Interview with Anja Bihlmaier
'I want to be so much more than just a conductor'
The love between German conductor Anja Bihlmaier and the Residentie Orkest was sealed after one program. From season 2021-2022, she will be the orchestra's new chief conductor: "This is a new chapter in my life.
A committed high school music teacher introduced Anja Bihlmaier to music. She learned to play violin and piano, and eventually he even let her conduct an opera. 'I was immediately sold. I found it fascinating to merge the timbres of the choir and orchestra with my hands. From now on, all I wanted to do was conduct.'
Still, it would be a while before Anja would be back on the baton. On the advice of her parents, she studied school music; after all, the conductor's life is an uncertain one. But Anja did not let go of her dream and, at the age of 28, went to work as a repetiteur at an opera house in Coburg. This was followed by appointments at increasingly larger German opera houses and debuts with international orchestras. 'I see my appointment as chief conductor of the Residentie Orkest as a new chapter in my life. Working together intensively for a long time in order to perfect the smallest details in a score and strengthen the mutual bond between the musicians is an exciting prospect.'
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Making music freely
Anja knows where she wants to go with the orchestra. 'I want to contribute to a stimulating environment in which everyone continues to develop and is free to make music. Music is about emotions; it's up to us to translate all that wonderful repertoire as captivatingly as possible. Not only by means of a score and artistic ideas, but also by taking risks. When we dare to play with maximum risk, the audience feels it immediately. Those are those unforgettable moments of collective turmoil.'
Her new role as chief conductor means more to Anja than just conducting. 'I'm not someone who retreats into a conducting room. I want to know what's going on and like to build a relationship with the musicians.' Besides conducting the symphonic repertoire, Anja will also be involved in educational and social projects. 'This will give me the chance to get to know The Hague as diversely as possible and to contribute to the orchestra's important role in the community. I am very much looking forward to the collaborations with the other institutions in Amare. And of course the wonderful opportunities this building offers, not only for the Residentie Orkest, but for everyone in the city.'
Since 2021, Anja has also been the regular guest conductor of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in Finland. She is also a sought-after conductor in Austria, Spain, England, the U.S. and Japan. How she maintains this lifestyle? 'I love to travel and get energy from new encounters and different cultures. Of course every debut is exciting, but as long as you stay yourself, are empathetic and well prepared, not much can go wrong.'
Into the dunes
About the directness of the Dutch, Anja worries little. 'I also like to say what I think, preferably without a filter. It's nice that that's possible here.' She has already bought an apartment in The Hague. 'I will miss the hills around Kassel, but riding my racing bike through the dunes isn't bad either.'
Watch the Residentie Orkest conducted by Anja Bihlmaier in Jean Sibelius' First Symphony below.