In memoriam Udo Zimmermann
6 October 1943 – 22 October
The Deutsche Oper Berlin mourns the loss of its former artistic director, the composer and dramaturge Udo Zimmermann, who died last night at his home in Dresden at the age of 78 after a long illness. Zimmermann, who was born there on 6 October 1943, experienced his musical socialisation in the Dresden Kreuzchor, of which he was a member from 1954 to 1962. He studied composition, conducting and singing at the Dresden Academy of Music and was a master student of Günter Kochan at the Academy of Arts in Berlin. From the late 1960s onwards, he made a name for himself as one of the most important voices within the New Music of the GDR with his compositions, which included chamber music as well as choral and orchestral works.
However, the central field of his compositional as well as dramaturgical and curatorial work was music theatre. For two years he was Walter Felsenstein's assistant at the Komische Oper Berlin, before he was appointed dramaturge for contemporary music theatre at the Semperoper in Dresden in 1970, where he worked until 1985. In Dresden, he also founded the "Studio Neue Musik", from which the Dresden Centre for Contemporary Music emerged and ultimately, in 2004, the European Centre for the Arts Hellerau, which Zimmermann directed as founding artistic director until 2008. Zimmermann was also artistic director of the Bavarian Radio's musica viva concert series from 1997 to 2011 and was responsible for almost 200 world premieres during this time.
As a central component of his compositional oeuvre, Zimmermann created a total of six stage works, beginning with the large-scale first version of THE WHITE ROSE (premiered in Dresden in 1967), including LEVINS MÜHLE (1972), DER SCHUHU UND DIE FLIEGENDE PRINZESSIN (1976) and DIE WUNDERSAME SCHUSTERSFRAU (1982). The most recent work within the opera oeuvre, however, is the fundamentally newly conceived second version of THE WHITE ROSE as a chamber opera for two soloists and fifteen musicians. Soon after its premiere in 1986 at the Hamburg State Opera, the haunting work, based on letters by the Scholl siblings, established itself as one of the most frequently performed contemporary operas, which has had over 200 new productions to date.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Udo Zimmermann took over as artistic director of the Leipzig Opera and led the house with great success until 2001. With several world premieres, among others by Karlheinz Stockhausen, Dieter Schnebel and Jörg Herchet, as well as a contemporary and at the same time audience-oriented programme, he made the house a place of contemporary music theatre, for which it was awarded the title "Opera House of the Year" in 1993.
Udo Zimmermann was appointed artistic director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin for the 2001/02 season, succeeding Götz Friedrich, whose contract was due to expire in 2001. For this new beginning after a formative era overshadowed by Friedrich's unexpected death in December 2000, Zimmermann relied on a programme that combined great singers and strong directorial signatures with a commitment to the contemporary. He opened his directorship with Peter Konwitschny's production of Luigi Nono's INTOLLERANZA 1960, Achim Freyer staged Verdi's MESSA DA REQUIEM - the production is still in the repertoire of the Deutsche Oper Berlin - and SALOME, Daniel Libeskind brought Olivier Messiaen's monumental SAINT FRANÇOIS D'ASSISE to the stage and Hans Neuenfels Mozart's IDOMENEO. Zimmermann's directorship lasted only two years, but he set important impulses: he continued the tradition of the house as a place of productive, sometimes controversial engagement with tradition and repertoire just as much as he made it a place of the contemporary - and thereby formulated an ethos that continues to have an effect today and at the same time challenges it again and again.
The Deutsche Oper Berlin will honour Udo Zimmermann's memory.