Preview: Thomas Quasthoff, Barbican, London

'In Britain, the audience really listens'
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The Independent Culture

When the German baritone Thomas Quasthoff gives a Schubert lieder recital, with his long-time collaborators Ian Bostridge, Dorothea Röschmann and Julius Drake, it will be the start of a remarkable Barbican year for him. In April he'll be back singing Bach, followed by a five-concert series with a variety of baroque works and an equally wide variety of orchestras.

In the meantime, he's watching his new jazz CD, which he had to browbeat a reluctant Deutsche Grammophon into releasing, climbing the charts. But that's the kind of man he is: the invincible will that got him through a horrendously difficult childhood, after thalidomide left him with vestigial limbs, is powering him on towards ever more impressive achievements.

Quasthoff loves performing in the UK. "The audience really listens, unlike in Italy or Spain. When I sang at the Auditorio Nacional in Madrid, mobile phones went off six times. OK once, twice maybe, but six was intolerable. After the last ring – the person had started to talk – I said I wouldn't do an encore as I'd never before been so treated as an artist." He was delighted by the ensuing furore.

At masterclasses in Verbier last summer, his toughness with young singers was the talk of the town, but he's unrepentant. "If you are not demanding as a teacher, you should really do something else. You have to make it very clear to the students that even to live from this profession – let alone have a career – is getting more difficult all the time. You can count on one hand the German singers who can live from doing concerts."

On record as being critical of Andrea Bocelli, he's keen to put things straight: he was simply saying that it was ludicrous to bracket the blind Italian tenor with Placido Domingo. But isn't that the fault of his record company, and the conductors who decide to conduct him? "It's the fault of those six zeros after the one or two or three. The question of taste gets lost. And to be honest, if they offered me a lot of money, I'd definitely discuss it with my wife!"

14 January (020-7638 8891)

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