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German clarinettist Sabine Meyer is one of the most celebrated clarinet soloists today. Her wonderful performances have proven to fellow musicians and audience members alike that the clarinet is a worthy solo instrument. She has appeared with all the top German orchestras and many other renowned orchestras worldwide. Her musical tastes are very broad, ranging from the earliest pre-classical works for clarinet to wildly contemporary pieces.
Meyer studied with Otto Hermann in Stuttgart, then continued her studies in Hanover with Hans Deinzer. Before pursuing a career as a soloist, Meyer enjoyed a successful period as an orchestral musician, first with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and then as solo clarinettist of the Berlin Philharmonic from 1983.
Remarkably, Sabine Meyer was not only the solo clarinettist of the Berlin Philharmonic, she was the first woman to be a member of the orchestra. Despite Meyer’s superb talent, her time with the orchestra was quite turbulent.
Her appointment to the orchestra came just five years after orchestra member, Willi Maas, spoke to the German State Television, “Close to 5000 people sit there. It sounds exaggerated if I say: 'Then the conductor enters.' It is not that we have anxiety. But every effort is required. These are things that require a masculine composure. I cannot have any concerns about who sits next to me”.
Clearly times have changed, but not without a certain struggle that continues to this day. During her nine months with the Berlin Philharmonic, Meyer experienced constant harassment, including male orchestra members who would slide their chairs away from her, as she disturbed their “emotional unity”. The German musician’s union supported the addition of women to the orchestra, claiming that the orchestra had the “democratic right to choose who it wanted”. The men of the orchestra continued to revolt, stating, “it is impossible for women to really play in unison with men, because they have different bodies”.
By the mid-1990s, things were starting to improve within the Berlin Philharmonic, which by that time employed six women full-time, five tutti strings and a harpist, though this was still a remarkably small number in comparison with the 121 men in the orchestra. As of 2005 the Berlin Philharmonic was composed of 13.01% women. Out of 35 of the biggest orchestras worldwide, the only orchestras that employ fewer women are the Vienna Symphony, Czech Philharmonic, Orchestra of the State Opera Vienna and the Vienna Philharmonic. For comparison purposes, the Orchestra National d’ile de France and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra employed a total of 42.86% and 40.59% women in 2005.
This gender fiasco led to the end of Karajan’s 40-year career with the orchestra. It also encouraged Meyer to leave after nine months to pursue her ever-growing solo career.
As her demand as a soloist increased, she left her position with the Berlin Philharmonic to focus on her solo career. For the last 25 years, she has maintained an active concert schedule which has taken her all over Europe, North America, Africa, Australia, Brazil, Israel and Japan.
She performs as a soloist frequently with orchestras and has performed with more than 300 of the world’s top orchestras worldwide including the Vienna Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, NHK Symphony Orchestra Tokyo, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and also the radio orchestras in Vienna, Basel, Warsaw, Prague and Budapest among others.
Meyer is an equally enthusiastic chamber musician and is always looking for a new adventure. To date, she has collaborated with Heinrich Schiff, Gidon Kremer, Oleg Maisenberg, Leif Ove Andsnes, Fazil Say, Martin Helmchen, Juliane Banse, the Hagen Quartet, Tokyo String and Modigliani Quartet.
She founded her own chamber ensemble, Trio di Clarone, in 1983 together with her husband, Reiner Wehle, and brother, Wolfgang Meyer. In addition to a number of nearly-forgotten works by Mozart, the trio also performs many contemporary works. They have also engaged in projects with jazz clarinettist, Michael Riessler, effectively expanding their repertory.
Meyer has recorded all the major clarinet works while still championing many new contemporary works. She has performed contemporary works by Jean Françaix, Edison Denisov, Harald Genzmer, Toshio Hosokawa, Niccolo Castiglioni, Manfred Trojahn, Aribert Reimann, Peter Eötvös and Oscar Bianchi. She has recorded many of these works. Meyer has recorded for a number of top recording companies, including EMI/Warner, Deutsche Grammophon, Sony and Avi-music. Meyer is also featured on a compilation of Leonard Bernstein’s chamber and concert music, along with the London Symphony Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis, Richard Stoltzman, Judith Lynn Stillman, the Boston Pops Orchestra and many other big names in music. The album was released on the prestigious Sony Classical UK label in March 2017.
Currently, Meyer is the clarinet professor at the Hochschule für Musik in Lübeck, a position she has held since 1993. Her students have included Julian Bliss, Shirley Brill, Sebastian Manz and Annelien van Wauwe.
Sabine Meyer’s excellent playing has earned her eight Echo Classic Awards, the Niedersachsen Prize and the Brahms Prize. Additionally, she is a member of the Academy of Arts Hamburg and was named Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres from the French government in 2010.