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Anne Sofie von Otter

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Anne Sofie von Otter

In Her Own Words

Those Magic Moments

With a career spanning over 30 years, there have of course been many significant moments. These include: my relationship with Bengt Forsberg, my great friend and pianist with whom I have often performed; equally, having the privilege of singing with conductors, such as Carlos Kleiber, Claudio Abbado, John Eliot Gardiner, Marc Minkowski, and their orchestras. Finally, my singing coach and my agent/manager early in my career were both extremely important as mentors.

Taking It Further

I have a restless appetite to sing and explore: What music speaks to me? What makes me “tick”? What does it teach me? I share this with Bengt Forsberg. Throughout my career, conductors, producers and concert promoters have suggested unusual or unexplored repertoire and I haven´t been shy about seeing if it felt suitable for me. I find this very enriching. But of course, I also enjoy coming back to the great masters again and again.

Betwee n Science and the Arts

Whether you are a scientist or an artist, I think that we devote ourselves to what we are passionate about—we give our time, our energy, our thoughts and our creativity.



Anne Sofie von Otter

Presented by Jean Chambaz, President of UPMC


Some have questioned why a scientific and medical university is awarding a Doctorate Honoris Causa to a singer, as did Paris Sorbonne, UPMC’s partner university in the art and humanities, when they honored Felicity Lott.


This simply shows our deep conviction that science and art are complementary types of knowledge that are indispensable to mankind. They both seek to question the world, to understand through research, based on a methodical approach, and looking into the unknown to push the boundaries. The modalities are different between arts and sciences, and the results are different in nature. But who could say that our conception of the world and humanity does not combine these two views.


Music is already important at UPMC, with a double degree in science and music offered in partnership with Paris Sorbonne; the artists in residence that we wecome in partnership with Regional Cultural Affairs Office for the last six years; and in research with the musical acoustics laboratory and the IRCAM research laboratory founded by Pierre Boulez now associated with UPMC and CNRS; the proposed degree programs for high-level artists, modeled after our programs designed for high-level athletes; and the project for a chair in musical composition, are all examples that illustrate the close links between our University and music.


So then why honor a performer rather than a songwriter or composer? Because at the University, we know that knowledge is nothing without its transmission. A performer is to art what the professor is to science, an essential communicator whose activity requires its own form of creation.


Therefore, the name Anne Sofie von Otter is inevitable. She is an exceptional mezzo soprano, born in Sweden, grew up in Germany, and graduated from the famous Guildhall School in London. Anne Sofie von Otter studied with the Hungarian Vera Rosza; the Australian pianist Geoffrey Parsons, one of the greatest lieder coaches; and Viennese Erik Werba. Ms. Von Otter then joined the Basel opera, with her début 30 years ago. A citizen of Europe and the world, Anne Sofie von Otter travels the globe at a breakneck pace, performing in major theaters and recording a discography of exceptional richness. Her presence here tonight is an achievement and our privilege.


Anne Sofie von Otter also travels the world of music, having performed the works of more than 90 composers, known and unknown, from baroque to contemporary. Her exceptional tone, the color of her voice, and her quality of playfulness make her performances unforgettable. What work, what research is hidden behind her extensive repertoire!

Handel’s Ariodante, Deianira, Sextus, Serse; Purcell’s Dido, Monteverdi’s Ariane; Cavalli’s Endymione and many other pieces by baroque composers.


Gluck’s Clytemnestra, Orpheus and Alceste; Haydn’s Alcinta, Lisetta and Celia; Mozart’s Cecilio, Don Ramiro, Ilia, and unique interpretations of Cherubino, Dorabella and Sesto.

She interprets nineteenth century composers as well: Beethoven, Spohr, Meyerbeer, Sibelius, Schubert, Schuman (The Life and Love of a Woman), Brahms, Grieg, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Respighi, Wagner and especially the lieder and symphonies of Mahler.


She explores twentieth century music with the same appetite. The unforgettable Octavian in The Knight of the Rose by Strauss, Countess Geschwitz in Berg’s Lulu, Judith in Bluebeard ‘s Castle by Bartok, and also Humperdinck, Elgar, Zemlinsky, Wolf, Britten, Kodaly, Percy Grainger, Schoenberg, Korngold, Kurt Weill and Boldeman, which she will perform again on Friday.


She is also committed to contemporary music, performing Kagel, Lidholm, Sandström as well as creating Lontana in Sonno and Lydias Sanger, which were composed for her by Hillborg and Gefors respectively in 2003.


She brings to light the works of her Swedish compatriots from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries that are unfamiliar to music lovers.


French music has a special place in her repertoire, due to the exceptional quality of her phrasing. In the Baroque period, she has interpreted both Charpentier’s and Lully’s Medea, and she was surprised to discover “the art of understatement and doublespeak” unfamiliar to the Swedes. Of Rameau, Lambert, and Berlioz she has sung Marie, Marguerite and Summer Nights; from Offenbach, which she has performed with her partner Marc Minkowski, she has been the earthy Grand Duchess or the hilarious Alsacienne, Bizet’s Carmen who is particularly sensual, deep and moving, Ravel, Chausson, Poulenc, Saint- Saens, Faure, Debussy, Massenet but also Reynaldo Hahn, Maurice Delage and Cecile Cheminade. It is symbolic that this ceremony coincides with the release of her most recent album entitled Douce France.


This insatiable eclecticism that marries a thirst to know and to communicate extends to pop music. First she recorded For the Stars with Elvis Costello in 2001, and I Let the Music Speak with ABBA’s Benny Andersson in 2006. Then in 2010, the Love Songs cycle that Brad Mehldau composed for her. What memories of that concert at the Opera Garnier, a summer evening in 2010 when the storm rumbled and was ended by an interpretation—a rediscovery—of Ferré, Brel, Barbara and Calling You from Bagdad Cafe!


Anne Sofie von Otter often includes Paris on her tour, and in contrast to some divas, uses her fame to help young musicians. for example, the Il Sogno Barocco program this spring at the Gaveau concert hall with the Capella Mediterranea group included a wonderful performance of a song by Kate Bush, sung as a duet with the young Swedish soprano Elin Rombo and Barbara’s Göttingen, which she will perform again in two days...in the city of Göttingen.


She also brings her immense talent to the duty of remembrance, performing music with her longtime partner, Bengt Forsbergn, written by Jewish composers imprisoned in the Teresienstadt camp that the Nazis tried to present as a model colony, but was the antechamber of death camps. This music, whether sad, nostalgic or cheerful to help prisoners hold on, was written by Karel Svenk, Adolf Strauss, Hans Krasa, Carlo Sigmund Taube, Viktor Ullmann, Pavel Haas and Martin Roman—the only one to have survived. Children’s melodies and heartbreaking songs by Ilse Weber, a musician and camp nurse who had sent her oldest son to Sweden and was determined to accompany the children to Auschwitz, to death. This month, 75 years after the Night of Broken Glass, she is releasing a documentary on DVD on these musicians.


“Musician first, singer and then classical singer” is how she describes herself. A citizen of the world that has special ties with French music and France, Anne Sofie von Otter’s talent, culture, generosity and simplicity are the hallmarks of a great lady of our time. UPMC is honored to award her the title of Doctor Honoris Causa.