The taxi driver knows immediately who I’m going to see when I tell him the address I need in Karlsruhe. “That’s Professor Rihm, right?” I’m a wee bit bemused that someone I’ve never met in this beautiful, stately town near Germany’s French and Swiss borders knows that I’m here to meet its most famous musical resident – Wolfgang Rihm, one of the most brilliant, inventive, and prolific composers alive today. “We pick him up all the time. He doesn’t drive, so he knows us all pretty well. He’s a really nice guy.”
Rihm belongs to Karlsruhe. He was born and raised here, he sang in the city’s choirs, played the church organs, and now teaches at the conservatoire. The flat where he lives is a stone’s throw from his first family home.
Rihm, 57, is a big, hearty, and big-hearted man. “Let me show you my whisky collection,” he says five minutes after I arrive. He’s proud of a handful of rare single malts that have probably never been in the same drinks cabinet together, and we share an astonishingly good 1982 Glenfarclas at his work desk. The desk is the only clear space in Rihm’s rooms, each of which is lined with floor-to-ceiling bookcases. On the floor are piles of CDs and manuscript paper. A Steinway grand piano groans under the weight of scores, books and yet more CDs. It’s an orderly chaos, I suggest. He smiles. “That’s the combination I need. The one corrects the other, so it achieves a kind of equilibrium. Like in my music.”