studied classical guitar at the Hanns-Eisler Academy of Music in Berlin and lute at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Frankfurt am Main.
In 1984, together with Hans-Werner Apel, he founded the lautten compagney BERLIN in what was then East Berlin. Today it is one of the leading and most innovative German ensembles of historically informed performance practice, which maintains an extensive international presence with performances and projects from Berlin.
Wolfgang Katschner conceives and plans the lautten compagney's content, its creative work processes and its integration into the historical repertoire. This includes extensive preparatory and research work. The results of these complex and labour-intensive studies are the trademark of the lautten compagney and account for its specific sound as well as the great variety of programmes and projects.
In addition to his work with the lautten compagney, Wolfgang Katschner also works successfully as a guest conductor at German opera houses. For example, he was musical director of the "Winter in Schwetzingen" in 2012-2016. After guest appearances in Bonn (Handel's "Rinaldo" and "Giulio Cesare") and Oldenburg (Hasse's "Siroe"), he has been responsible for three opera productions at the Nuremberg State Theatre since 2018: Monteverdi's "Ulisse" at the end of the 2017/18 season and Handel's "Serse" in November 2018, as well as a highly acclaimed premiere of Cavalli's "La Calisto" at the end of 2019. In the 2020/2021 season, he will conduct Monteverdi's L'Orfeo at the Semperoper in Dresden.
Wolfgang Katschner is also increasingly involved in the training of young artists. He was a guest professor at the Hanns Eisler Academy of Music in Berlin, at the SingFest in Hong Kong, artist in residence at BarockVokal in Mainz, worked with singers at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Weimar in 2018 and 2019, and will conduct a student production of Handel's Alcina at the Carl Maria von Weber Academy of Music in Dresden in spring 2020.
The history of historically informed performance practice in the GDR has not yet been written - astonishing, considering that two of today's most important German ensembles were founded in the early 1980s in East Berlin, the lautten compagney BERLIN and the Akademie für Alte Musik. While in the West, playing on period instruments was inexorably pushing its way out of the niche and into the concert halls thirty or forty years ago, it was not yet part of official culture in the GDR. Those who wanted to deal with such things usually did so alongside their work in the orchestra.
Wolfgang Katschner and Hans-Werner Apel, on the other hand, were still students of classical guitar when they met at the East Berlin Academy of Music "Hanns Eisler" and discovered their common interest in early music. They delved into old manuscripts and prints, scores and tablatures, the composers being William Byrd, John Dowland, Matthew Locke or William Lawes. They couldn't get anywhere with this music with their modern guitars. So they got themselves lutes and theorbos, laying the tonally intimate and delicate foundation for the lautten compagney BERLIN, which today is a multi-award-winning and one of the world's most original, exciting, imaginative and versatile early music ensembles.
The fact that singers such as Dorothee Mields, Lynne Dawson or Simone Kermes perform with the lautten compagney again and again is proof not only of their musical qualities but also of the special conceptual intelligence that drives this ensemble and Wolfgang Katschner, who still picks up the lute but has long since become conductor, artistic director and generator of ideas:
Programmes and CDs are created here that combine the familiar and the unfamiliar with dramaturgical sense and are also played with a vitality that mocks the term "early music". This brings us to the core, to what distinguishes the lautten compagney from other ensembles. It cultivates its traditions, such as the Christmas Oratorio on Boxing Day or the Bach Passions on Good Friday. It performs a deeply moving Marian Vespers and has celebrated great successes with Handel operas.
But such repertoire works shine in a special, contemporary light with the lautten compagney, because in such performances the ensemble also tells of countless artistic adventures beyond these summit works. Wolfgang Katschner is not only curious about music, but also about new ways of presenting it in concert. The idea of interweaving music by Tarquinio Merula and Philip Glass, for example, was ingenious - the CD "Timeless" was awarded the ECHO for these unique and magical sounds that hover between old and new. With the AEQUINOX Festival in Neuruppin, the lautten compagney has had its own individual platform for experimentation since 2010.
The lautten compagney does not seek abstract truths about the past and is not interested in competitive virtuosity - even if it were available to it. It makes music for today's listeners. If the light-hearted slogan "historically informed, interpreted in a contemporary way" applies at all to an ensemble, then it applies to the lautten compagney.
The fact that historically informed performance practice only ever allows approximations to what once was is cause for frustration for some and for academic philology, which is pursued all the more doggedly. For the lautten compagney, this uncertainty opens up creative freedom, not only conceptually but also interpretatively. There is a very particular grip on sound, often also a very particular humour, which gives the performances and recordings of this ensemble an unmistakable tone.
When the rhythm becomes so light-footed that the music begins to swing, the old seems very close. But at the same time, across the centuries, with all the seriousness of that time, a sound touches us whose warmth and love, whose wisdom and humanity carries and enriches us.