Albrecht Mayer’s first encounter with music was as a member of the Cathedral Choir in his home city of Bamberg, an early experience which is perhaps partly responsible for the warm, singing quality of his oboe-playing. His artistry invites superlatives: people talk of a “divine spark” and how he has elevated the “miraculous oboe” to become an “instrument of seduction”.
He began his professional career in 1990 as principal oboist of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. Since 1992 he has occupied the same position with the Berliner Philharmoniker, despite his growing renown as a concert soloist. Among the most sought-after oboists of our time, he has appeared as soloist with such eminent conductors as Claudio Abbado, Sir Simon Rattle and Nikolaus Harnoncourt. He made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2007 with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and is an enthusiastic chamber player, his partners including Hélène Grimaud, Leif Ove Andsnes and Lars Vogt.
Awarded Bamberg’s ETA-Hoffmann Prize in December 2006, Mayer has also been honoured with the ECHO-Klassik prize three times, twice as Instrumentalist of the Year. In 2013 he was inducted into the Gramophone “Hall of Fame” and awarded the Bavarian Culture Prize.
Constantly in search of new repertoire, he is fascinated by the idea of lending the voice of his oboe to pieces written for other instruments or for singers. He is especially attracted to the human voice, as the most “natural” of all instruments. Lieder ohne Worte, a disc of Bach transcriptions for oboe and orchestra, went straight into the German classical charts at No.2, and he hit the German pop charts with New Seasons, an album presenting music by Handel in a stunning new light by giving opera and oratorio vocal lines to the oboe. In Search of Mozart, recorded with Claudio Abbado and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, topped the German classical charts. In Venice, featuring Baroque concertos by Venetian composers, was followed by Voices of Bach, a selection of works by Bach for oboe, choir and orchestra; Drums ’n’ Chant, a collaboration with Austrian percussionist Martin Grubinger; Bonjour Paris, an album of music by Debussy, Ravel, Satie, Fauré, D’Indy and Françaix; Songs of the Reeds, a winning anthology of Romantic treasures; and Let it Snow! with the King’s Singers.
February 2015 saw the release of Lost and Found, a collection of four little-known Classical concertos for oboe and English horn in which Mayer is both soloist and conductor of the Kammerakademie Potsdam. Issued in November 2017, meanwhile, Tesori d’Italia featured performances by Mayer and I Musici of long-lost concertos by Giuseppe Sammartini, Domenico Elmi and Giovanni Alberto Ristori alongside Vivaldi’s much-loved Oboe Concerto in C major RV 450.
Mayer’s latest recording, made with the Bamberger Symphoniker and Jakub Hrůša and scheduled for international release in May 2019, features music for oboe and orchestra by Elgar, Strauss, Ravel (a new orchestral arrangement of Le Tombeau de Couperin) and Goossens. The four works are linked by their composers’ experiences of loss and warfare – whether past, present or impending – and by a longing for beauty in the face of tragedy. Mayer will perform repertoire from the album in Winterthur in April, as part of his residency with the Musikkollegium Winterthur, and again at the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie in late May, on which occasion he will be reunited with Hrůša and the Bamberger Symphoniker.
Other recent and forthcoming highlights of the current season include the world premiere in Riga of Pēteris Vasks’ Oboe Concerto, of which Mayer is the dedicatee; a series of sell-out festive shows with the Zürcher Kammerorchester, Daniel Hope and others last Christmas; appearances as both soloist and conductor at the Musikwoche Hitzacker, a festival of which he became artistic director in 2016; a performance with the Albrecht Mayer Quartet in Munich; and concerts with flautist Emmanuel Pahud and the Kammerakademie Potsdam in Potsdam, Berlin and Essen.
Despite the pressures of his schedule, he has also found time to establish the Albrecht Mayer Foundation, a project that raises funds to save eyesight. “To me as a musician, hearing is of paramount importance in my life,” he said. “For the very reason that our senses are of unique significance to human beings, I can hardly imagine to be obliged to live with fading eyesight or even without any eyesight at all.” Such concern for others’ wellbeing is the hallmark of a man whose emotionally charged music-making continues to bring great joy to audiences worldwide.
Albrecht Mayer plays an oboe and oboe d’amore by German maker Gebrüder Mönnig.