, 2005
Sonatas and Interludes
John Cage, 2003
works for solo piano by J.Cage, G.Crumb, H.Cowell, 2001
Kammermusikwerke, with ensemble Intégrales, 2000
Even though Claudia Janet Birkholz has developed her very personal understanding of music and has set preferences totally individual over the last years, she reaches out to her audience with every single production once more. This is not only confirmed by interested parties but also by colleagues and experts. The former music director at ARD television and composer Hans Otte certifies her “broad sense for sound and convincing artistic design ability throughout.“ (translated from German).
“(The) Bremen pianist creates beautiful colours that linger in one’s mind.”
“With her exceptional play, Claudia Janet Birkholz creates an aura that adds an additional dimension to her concerts through her particular stage presence. Her playing creates an unexpected depth of field for every composition that brings the composer and his creation to life.”
The view from the outside.
Whenever outsiders truly engage with Claudia Janet Birkholz’s work, it must feel like immersing oneself in a foreign world. An overview of the reviews:
“She not only has a touch of all shades at her disposal but also and above all the ability to create visionary inspirations in front of the listener.”
“Claudia Janet Birkholz is a mistress of advanced playing techniques. She sometimes reaches into the strings of a grand piano with her fingers; and she also achieves an amazing echo by whistling into the instrument.”
Mittelbayrische, August 2017
“Technical brilliance only has never been the sole focus of attention. Especially in Messiaen’s piano cycle, the poetic idea was impressively present.“
“Messiaen develops striking images. A varied and sound-intensive interpretation.”
Westdeutsche Zeitung Düsseldorf
“Expressive, multifaceted and in bright colours, coupled with extraordinary perfection, she lets the audience delve into the realm of the exotic and meditative.“
“With ‘Quaderno Musicale di Annalibera’ for piano by Dallapiccola, Claudia Birkholz traces the eleven reflections on counterpoints from Bach’s ’Kunst der Fuge’ with the finest sense of sound and exquisite poetry.”
“(…) Birkholz additionally played solo pieces of the twelve-tone technique by Luigi Dallapiccola. She announced it as “delicate, lyrical and romantic”. For many people even today, twelve-tone music is the epitome of unlistenable due to its strangeness. Birkholz showcased the opposite by creating filigree and inspiring sounds. She took the audience on a sensual emotional journey. Her playing then became lively and very creative when she introduced the ‘Inside-Piano‘ playing to the audience. Thus, through differentiated keyboard and pedal playing as well as extended techniques, ‘inside-piano‘ playing, plucking the strings with fingernail and fingertip, she made the piano even more colourful and orchestral. The effect of her melodic whistling into the instrument was also astounding. All sounds came back as an echo, smoothly and gently from the inside of the corpus.”
“Highly interesting and certainly the peak of the concert night: 5 piano pieces by Henry Cowell, interpreted with absolute mastery by Claudia Janet Birkholz. Cowell is unfortunately heard far too seldom, at this high level, he is almost never heard at all.”
Der neue Tag, Weiden 2002
“Claudia Birkholz shines on the prepared piano.“
Der neue Tag, Weiden 2002
“The toy piano is unique, mischievously at work on the margins of not always so serious New Music. Claudia Birkholz played compositions by John Cage, Julia Wolfe, Manfred Stahnke and others, with intelligence and verve. A peculiar, surprising listening experience.“
“Birkholz’s ‘Into The Blue‘ for violin, piano and playback passes through a thrilling, finely tuned, buzzing high-low cosmos. None of the instruments is played conventionally.”
“(…) what was performed in Weiden can be described as the cultural peak of the art season, with a clear conscience. Claudia Birkholz prepared the piano with screws, bolts and nuts to subsequently play a true master concert with pieces by John Cage.“
Der neue Tag
“(…) a piano recital with Claudia Janet Birkholz: an indescribable concert and sound adventure.”
Der neue Tag, 2003