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Thomas Quasthoff

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Thomas Quasthoff overcame remarkable personal challenges to emerge as one of the premier bass-baritones of his generation. Quasthoff was born in Hildesheim, Germany, on November 5, 1959. During pregnancy, his mother was prescribed the drug thalidomide to combat morning sickness, and as a result he was born with severe birth defects, never growing past the height of four feet and suffering phocomelia of the upper extremities. Because his condition left him physically unable to play piano — a requirement at the majority of Germany's preeminent music conservatories — Quasthoff instead studied voice with a private tutor, concurrently attending law school. He also served six years as an announcer for German public radio outlet NDR, and additionally worked as a television voiceover talent. Quasthoff launched his musical career in 1988, claiming top honors in the esteemed ARD international competition and earning plaudits from legendary baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. His EMI debut, a collection of Carl Loewe ballads, followed a year later. Still, many producers found it impossible to reconcile his rich, resonant voice with his physical limitations and Quasthoff resigned himself to a career in academia, teaching voice at the Detmold Music Academy and intermittently recording works by Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart, winning his first Grammy Award in 2000 for an interpretation of Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn, recorded in collaboration with soprano Anne Sofie von Otter. Although Quasthoff's was first renowned for his efforts in Romantic lieder, over time he expanded his range from Baroque to improvisational jazz. Finally, in 2003 he made his staged operatic debut as Don Fernando in a production of Beethoven's Fidelio presented at the Salzburg Festival. Despite growing demand for services, Quasthoff restricted his performance schedule to roughly 50 appearances per year in order to continue teaching. After more than a decade in Detmold, he joined the staff of Berlin's Hanns Eisler School of Music. In 2007, he also issued his first jazz album, Watch What Happens.