An Interview with Benjamin Appl

Kate Lowe and Vantage Music | Hong Kong | January 2023

From a recording of Schubert’s Winterreise at an altitude of 2300m in the Swiss Alps, surrounded by 80cm of snow, to one-on-one masterclasses with renowned baritone Fischer-Dieskau, to the hallowed concert platform of Wigmore Hall – German baritone Benjamin Appl is truly a force of nature. Vantage was hugely grateful to the highly acclaimed baritone for taking an hour out of his busy schedule to share with us some snippets of his musical journey, rigorous work ethic, and experience working on leading concert platforms around the globe – direct from the tranquil Lake Lugano in Switzerland.

To begin with, in a recent BBC interview you mentioned how you were initially reluctant to be part of a choir when you were young, but after four years you eventually tried it out. What made you change your mind?

I think it was purely practical reasons. My two older brothers were already members of the choir, and they really loved it. And I thought that it might be easier for my parents that I join the choir, seeing that we were all in the same school. We could then be picked up all together after school as members of the same choir. It’s a very different way of living: you have to sing the regular masses, and the entire weekly schedule changes. Of course, that’s mainly on Sundays but, nevertheless, the entire family dynamic and routine has to change to fit into this schedule. Therefore, it was really only out of practical reasons to begin with. But, after joining the boys’ choir, a few weeks later I really started to enjoy singing this choral music – Renaissance music, Palestrina but also Baroque music, Bach and, of course, Romantics like Mendelssohn and Rheinberger. And it really changed the way I thought about classical music.

In the biography on your website, you state the following about renowned baritone and conductor Fischer-Dieskau: “My years working with Fischer-Dieskau were invaluable and had a hugely formative influence on me. He is an inspiration – someone who is always searching and seeking a deeper understanding of music and of life. He was a role model for how to prosper as an artist, never just delivering, but each time creating.” You also enjoy a significant long-term collaboration with composer György Kurtág. How did these two masters shape you as a musician?

It goes without saying that Fischer-Dieskau has always been my great hero as a singer who loves German art song. Still, today, he is a leading figure of this field, and therefore I was thrilled when I was accepted at one of his masterclasses in 2009. I remember that we were supposed to propose 10 Schubert songs on which we’d like to work with him. I suggested 30 Schubert songs because I knew that there may be some that he didn’t like. A few weeks later, a list came back from his side with four Schubert songs, and none of these four Schubert songs were actually part of my list. So, this was my first impression of him! However, he then suggested I work on my repertoire privately with him. I went to his house in Berlin and in Bavaria, and for three and a half years (the last part of his life) I went every few weeks to stay with him for three or four days, and we worked on repertoire every day for six to seven hours on the repertoire. He was a real mentor, not just on technical aspects and interpretation but also stage presence, recital programmes, how to approach promotors and so on. He often called me on the phone during the day with ideas. I have many fond memories of my time with Fischer-Dieskau, but the most important and influential of all was how he inspired me, as a performing artist, never to lose the core of being a musician who is always searching, trying to get deeper into the music, to find out more about a poem and the life of a poet or composer, about harmonic components within a song – all of these things. That is what I think keeps the life of an artist interesting for yourself and also fulfilling for a returning audience: always find another angle or spotlight.

Now, György is a person who works intensely on detail: it felt like my brain was exploding after five minutes working with him, as sometimes we would work on just one bar of music for four hours. I wanted to throw the score against the wall often because I couldn’t cope with it anymore! However, he is an inspiration since, although he is 97 years old, he is like a young person and has this energy to look deeper and deeper. In the afternoon session, I would come back, looking forward to part two – and he would say to me, “Okay, let’s start from the beginning again.” Right now, I am working on a project with him where we selected together songs by him and by Schubert, which he carefully chose. And on some of these songs for the album, he himself, at 97 years old, will actually accompany me at the piano. This is a very precious project for me.

After the Second World War, the generation of Fischer-Dieskau renewed the way of performing song recitals. Beforehand, in recitals, between songs, they would have some opera arias. He really started to purify the song recital and put on only Schubert, only Schumann, only Goethe etc. – and so it was a very intense time. Also, at this time, we should never forget that Fischer-Dieskau came into the picture at the right time with the recording industry. Suddenly he was the first one who recorded more or less all Schubert songs or Schumann songs. It hadn’t been done before, ever – it was often unknown, new music to people. I read recently, for example, a review of a 1949 recording of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, where the reviewer said how, finally, someone was performing music which had been completely forgotten, and which none of us had ever heard before. While, in our lifetimes, more or less everything has been recorded, and some pieces have even been recorded over and over, I ask myself: what can I bring into this picture? Also, we move further and further away from these composers in terms of time. We also don’t speak the language of the Lieder in Germany – it’s quite old fashioned. Also, in school, kids are not learning this poetry anymore by heart. There seem to be many barriers surrounding the genre that singers need to work on to break down. So we have to break down barriers in a different way. We have to focus on the emotions and connect ourselves with emotions. I find that when you do concept albums like at the Heimat a few years ago, where we ask questions about homeland and belonging (a hugely important topic in times of globalisation, immigration and emigration), everyone really has many questions around the idea of identity and this time, I wanted to ask what I find in a world which, on one hand, gets more liberal and freer, but on the other hand, in other countries and cultures, gets more limited and restricted.

Do you still remember your first experience of a live stage performance?

My parents are not professional musicians, but my mother is actually quite musical: she plays the guitar and conducts choirs. So I grew up in an environment where, together with my two brothers, we sang a lot of lullabies and folk songs. I therefore grew up in more of a folk song environment. My first performance was in the local church. Around Christmas time, we used to put on Christmas plays – so these were probably my first public performances. Also, there is a German Bavarian comedian singer who would sing this funny song where, on purpose, he yodels in the wrong pitch. As a child, I loved that, and actually imitated him. It became the running gag in my local community when there was a feast or a birthday that I always had to stand up and sing this song, purposefully singing the wrong notes. As a spectator, I saw my first opera at the age of six or seven, and it was Der Freischütz by Carl Maria von Weber, which is still one of my favourite operas today (probably linked to nostalgic feelings). I always think that, when a child or young person listens to music, even if they don’t appreciate it in the very beginning, when you think back on it you somehow always have a connection with it.

After high school, you started a course in business administration, but you then decided to move to London to sing professionally. Was there a deciding moment that made you want to become an artist and made you want to come to London?

So my path was a bit different. After school, I had considered studying singing, but I could have never imagined the life I’m now living – which is out of a suitcase, travelling, being in one hotel, the next night in another hotel. So right now I normally spend around three weeks per year at home in London, which is not a long period of time. Otherwise I live out of a suitcase. I simply could not have imagined this life, and therefore thought I should do a two-and-a-half-year banking apprenticeship. But, after one and a half years of studying banking, I was missing something. You have to sit and listen quietly to a lecturer in a huge lecture room, then have to learn a script and a book off copy, and you just write everything down in an exam. But what was missing was spending time with yourself, the inner reflection, trying to become a better human being and facing your emotions – all of that. After some singing lessons in Munich and Augsburg, I thought I would go to London for one year to study singing and to learn English properly – and after that I would go back to working in the bank. However, after arriving in London, a lot changed. It was really going with the flow. It wasn’t a decision overnight. So I just let myself float around. Five years later the bank still called from time to time, offering me financially interesting job offers, and sometimes, on a bad day as a singer (when the voice is not working or you have a bad audition or you don’t feel well), of course you think twice about these kind of offers. But eventually I told the bank they should not call anymore.

What made you decide to settle in London?

It was from 2010 onwards when I moved to London, and that I really focused mainly on singing. At the time, I was just about to start a PhD in business – banking, specifically. But this really didn’t go anywhere because I really knew from this moment onwards I wanted to focus more on singing. I have to say, I love London. At the time I arrived, it was a thriving city, a thriving society nation, and a wonderful connecting point between Europe and the US. Many great agencies and orchestras are based there, as well as many great conductors. I would say it was the centre of music in Europe for me, particularly for German song. In London, you have Wigmore Hall as well as lots of other festivals, which offer such a variety of song recitals, so I think it was the right decision for me to stay in London and not go back to Germany, where sometimes the world of art song and Lieder is not right now the high peak of artistry.

How would you describe your experience of studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London?

I loved being at the Guildhall. I think it’s a wonderful institution which is so open-minded. What I find very interesting in the UK compared to Germany, especially in terms of singers, is that, in the UK, music institutions look at you as a person, and at what you can offer individually – and you then work on that material. In Germany there is very often this one ideal of sound, and that’s what you have to achieve. But, particularly for song recitals, I think it’s very important that the art form has an individual voice, not just for the singer but also the way how you communicate with people. Furthermore, many of the great song recitalists – for example Ian Bostridge, Mark Padmore, Felicity Lott, amongst many others – are all from the UK. And there’s a reason for this, because the art song form in this country has been nurtured to have a very, very individual timbre and way of performing and communicating. People therefore either like you or don’t like you, but I think that, particularly in a song recital, you have to offer something very individual – which is something I liked very much at the Guildhall. The institution is also in the centre of London, and is close to the Barbican, cinemas, concert halls, parks and pubs – so it’s just a truly wonderful place where you can have a great time as a student.

You have recently released a new album, intriguingly entitled Forbidden Fruit: where did the inspiration for the title come from?

The question for me for this album: what are the boundaries and do you push them? How far do you push? And do you then become happier with more freedom and liberty? Or is it a bigger responsibility and leads to the next step, where you have to push again? I therefore wanted to use the metaphor of Adam and Eve and the Snake as one of the examples of trying to push boundaries or trying to do something forbidden, and then use songs, mixing them up from different genres and different languages. I strongly believe when you, for example, put a song like Kurt Weill’s “Tango” or “Youkali” before a German art song by Schubert or Schumann, you bring the listener to a different point. And then from this point you start a new journey on a song. And the starting point of the new song is a completely different one. Then when you put another Schubert song afterwards (and I find this very interesting – some might call it manipulation) the listener will be taken always to different places and maybe hear his songs differently or focus on other things. I find this fascinating: what should our generation do now with these songs, and what is our contribution to the world of songs from the last eight years?

How did your album of Schubert’s Lieders, recorded with orchestra, come about? What was the main difference between performing with a full orchestra and with a pianist?

Personally, I do not think we should not compare piano accompaniment with an orchestral accompaniment. I think art song with orchestral accompaniment is a completely new art form in itself: it gives these songs a chance to be heard on bigger stages, to introduce songs generally to audiences who don’t come to song recitals. So I see there’s a big advantage here. There have of course always been art songs with orchestral accompaniment – Schubert himself orchestrated one song entitled “Romance” from Rosamunde. This was maybe the inspiration for orchestral songs. His brother already started after Schubert’s death to orchestrate some of his songs. The young Webern, for example, was obsessed with Schubert songs and their orchestration. Then of course we have Brahms and Berlioz. So there has been always an inspiration, a fascination by all kinds of composers. I always use an image from painting. When you sing with piano, you feel like you are painting with a very small brush in watercolours: very, very pale watercolours. But, when you perform opera or orchestral songs, you use huge brushes on a huge canvas in oil colours. That’s how I see it. Of course, we have the same voice and the same aesthetics. But yes – that’s more or less the difference between performing with a pianist and with orchestra.

Bach is the focus of two of your albums: Bach and Cantatas of the Bach Family. How did you go about selecting the programme, and did you make any new discoveries about Bach through these projects?

The conductor Reinhard Goebel is really one of the greatest minds of early music – he is a very special human being. He is not always easy but he really is one of the greatest scholars in terms of knowledge, and working with him, for example on ornaments – which he now makes completely differently than anyone else with Bach – and discovering a context of the work and also changing aesthetics is incredible, as he has different aesthetics to anyone else. I also learnt a lot in terms of tempi. In addition to the well-known pieces often performed by Johann Sebastian Bach, we also have a lot of pieces by his four composer sons. There is also a world premiere on one of the recording, as well as pieces which are rarely performed. The album Bach is dedicated to J. S. Bach. He wrote so many cantatas, such beautiful music, that it was quite difficult to select pieces. And then I also wanted to consider the liturgical year, starting on the first of Advent, and then following the cycle of the year. That was more or less the idea behind this album: to bring together and to break it also with Sinfonia, where the orchestra plays by itself just to get a feeling of chapters and to structure the album a bit.

Among all the albums you released since 2016, which one is your favourite one and why?

I think the most personal probably is Heimat (a German word meaning rootedness, longing and belonging), released in 2017, because it is really an autobiographical story of my own life, leaving Germany for England. Two thirds of the repertoire is German and one third is English. The album asked the question of where I really belong, and what I identified as home. Vocally, I am quite happy with Forbidden Fruit and with the Schubert. I therefore feel like that’s for me probably the most fulfilling in terms of artistic level. But, to be honest, I never like listening to myself. So I listen to them often for editing. But when I have, when we finalise the master, I normally don’t really listen to my own recordings, but I hope a lot of people do.

How do you divide your time between song recitals, oratorios, concerts, operas and recordings? What are the individual challenges of each of these genres, and how do you go about learning a completely new operatic role?

I made a decision a few years ago regarding how to split my performance and, of course, sometimes it is easy and at other times it is difficult to juggle around. But, generally, I would say 60% of my work is song recitals with piano. I do one opera a year and the rest are concerts. The rest is concert work, orchestra songs and oratorios. That’s more or less the ideal for me: a mixture I love seeing new places, new experiences, new people. That’s partly why I like the concert work.

I think opera is the most wonderful art form and everything clicks and comes together. But if there’s one little wheel in the big piece of machinery which gets stuck, t can be quite painful when you’re stuck there for six weeks. But I think it enriches each other if you work with a great conductor, if you work with a great stage director and wonderful, inspiring colleagues; it can also help you for the concert platform, for recital performances, as well as the other way round. So that’s my ideal performance schedule. But of course it is a lot of travelling, it’s a lot of memorising, a lot of being flexible, doing different programmes. You have to like this life; you have to work hard. It’s not easy. You have to sit till late in the night, learning the texts, doing your travels, even if you have a manager. But you have to also make the decisions in the end like which airplanes you take. Even if your manager does the research, in the end, of course, you have to check out if the hotel is all right – all of these things.

When pianists record or perform masterpieces such as Bach’s Goldberg Variations, we come across artists recording them at different stages of their life, and the final results can be very different. With regard to your own repertoire, which pieces do you feel might change as you age, in terms of performance?

I know exactly what you mean, and I completely agree. I feel that age is one of several tools. I’ve done Winterreise probably now around 100 times in concert, and I feel that every performance changes, every day and every minute. I tried when I was younger not to focus on what happens during the day and not let it go on to influence a performance. I tried to try to blend out my personal life and not connect the two worlds of reality and the concert platform. But this didn’t work at all for me. What I do now is to really take everything I experience. Even in the morning when I wake up and I don’t feel vocally well or feel tired or had bad phone calls or had amazing experiences with whatever, swam in the lake and came out and all of these experiences, I’ve taken these experiences to my performance. This is especially important in a song cycle like Winterreise: it is a true journey where, in every second you have to make decisions about where you will go with it; you can end up in a completely different place every time.

In Winterreise, you can be an angry person; you can be a lost person; you can be an insecure person – and these choices can change in every second. Yes, age and experience, I completely agree, will change over time. But in Winterreise, you can also change from today to tomorrow. And if you let if you let it happen and you’re open to that, it’s, for me the most inspiring and most wonderful experience for myself, but also for an audience: it always keeps it interesting.

Yes, age and experience is one part. I always tell my students that they should have a range of experiences: they should go to the opera; they should go to a theatre; they should have a good time in the park with their friends; they should see nature. They should just really be like a sponge, try to soak everything in around them – and then release this in a performance.And I think that’s at least as important as sitting in your practice room and practising the piece over and over.

Have you had any interesting incidents working with a conductor or pianist you would like to share? Likewise, have you had any perfect performing situations with an orchestra or ensemble?

Absolutely – and that’s also one of the reasons I like working with different pianists: they always bring in something new and different. It’s like playing ping-pong, and the pianist offers something to you and you take it on, and then you go somewhere else in the music. Then you throw the ball back, and then suddenly the pianist goes somewhere else. And I like that. Yes, of course you can feel more comfortable with one pianist, and you don’t have to rehearse that much. Of course, you can tour with this pianist everywhere without rehearsing new and new, but I find that that’s what keeps the performance alive.

When you work with conductor, even though you might have your own ideas, at the end of the day you have to trust them – that they will follow your tempo, do whatever you agreed on. However, in the performance itself, that can all change. Therefore, I think that you do have to say what you think about the music, but you also have to be kind to the conductor because, at the end of the day, they are in charge. I’ll always love working with the orchestra in Amsterdam (it’s probably my favourite orchestra), and I particularly enjoyed working with the young Finnish conductor Klaus Mäkelä.

Do you have a favourite concert hall?

There is a wonderful small performance space in New York, which is called the Park Avenue Armory, in which I love to perform. It’s a beautiful space for performance. And I love Wigmore Hall in London, of course. There are also lots of other wonderful spaces. It depends on the acoustics but, to be very honest, it also depends on the audience in the evening. So the nicest hall won’t be the same if you have an audience who coughs or is or is not focused; it only takes one or two people in the hall and they can completely destroy the entire atmosphere. So yes, acoustics and halls are important, but equally or even more important are the people who will sit there as your audience.

How long does it take to prepare an operatic role?

Ideally, I like to know about a role far, far in advance in order to prepare it well. Next year, for example, we’ll do a big new French show, which, in America, is a huge role. Normally (and in an ideal world), you start two and a half years before the first performance. Of course, sometimes you don’t know because the planning has only been completed recently, but I prefer to learn the role, put it aside for a few months, and then come back to it again. I think there’s nothing more stressful than arriving on the first day of opera rehearsals and you don’t know the role too well, and you feel insecure with all these colleagues around you and the conductor and so on… Inevitably, you are already on the back foot in this scenario. Another scenario can sometimes happen. I recently did a Papageno, and I thought so much about it and had so many ideas. And then you work slightly with the stage director who is not interested in that at all, and when you felt that you arrived actually well-prepared, you actually now feel less so. You feel like you have run out of imagination. So that can also happen, but it’s in fact good for you. It also means that you have all that previous preparation in your system anyway for the next production.

When performing live, musicians are all too susceptible to hiccups. Would you be willing to share with us the most embarrassing or bizarre thing that has happened to you during a live performance?

I remember preparing for an important concert, and I had these huge winter boots on at the time. On the way to the concert hall, I realised I had completely forgotten my concert shoes, so I had to sing in a tuxedo and these huge winter boots. That was very embarrassing. Of course, then there are other moments musically where you forget text or something. Very often, though, even though you as a singer feel hugely embarrassed, the audience love it because it shows you are just human. There are other moments when you have to stop songs and then you say, “I’m so sorry, I completely messed up the text – can we start again?” This is also an icebreaker, though: the audience connect more with you and feel for you.

You have a masterclass on your website. Do you give classes on regular basis? Do you find teaching rewarding?

I officially have a job at the Guildhall School teaching German song but, due to my extensive travelling, I’m not so often there. This next academic year I will teach quite a lot there, which will be a bit of a change. I was recently in Australia and gave three masterclasses there. I try to teach more and more because I really enjoy it. I find it psychologically very interesting discovering how to approach people, how to find a common language – and, if it doesn’t work, how to approach the student from a different angle, with different vocabulary, with different feelings, with a different way of working together. And so I find it’s very enriching for myself, actually. Therefore, yes, it’s something I would like to do a bit more. I’m not sure that teaching singing adds anything to the artists and the way they perform. Yes, some do become better performers through teaching, but I think it’s a very individual choice. We should also never think selfishly but always think of the students and what is best for them.

For some young singers who have less stage experience, what advice would you give them if, on arrival, they encounter a hall with an acoustic that is not very helpful for their chosen repertoire?

The most important advice is not to listen to yourself. I had one singing teacher who completely believed in the concept of not listening to yourself and that, when you prepare every phrase, the body has to prepare and then the body will always naturally find its way. We know from kids, from toddlers, from newborns, that they can cry almost endlessly, and their voice never will get tired. Actually, it’s only due to our lifestyles, and if we use our bodies in the wrong way that we actually suddenly tire our voices, and that is because we are using it in the wrong way.

The teacher I mentioned absolutely believed that if, before a phrase, you prepare everything, have the right support, have the right breath, have the right imagination regarding where the sound should go and how it should flow, then the body itself will always find its way. And that’s exactly what I do for myself when there’s bad acoustics: I prepare my phrase in the right way before I start singing. I think it through and I don’t listen. I try not to listen to myself because every part of your body that you engage during the act of listening, you then want to manoeuvre and adjust. It’s actually that manipulation of sound that is the definition of unhealthy singing. I therefore do this in order not to depend on the acoustics of the building. I also think that you hear the voice differently as an external person: as a singer, how we hear ourselves and how it actually sounds outside our bodies is very different.

What would be your advice to a young aspiring professional musician regarding practice?

I think knowing how to practise is very important. And, when I work with students, they often don’t have an exact release schedule of how to practise. And it’s so confusing because very often they have different singing teachers and they have different coaches around and then they focus on different things. So I find there’s a lot of confusion and I think the most important thing is actually having an exact practice schedule, telling you which exercises you should and should not do.

How do you choose your pianist?

I have worked with many, many pianists and returned to the ones where I just have a great time. It’s important to rehearse but, when the rehearsal starts for me, you must discuss the music and talk about where to go with the pianist, and where there’s some art and so on, from time to time you have to do it. But, generally, if you have to do it for every step of the way of the rehearsal, then there’s something wrong for me. What I love with my pianists is that we have a good time. We have a drink, we go sightseeing, we speak, we have conversations. We talk about life. We talk about values. Because, in the end, what counts in a song recital is the trust between the two musicians on stage.

Fatigue is a thing. You stand in front of an audience, you can’t hide anywhere. You need all the support from behind you, from the piano, where the pianist is, where the piano stands. It is like the wings you need to fly. This connection is built on trust. And when you have the trust you’re open to each other. You try things out; you are flexible; you understand each other. You know when you have to go into fast tempo because one of the two is nervous or where another one wants to have more time. It’s about listening and about the trust. And that’s how I choose my pianist – and also how my pianists choose me!

What is the most common bad singing habit amongst even professional singers?

I find that I’m not your typical singer: normally I almost don’t have to warm up because my voice anyway is always awake. My voice always runs, but it’s also the amount I’m singing. But I think, as a professional singer, it’s important to warm up and not to sing on a cold instrument. It’s like an athlete who has to also warm up his body. But, then, don’t do too much: a voice is like a bank account where you never can pay in. You only can take out cash, and there’s only a certain amount of money in it. This is a useful metaphor for the voice. There’s only a certain amount we can use this voice in our life. We must use it wisely, not too much and in the right way. Warm up, but don’t overdo it.

How satisfied are you with life as an artist?

One of the reasons I do recitals is that I’m not a particular fan of singers. And, at least in some recitals, I have my own space and I don’t have to deal with other singers. I find instrumentalists, conductors and people outside the music industry often more interesting than singers. Some singers have the ability to just really absorb everything, but it’s so fragile. I understand we have to be protective of ourselves, of our emotions. It’s a very weird thing being a singer, and I also sometimes find it a very limiting career. Furthermore, at the beginning of your career, you practise 70% or 80% of the time in a room, and for the other 30% you do admin work at a desk. When you have a career, it’s exactly the other way around. You actually sit down and have to organise everything, learn the music and write the translations, and you only actually sing for 20% to 30%. I absolutely relate to this lifestyle.

You have a big fan club: do you interact with them, and do they ever inspire you?

It’s important, of course, to connect with people on stage mainly rather than anywhere else. People make a big effort to come to concerts: they buy tickets, they travel, and they come to a venue to spend two hours of their life sitting in your performances. As musicians, we have to appreciate that, for sure. As artists, we have to be kind to fans, and appreciate them – even if we can only afford to give only five seconds of our time and attention.

What are your thoughts on social medial?

I’m in two minds about social media generally. Right now, I don’t often see those who follow me coming to my concerts or buying my records. There are many examples of musicians who have 100,000 followers but then they perform in empty halls. So there are two different extremes. This might change in the future, but that’s something I find some promoters don’t fully understand. They think that by hiring someone who has a lot of followers that the concert will sell out, but actually it’s often not the case. However, I do think it’s important to be visible, because then you also have the chance to guide yourself through how much you want to reveal about your private life, what you want to give away, and how to arrange yourself within this very open world. So I therefore see it as part of the artistic identity of an artist.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted everyone’s lives hugely, particularly musicians. Did you look for other ways to perform during the lockdown, e.g. livestream performances?

During the pandemic, I did do a few livestreams. I also got quite a lot of requests but declined most of them – but I’m happy. Looking back, I think we gave a lot away as artists during the pandemic, I think from our artistic values, from programmes which we could have otherwise performed in concert halls afterwards. When you put out one song recital programme, you normally could put out only one on a livestream. You then can’t publish it on another platform or for another promoter.

Do you think that online performances can replace live, in-person performances?

If you’re now invited by promoters to perform a recital, they won’t ask you to repeat the programme you have already put online. So, as musicians, we gave away a lot of our repertoire, which I think backfires now for certain people who gave away literally their entire repertoire. I think the most important, wonderful thing about our art form is that music evaporates in the concert hall. No one can put it in a can. No one can save it. Unfortunately, everybody now has a mobile phone: they all try to film and save the performance, which is not actually the essence of a live performance. But I think that’s also the magic of what we do. And that’s why I think live performances should always carry on, and that they are the essence of what we do as artists. I’m therefore I’m happy that I didn’t put up too much online.

Finally, are you allowed to share any future plans or projects with us?

I can indeed! There are several projects in the pipeline including a recording in Mexico with a Mexican pianist, when we will be combining German art song with Latin American art song. It should be quite a large-scale project. In 2025, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Fischer-Dieskau, and we will put on a large project around him which will give a very personal insight into his life and into him as a human being – which we do not yet know much about. I am currently going through his correspondences and his diaries. There are also some upcoming collaborations with accordion, a wonderful collaboration with the lutenist Thomas Dunford with a programme called the Songwriter, where we bring together Dowland and Schubert with popular songs of Eric Clapton and the Beatles. So there are different programmes going on, as well as some operas coming up next year, like the Pelleas in the US. Life is certainly not boring!

You filmed a unique performance of Schubert’s Winterreise for the BBC. What was this experience like?

It was a crazy idea to do this project at 2,300m in the Swiss Alps. We had around 80cm snow. We had four to five days of recording in this tower in the middle of nowhere It’s an extraordinary building. In fact, I passed by years ago and saw it and thought: that would be the most amazing place for Winterreise. And the BBC loved this idea and commissioned it – and so the BBC got 90mins with the German bloke!

We recorded everything in the venue, and, at the venue, I performed often on the balcony, which was  so far away and it was therefore a real challenge with the piano being always more or less in the same spot, being separated by about 20cm but with both of us facing in opposite directions. We didn’t see each other at all. So it was a big challenge to make music together. I’m very grateful for James Baillieu because no one else could have done this project with me. And so we went out into the snow for five days.

The thing with filming is that it is so very different. We had a wonderful camera guy, but he always needed two or three hours to set up the new camera angles. So you stand there, because you also have to for the focus of the cameras; they need you there all the time. And then suddenly , after they have set up everything they say “Now sing”. And then you can sing the piece maybe maximum twice because there’s not more time. And, of course, you have to keep your voice and your body warm. You also have to keep your mind fresh all the time. And then do all this outside, of course, standing around in −16, −17 degrees for the entire day singing

Everything you see in this film is performed live. So we had snowstorms. We filmed night and day. It was probably the most challenging project I’ve ever done in my life, and there were many moments where I just wanted to leave because I couldn’t cope with it anymore. So it was a bit of a struggle, but it also brought of course a different point of view of performing: of appreciating a warm concert hall with great acoustics.