Thomas Quasthoff Leaves The Stage

By Anastasia Tsioulcas

Thomas Quasthoff (image by Kass Kara, courtesy of the artist)

An extravagantly talented bass-baritone takes an unfortunate early retirement at age 52.

Devastating news came yesterday: One of the world's great geniuses of song, bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff, announced that he was retiring from concert life at age 52 due to persistent health concerns. He had announced last September that he was cancelling his singing engagements through the end of 2011; now that decision has been made permanent. With an incredibly empathic feel for text and a tone my colleague Tom Huizenga rightly called "burgundy-colored," Quasthoff's presence onstage will be very sorely missed.

In the official announcement of his retirement released by his management, Quasthoff said, "After almost 40 years, I have decided to retire from concert life. My health no longer allows me to live up to the high standard that I have always set for my art and myself. I owe a lot to this wonderful profession and leave without a trace of bitterness."

I first met Quasthoff in the mid-1990s, during the period he was signed to RCA Victor Red Seal. I worked at one of his label's sister divisions, and later had occasion to interview him a couple of times. He was always a gracious, warm and sweet artist with a ready laugh.

His presence and demeanor were a consistent and utter refutation of all the factors that could have made him bitter and resigned to a lesser life: his profound physical disabilities, difficult childhood (with the first three years of his life spent in a hospital) and later struggles that included being denied admission to a conservatory in his native Germany because he was unable to play the piano, which was considered an unbreakable degree requirement.

When his mother was pregnant with him, she took thalidomide, a prescription drug that caused serious birth defects. As Quasthoff wrote of his body in his 2008 memoir, The Voice: "Here is a 4-foot, 3-inch concert singer without knee joints, arms or upper thighs, with only four fingers on the right hand and three on the left. He has a receding hairline, a blond pig head and a few too many pounds around his hips."

Quasthoff plans to continue teaching at Berlin's Hanns Eisler Academy of Music and at master classes around the world, and he will continue as artistic director of the "Das Lied" international song competition he founded in 2009. He also will continue to host his "Thomas Quasthoff's Night Talks" series at the Konzerthaus Berlin, in which he leads conversations with celebrities from politics and the arts. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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