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Mystery Man

img  Tobias

Explaining the success of an artists is every-day business for music journalists, still it’s probably the most error-prone affair you could think of. After all: Who could seriously claim to be able to chase apart the clew of connections between musicians, agencies, concert organisors, festivals, concert halls, record companies, distributors, the press and offical arts subsidies, while at the same time keeping track of audience preferences and that little bit of luck that everyone needs? We thought so. Sometimes, however, you just can’t keep yourself from asking. As in the case of Maurice Steger.

Which is not to say that we’d doubt Maurice’s talent just for one second. Quite on the contrary: Together with Dorothee Oberlinger, this is one of the finest figureheads of the scene and a guarantee for quality. And an active one to boot - Performing in London’s Wigmore Hall, the Berlin Philharmonia and the Concertgebouw Amsterdam are just as much part of his routine as recording an astounding catalogue of CDs: Nine in the course of just over ten years have documented an exemplary career with a strong love for Vivaldi (obviously) and Telemann (maybe slightly less obviously). His agenda is filled to the brim with dates – one keeps wondering, when he finds the time to practise at all.

Add to that a modern mind and especially a knack for the internet, please. Maurice’s homepage is among the very best on the web: Easy to navigate, visually appealing and with both quick-loading music files and a bunch of interesting concert and album reviews. As one of the few Classical artists, he also allows visitors to his page into his life – as long as they don’t expect a Britney Spears/Jessica Simpson/Ozzy Ozbourne-like soul strip of his privat sphere. Instead, there’s pictures of his concerts, of rehearsals and of “a lot of fun with flutist Janne Thomsen”. There’s no blog or personal diary as with Hillary Hahn, but we get to know Steger as a highly professional man, who is still able to enjoy himself doing what he loves most: Playing the old repertoire and interacting with his colleagues.

No, all of this points to the fact that we have a great artist in front of us and by now you should really be asking yourself, why we’re so surprised that he should have earned the success he has. We’ll tell you: Maurice Steger plays the recorder. As instruments go in Classical Music, this is one of the most difficult to sell and the aforementioned Dorothee Oberlinger, after years and years in the business, still has to answer questions as to why she chose it. Which probably has everything to do with the fact that the recorder is closer to listeners than the piano and the violin and therefore a lot less glamorous – after all, most children learn to play it in elementary school. The screaking high-pitched noises they produced themselves back then were probably enough to put them off the subject for the rest of their lives. What a waste. To anyone who has ever heard the sound of a recorder as produced by a master of the trade, this will come as a revelation. That’s why listening to Steger could well change all of your prejudices.

At least it changed the minds of almost anybody who visited his concerts or treated his ears to the music of his albums.”Italian Ground”, his debut, shot to the top ranks of the Swiss Classical Charts and after a long and healthy relationship with the Claves label (Swiss-based, just like him), the Deutsche Grammophon invited him to join the renowned Musica Antiqua Köln, led by Reinhard Goebel for a disc of Telemann’s flute quartets. Shortly after, he slipped into the roster of Harmonia Mundi, another famous player in the  recording business. In 2002, he was awarded the Herbert-von-Karajan prize, one of the most prestigious distinctions around. And in 2003, he played to a huge audience during the opening night of the Belem Music Festival in South America. Together with Naoki Kitaya and the Fleck brothers Markus and Andreas, he is also part of the La Ciaccona ensemble, presenting chamber music of the 16th till 18th century to raving audiences. Could things possibly get any better?

Well, they just might. For Steger has just released his new CD with Harmonia Mundi and it looks to be a little treasure. Once again it’s Telemann and once again it’s a high-class setting: The “Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin” joins him for a repertoire of the composer’s finest moments – including the “Maritime Overture”. If you like, this is one of the earliest examples of cross-over. The label informs us that “it is thus among the earliest examples of a mixed genere devised in Germany: the concertante overture-suite, in which elements of Italian concerto form are combined with formal and stylistic patterns taken from the French orchestral suite. At the centre of the work lies a large-scale instrumental da capo aria, entitled “Air à l’Italien”, in which the solo recorder is required to behave like an operatic diva.” Definitely an album worth checking out, those short excerpts on Maurice’s page sure did catch our attention.

Steger definitely did a lot of things right and if he made some mistakes, he did well in hiding them. And still, the usual promo babble will not be enough to explain what made him succede, while others have turned from music alltogether. In the end, it really doesn’t matter. A little mystic can’t do any harm and Classical Music can actually use some mystery. Explaining the success of artists may be journalists’ bread and butter, but let’s just say it’s a Sunday today and we’ll leave the job to you.

Homepage: Maurice Steger
Homepage: Harmonia Mundi

Picture by Kasskara

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