Ulf Schirmer (born 1959) is a German conductor. He was Generalmusikdirektor (GMD) of Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden and Principal Conductor of the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Since 2006, he has been chief conductor of the Münchner Rundfunkorchester, and since 2009 also GMD of the Oper Leipzig, where he has been Intendant since 2011. Schirmer was appointed Professor at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg in 2000.
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Born in Eschenhausen, Lower Saxony, Schirmer studied at the Bremen Conservatory, and also at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg, with György Ligeti, Christoph von Dohnányi and Horst Stein. He worked as an assistant to Lorin Maazel and conducted at the Wiener Staatsoper premieres of Luciano Berio's Un re in ascolto, Arnold Schoenberg's Erwartung, Alexander Glazunov's Raymonda, and Mozarts's Die Entführung aus dem Serail, among others.
From 1988 to 1991, Schirmer was Generalmusikdirektor (GMD) of the city of Wiesbaden, serving as artistic director of symphonic concerts and opera and ballet at the Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden. He conducted Hans Werner Henze's Das verratene Meer in 1990.
He was Principal Conductor of the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1995-1998. His term as conductor was a considerable success, and he was accredited with producing a rich sound which brought several Russian conductors, such as Gennady Rozhdestvensky and Dmitri Kitayenko, to Copenhagen to perform works by Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich. He conducted several operas while in Denmark, particularly by Carl Nielsen for whom he showed a "natural affinity", working with the likes of Aage Haughland and Susanne Resmark on Saul og David. The Rough Guide to Opera said that in his conducting of Saul og David, Schirmer "brings a Falstaffian jollity to Nielsen's richly coloured score". His performances of Nielsen's Hymnus amoris and Little Suite for Strings were praised for their warm feeling in particular. In 2005, however, The Gramophone criticized him for lacking empathy and having only a "quasi-operatic feel" in one of his operas, contrary to a 1999 article in the same publication which said that he gave a "warmly idiomatic performance". At the Deutsche Oper Berlin he conducted since 1985 the first staged production of Szenen aus dem Leben der Heiligen Johanna by Walter Braunfels, Alban Berg's Lulu, Salome, Arabella and Die Frau ohne Schatten by Richard Strauss, and Wagner's Tannhäuser. In 1999, he conducted the premiere of Gerd Kühr's opera Tod und Teufel at the Grazer Oper. In concert, he conducted the Vienna Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic, Bamberger Symphoniker, Staatskapelle Dresden and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.
Schirmer was appointed Professor at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hamburg in 2000, teaching musical analysis and musical dramaturgy. Since 2006, he has been chief conductor of the Münchner Rundfunkorchester (Munich Radio Orchestra).
Since 2009 he has been General Music Director of the Oper Leipzig. On 23 March 2011, Ulf Schirmer was elected director of the Oper Leipzig, and began serving a five-year term in August 2011. Here he prepared and conducted Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel, Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, Puccini's La Bohème, Strauss's Elektra, Verdi's Macbeth, Wagner's Lohengrin, Das Rheingold, Die Walküre and Siegfried, and Weill's Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny. A review of Lohengrin notes:
Ulf Schirmer's conducting did not draw attention to itself, yet it was a signal achievement to serve both score and production with no apparent discrepancy. Such could only result from thorough grounding in this challengingly transitional score - how far to 'music drama'? - and ability to communicate that understanding.
In 2013, the bicentenary year of Richard Wagner, Schirmer will take part in the Wagnerjahr 2013 (Wagner Year 2013) celebrations, a collaboration between the composer's birthplace Leipzig and his festival town, Bayreuth. In a project titled From Leipzig to Bayreuth, "marking the starting point and zenith of the trajectory of Richard Wagner's artistic development", Wagner's early stage works are planned to be performed in both Leipzig and Bayreuth, by the Oper Leipzig, the Gewandhausorchester and the Bayreuth Festival. Schirmer conducted Wagner's early opera Die Feen (The Fairies), on 16 February 2013 in Leipzig, to be shown for the first time at the Bayreuth Festival in a concert version.
Schirmer's commercial recordings include the following:
Carl Nielsen: Maskarade (Decca),
Franz Lehár: Schön is die Welt (CPO),
Alban Berg: Lulu (Chandos),
Richard Strauss: Capriccio (Decca),
Bohuslav Martinů: The Greek Passion (Koch Schwann),
His recording of Karl Amadeus Hartmann's Des Simplicius Simplicissimus Jugend was awarded the ECHO Klassik in 2010 in the category opera of the 20th/21st century. The work, commissioned by the Bayerischer Rundfunk, was performed in its reconstructed first version, with soloists Camilla Nylund and Christian Gerhaher.
He recorded the violin concerto by Max Reger with soloist Ulf Wallin. A review notes:
You can almost take dictation from conductor Ulf Schirmer's beautifully contoured wind and string section balances in the first two movements, not to mention his faithful adherence to Reger's tempo relationships and expressive desires.