Armed with formidable technical mastery and profound musical sensitivity, Alice Sara Ott stands among the most compelling artists of her generation. The German-Japanese musician’s poetic pianism, hailed by critics for its refinement and intensity, has prompted favourable comparisons with great performers from the past. Ott’s music-making is guided by a desire to connect with the essential spirit of the works in her repertoire; above all, it flows from her innate ability to channel a vast range of emotions and imaginative responses into every performance.
“Her technique is dazzling, her tone wonderfully varied … and the energy propelling her playing seems unstoppable,” proclaimed the Guardian (London) following the release of Ott’s Deutsche Grammophon debut album. The same newspaper, reflecting on a performance of Liszt’s Totentanz with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Antonio Pappano in November 2017, noted how she “played with thrilling accuracy and involvement, whether hammering out the grinding dissonances of the opening, or deploying a filigree lightness of tone for the Bach-like fugue that forms the work’s single moment of reflection at its centre”. While critical superlatives helped propel the pianist’s early career, and continue to accompany her wherever she performs, Ott remains focused on developing as an artist over the long term. “I want to still be able to play when I am 80 and communicate with people through music,” she observes.
Alice Sara Ott was born in Munich in 1988 to a German father and Japanese mother. She fell in love with the piano at the age of three while attending a recital with her parents, which led the following year to her first lessons on the instrument. Practice was never a problem: “My mother,” she recalls, “literally had to pull me away from the piano.” The speed of young Alice’s progress was measured when, soon after her fifth birthday, she appeared in the final of a youth music competition at Munich’s Herkulessaal. Ott joined Professor Karl-Heinz Kämmerling’s renowned piano class at the Salzburg Mozarteum when she was 12 and flourished under his instruction. In 2002, aged just 13, she became the youngest finalist in the history of the Hamamatsu International Piano Academy Competition and was named its “Most Promising Artist”. Her competition credits also include first prize in the 2003 Köthen Bach Competition and the 2004 Val Tidone International Music Competition.
Ott appeared in the closing phase of the decade-long “100 International Pianists” series in Tokyo in 2006 and has since secured a large and loyal following in Japan. Her desire to share classical music with the broadest possible audience has connected with people worldwide. “I want to remove the notion that classical music is just something for rich educated people,” she says. “It’s not. You don’t have to be educated to enjoy classical music; you get educated by listening to it.”
Alice Sara Ott’s international career developed with a series of high-profile debuts in Europe, including a critically acclaimed performance of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major with Zurich’s Tonhalle Orchestra and David Zinman in 2006. She scored a notable success in 2008 in Basel when she replaced Murray Perahia at short notice in recital. Her passion for making chamber music in company with other outstanding young instrumentalists led to invitations from major European promoters and to debut appearances at the 2010 Lucerne Festival and the 2012 Verbier Festival.
Highlights of subsequent years included debuts with the Toronto and Chicago Symphony orchestras and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, her recital debut at Wigmore Hall, and a tour of pieces from The Chopin Project, a collaboration with pioneering Icelandic composer and instrumentalist Ólafur Arnalds. Released on Mercury Classics in April 2015, the album introduced the pianist’s work to a new audience and reached No.1 in the Official UK Classical Chart and the iTunes chart in 25 other countries.
Having signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon in 2008, Alice Sara Ott marked her arrival on the label the following year with an acclaimed album of Liszt’s fiendishly difficult Etudes d’exécution transcendante. Her second album, comprising Chopin’s complete waltzes, was issued in January 2010 to celebrate the bicentenary of the composer’s birth. Her debut orchestral recording on the yellow label – the first piano concertos of Tchaikovsky and Liszt, made with the Münchner Philharmoniker and Thomas Hengelbrock – earned her the “Young Artist of the Year” title at the 2010 Echo Klassik Awards. Her recording of Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata and other piano works, released in August 2011, was praised by Classic FM Magazine (London) for its poise and lucidity. It was followed in January 2013 by Pictures, an album of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Schubert’s lyrical Piano Sonata No.17 in D major, D.850 recorded live in St Petersburg.
Ott’s Deutsche Grammophon discography widened that same month with a recording of works by Clara Schumann made in partnership with violinist Lisa Batiashvili. September 2014 saw the release of Scandale, including the original piano duet version of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, recorded with Francesco Tristano. This was followed two years later by Wonderland, on which she performs Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and Esa-Pekka Salonen, together with a selection of the composer’s Lyric Pieces for solo piano. Her latest DG album, Nightfall, is scheduled for release on 24 August 2018 and features her explorations of light and shade in a selection of works by Debussy, Satie and Ravel. The release also marks both her 30th birthday and the tenth anniversary of her partnership with the yellow label.
Music from Wonderland formed the heart of a series of recitals given by Alice Sara Ott in 2017‑18. Her other appearances last season included performances of the Grieg Piano Concerto with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the National Arts Centre Orchestra (Ottawa); Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.5 with the Czech Philharmonic on tour in Japan; Schumann’s Piano Concerto with the Dresden Philharmonie on tour in Germany; and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major with Les Siècles at the Rheingau and Kissinger Sommer festivals.
She opens her 2018–19 season with recitals featuring works from Nightfall at the Helsingborg Piano Festival and then on tour in Japan, with further concerts to follow in Germany, Austria, France and Belgium from December into the New Year, and in the UK next June. Other forthcoming highlights include performances of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.5 with the St Petersburg Philharmonic and Yuri Temirkanov (October 2018); the Grieg Piano Concerto with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Edward Gardner (March/April 2019); and Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps with Nemanja Radulović and friends at LSO St Luke’s (May 2019).
In addition to her work as performing and recording artist, Alice Sara Ott has forged strong relationships with several leading international brands. At the beginning of 2016 she was named Global Brand Ambassador for Technics, the hi-fi audio brand of the Panasonic Corporation, and she has personally designed a signature line of high-end leather bags for JOST Bags, one of Germany’s most stylish, contemporary and premium brands. Her designs include origami elements, reflecting her Japanese heritage, and the linings also feature Alice’s hand-drawn patterns. The pianist’s passion for origami graces the artwork of Wonderland, too, for which she created a video clip featuring her paper models. Her creativity extends to the world of smartphones and the “And Here Comes Alice” sticker series she has designed for the popular instant messaging app, LINE, now available for worldwide download.