A lot can come out of a competition

Interview with Konstantin Krimmel, winner of the 2019 German Music Competition.

Konstantin Krimmel won the German Music Competition five years ago. He has had an impressive career since then. What importance does he attach to competitions for building and sharpening the artistic profile of a musician's career?

Looking at your bio, 2018 and 2019 were very eventful years: you took part in several competitions very successfully, completed your studies and released your debut CD. With hindsight, would you say these were the most decisive years for my career so far?

Yes, a lot of things happened in those years that I now benefit from. That was a phase in which I did a few competitions quite close together. I think I managed to complete five or six competitions quite successfully in just under nine months. I believe that, especially nowadays, competitions can be a great stepping stone - not always are and don't have to be, but definitely can be. Because a lot can come out of a competition. Many competitions today are accompanied by social media or even streamed live. For example, I received a concert request from Spain after the semi-final of one of the competitions, which was also streamed live. It was an organizer who had been following the stream. He didn't care how the competition turned out. He just thought what I was doing was great. The new media makes it possible to reach many more people, not just local people - there were no such opportunities 30 or 40 years ago. That can be a great opportunity for the individual singer.

So you would generally encourage young musicians to take part in competitions?

Of course, everyone has their own experiences. In fact, my experiences in the competitions and the release of my debut CD were a cornerstone for what I do now and who I am allowed to make music with. I am very grateful for this development, which is anything but a matter of course. With this in mind, I personally can only encourage competitions.

Would you say that the end of your studies is the right time to take part in a professional competition? 

There is certainly no "one" right time. It just turned out that way for me. It was a big step, because a competition situation like this is certainly not easy: in the first round, there are four to six people sitting there judging me. It's a bit gladiator-style: thumbs up or thumbs down. On the other hand, in hindsight I have to say that it's actually really good practice for the job afterwards. Because every concert is a kind of test situation. Sometimes it's nice because you get to make music with people you've often played with before. That makes you feel a bit more comfortable than at a competition, where you might be doing things for the first time. But in the end, every concert, every recital, every opera performance is a kind of test situation where 2,000 people sit and judge you. So I can only advise you to summon up the courage to take part in competitions. However, everyone's timing is different: some feel ready earlier, others later. For me, it was advantageous that there was such a smooth transition from studying to working life - without anything coming to a standstill after my studies. Normally, the first thing you do after graduating is write applications or apply to agencies, go to auditions. If that doesn't work out, it's quickly discouraging because it takes time. So in my case, it was quite good that I was able to prepare the competition pieces with my teachers while I still had the protective roof of the university over me - and that new things followed seamlessly after the competitions. It was simply a nice, fortunately smooth transition for me, which I think is also very good for the head and the mind and the psyche, so that there isn't somehow such a hole after graduation. Because after your studies, you feel like it, you're motivated and you want to get out - but it often takes a little while for the wheels to start turning.

How important was the concert sponsorship of the German Music Competition, which is a special feature of the DMW, on your path? Was it helpful for you?

Absolutely! It's not only a support for musicians, but also for smaller organizers who otherwise wouldn't be able to pay the big fees. The concerts that came through the DMW concert funding were my first concerts anyway - the DMW is like a kind of agency. You get on the DMW mailing list and into the network, you're listed in the brochure with all your details and so the organizers can get an idea of you. At that time, many musicians don't yet have their own web presence. So it's a good support in more ways than one. 

In your experience, are there any critical points that you say are often given too little attention at competitions? 

I didn't notice anything negative for me. I sometimes noticed with other musicians - not at the DMW, but at other competitions - that they would have liked more discussions. If you are eliminated or don't make it through, then a critical discussion with the jury is important for many - but that wasn't always the case. In my opinion, however, it is also a question of personal responsibility: here too, you sometimes have to pluck up the courage to simply go and ask why it didn't work? Can you give me some criticism? You have to demand that. Nobody will demand things for you later either - that's part of your personal responsibility as an artist. As an artist, you are self-employed and have to take care of a lot of things yourself, including your mental and physical health. That's just part of the job - it's the big risk of this job. And it's the same with competitions: you prepare for the competition and you know what's going to happen when. After the first round, waiting, then the second round - and then I just have to make sure that I'm fit and on point. You can get a lot of support, but in the end you have to somehow make sure you get it all together yourself.

You have excelled as a singer, especially in song. How did that come about?

I grew up in a boys' choir, with secular and sacred choral music. I had my first singing lessons in Ulm, when my singing teacher gave me the obligatory Fritz Wunderlich CD. Back then, at the age of 16, I couldn't do much with it. I only discovered the song during my bachelor's degree. Perhaps that was exactly the right path for me: I approached the song with a comparatively open mind. I did my own thing with it right from the start. You need a certain technical basis for Lieder. For opera and concerts too, of course, but especially for song, to really be able to make art, to get what you want out of it. I first had to find myself somehow in myself and my body and with my voice before I really started to really get into the context or to get what I could out of such texts.

Are song competitions any different from normal music competitions?

I can only encourage you to go to a song competition with a permanent duo partner. I believe that you can only achieve a good, convincing interpretation of a song if you know how your partner acts, thinks and feels. It's more difficult if you rely on the pianist on the spot in the pressure of the competition. At least in my perception. I don't want to put anyone's job down, but from my experience I can only encourage you to team up with a pianist from the outset and work out what you want to express. Then you also feel much, much more confident and relaxed in the competition round, because you know, OK, we've already done this 345 times, maybe even given a concert before.

In fact, your song interpretations sound so coherent, convincing, somehow easy. Like a professional athlete - the movements often seem easy, the hard work behind them is invisible.

That's actually the secret: if it sounds easy on the outside, the listener doesn't realize how everything works internally. How many gears come together. But that takes time and practice. And above all: Patience. 
My teacher, Professor Teru Yoshihara in Stuttgart, said to me many years ago: "Be patient, be patient, be patient. It was the word I heard most during my studies. But honestly - no student wants to hear that! As a student, you want to get to the top as quickly as possible, but you can't force your voice. But the deeper the voice, the more time it takes to fully develop. Today, after 10 years, I realize that he was right. That's the beauty of singing, we can't be perfect at 17 or 16 like instrumentalists, unfortunately that doesn't work. It needs this biological development. I'm now realizing that I'm slowly entering this phase where it's really fun because a lot of things are possible and because I don't have to worry too much about individual parts and so on. I can just really sing and have fun in concert.

I am ...

Musicians can sing or play in the ensembles of the German Music Council, the Federal Youth Orchestra, the Federal Jazz Orchestra and the Federal Youth Choir, and take part in competitions. With four other projects in the area of promotion, the German Music Council supports young, highly talented musicians, conductors, composers and interpreters of contemporary music as well as pop musicians on their way to a professional musical life and builds a bridge between musicians, organizers and the public. In addition, the German Music Information Center (miz) offers a central information point on all topics of musical life.



The German Music Council is the sponsor of the competitions for children and young people: Jugend musiziert and Jugend jazzt, the competitions for professional musicians: the German Music Competition, the German Conducting Award (formerly the German Conducting Prize) and the German Choral Conducting Award, as well as the competitions for amateur musicians: theGerman Choir Competition and the German Orchestra Competition.

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Promoting young musicians in the ensemblesof the German Music Council also includes performing on stage in front of an audience. The project leaders are happy to accept requests for engagements. The German Music Competition concert promotion program arranges approximately 200 concerts a year for concert organizers and concert series.

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