Thomas Reif: Boundless musical

Thomas Reif | © Andrej Grilc
At the age of 26 he is concertmaster of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, at the same time on a "Misión Tango" with his Cuarteto SolTango. Now the native of Rosenheim Thomas Reif (30) takes a professorship for violin at the Mozarteum University.
MO: At 26, concertmaster of the BR Symphony Orchestra. What was that like for you? Thomas Reif: I always wanted to become concertmaster, so I worked towards it and it was great when it worked out, of course - but also intense. We were on tour with Cuarteto SolTango at the time and had to postpone a concert by one day so that I could play the audition in Munich. After three tango concert evenings I had the hearing - and the next day we played a tango concert at the Bayrischer Rundfunk. (laughs) That was a funny coincidence and of course super, but also stressful. mO: Where we are already in the middle of the topic. You are at home in classical music, yet you overcome musical genre boundaries effortlessly. How do you manage that? Thomas Reif: Playfully. (laughs) Actually, it started in my childhood. I never did only classical music, because I've always had an interest in a wide variety of music. I didn't know the Argentine tango of the Golden Era, that is, the one that predates Astor Piazzolla, when Cuarteto SolTango approached me in 2016. But Martin Klett (piano), Karel Bredenhorst (cello) and Andreas Rokseth (bandoneon) are great musicians, so I had to give it a try - and so far I'm enjoying the tango insanely, because it's great music. But I'm also very interested in baroque music and I'm learning this repertoire piece by piece. Anyway, I'm not a violinist who plays only one or the other. I am a violinist, and I make music. mO: Would you like to see a more liberal approach to music in general? Thomas Reif: Well, I too have traditionally done all my studies what many others do and aspire to do. The fact that my path has worked out is, of course, fortunate. But it's not particularly alternative, even if I do break out a few with SolTango. In any case, I would like to teach my students to take their liberties. You don't have to do a competition every year during your studies, and then either be a soloist or join an orchestra. You can also devote yourself to other things. Basically, it's about thinking about other, new concepts in the art of classical music, including interdisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches. But this "breaking open" already begins where a competition allows you to play something other than Bach, or where the intermediate examination allows something else, or where the professor does not insist on playing only Bach. Tango is a good example.   MO: What are your plans for your own professorship? Thomas Reif: Of course I want to be a good teacher - with everything that goes with it. Getting to know the students and building a good relationship with them so that I can help them in the best possible way to achieve their personal goals, recognize weaknesses and work on them. If someone wants to join an orchestra, the ideal preparation for auditions is the goal. If someone wants to work on new repertoire and remain a soloist or simply freelance and be creative, I find that exciting as well. My way is certainly not the only right and possible one. The important thing is to stay with yourself and do the things that bring you joy. mO: You came to the Pre-College of the Mozarteum University at the age of 12, studied here with Bruno Steinschaden and Harald Herzl, before going to Hamburg for your bachelor's degree and then to Berlin for your master's degree. What is it like for you to return here? Thomas Reif: Entering the building and also Harald Herzl's room for the first time to teach here myself was already something special and an intense déjà vu - it even still smells here like it did back then. In any case, the Mozarteum is not just any university for me. I commuted here for seven years, lived here for a year, played my first solo concert with orchestra here, I still know some of the porters from my studies, was awarded the "Sir Ian Stoutzker Prize". That was already a very formative time. mO: Speaking of the prize - how did you feel about your musical career itself? Were there particular highlights or, conversely, did you also have crises? Thomas Reif: Yes and yes. In any case, it was always exciting. And new things came along little by little, like this professorship now. In the context of competitions, the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels was definitely a highlight. Together with 11 others, I made it to the finals at that time, for which we prepared for eight days in a "chapel" with no contact to the outside world, no cell phone and no computer. That was a unique experience. This competition was also very important for the time afterwards, as I was able to network well there on an international level. At the same time, however, I finished my bachelor's degree and started my master's in Berlin - and that was then a time of crises of meaning and play, because there I felt like a wimp who was being given another good wringing. I was just practicing and at the same time had the feeling that I couldn't play anymore. To get from here to there, you have to go through this valley. You have to break everything down and analyze it, and it gets worse at first, while at the same time your hearing becomes more sensitive. That's terribly exhausting, but enormously important because it's worth it. I learned that in my master's degree - and I'm still benefiting from it today. mO: What do you wish for the future of classical music, including your own concerts? Thomas Reif: Classical music should first of all be about breaking down conservative pigeonholes and labels. For example, if the audience claps between movements, then I'm happy - because that's the most honest and quickest reaction I can get. Historically, that's how it's always been done, too. People who sit in concert and "shush" declare the last 100 years to be the one truth. But in the time before that, the mood at classical concerts was similar to the mood at a jazz concert today. Anyway, these are rules that my friends shy away from - they feel uncomfortable all evening long, even though they actually find the music beautiful. Is it okay to take pictures? Is it okay to stand up and move around? Is it okay to clap when you feel the impulse? I would argue that many young people find classical concerts boring only because they are put off by the setting in which they take place. I think we need to loosen up about these things. You don't have to change the content of the music for that, because it's good.   Cuarteto SolTango
Misión Tango
CAvi, April 2021   The text originally appeared in the October 2, 2021 Uni-News of the Salzburger Nachrichten.

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