Life changing

Flautist Elisabeth Möst overcame a health crisis to become one of the most original players of her generation. She tells PAY about her recovery, her latest projects and her love of mixing music with other art forms.

Elisabeth Möst had everything she wanted. The flautist was a sought-after soloist, a popular teacher, and had albums released on labels like Naxos. But then she woke up one morning and couldn’t remember anything. 

“I’d just come back from a concert in the US,” she recalls. “When I woke up the next morning I had an absolute black out – nothing was there. My whole body was foreign to me. I couldn’t remember how to play the flute, how to read the notes – anything. It was a terrible experience.” 

Möst went to see a specialist in Berlin, who gave her some bad news: she had a rare condition, and would have to learn how to play her instrument all over again.

“Although it was bad news, he also gave me hope,” says Möst. “He told me ‘Don’t give up, everything is still inside you, you just have to find it again’.” 

That was four years ago, and amazingly Möst has managed a complete recovery. In fact, she says that her playing is better than ever. 

“Now my playing is deeper, it has a stronger foundation,” she explains. “The interpretations are richer, and I really think my playing is at another level. So on the one hand, it was a horrible experience, but on the other hand, some good has come from it.” 

As well as adding a new dimension to her playing, Möst’s traumatic experience has also inspired other creative projects. Right now she’s working on a whole host of ideas, including her new touring show TAU: A Sign of Change. Inspired by the paintings of Valentin Oman, and using the 14 stations of the cross as its structure, TAU examines the duality of war and peace. 

“Valentin painted these wonderful images that are hanging in a church in the Carinthia region of Austria,” says the flautist. “He’s originally from Slovenia lived through the conflicts that happened in his country, but he never got stuck in powerlessness or hopelessness. So his paintings and his story inspired me. After all, what is a better symbol of change than the transition from war to peace?” 

For the project, Möst commissioned works from four composers, covering the 14 stations of the cross.

“The music follows that journey, first getting denser and darker, and then becoming lighter,” says Möst. “We had the premiere in the church, with Valentin’s paintings as our backdrop. The reaction from the audience was wonderful, and we were immediately asked to perform the programme again.” 

In fact, Möst and the five other musicians will take TAU on tour in 2022 and 2023. The first concert is in the famous Kollegienkirche church in Salzburg on 3 April, with further dates throughout Germany to be confirmed. 

Another of Möst’s projects also takes inspiration from the visual arts, and again it has a link to a church; this time though, it’s a stained glass window that triggered the idea. 

“During lockdown I was watching YouTube and I saw an oboist performing in front of a stained glass window,” she remembers. “I thought that was a strong image, and I decided to find my own window to perform in front of.” 

After months of searching, Möst eventually found one in her own backyard.

“I searched in Germany, Switzerland and France, but I couldn’t find the right window,” says Möst. “And then finally I found this window in Salzburg, which is wonderful. It was created by the artist Margret Bilger inside the St Erntrudis Church, and it’s one of the largest in Europe. 

“The message of this window is also about change. But this time, it’s about the change from frustration to happiness. At the end there is joy, and a ‘saved’ human life.”

Titled The Glass Window, this time Möst commissioned the composers Anne de Boysson, Jakob Gruchmann and Nils Östlund to create pieces dealing with these themes. The project will have its debut at the church in the first half of 2022 (with dates to be confirmed). 

“I think mixing music with other arts makes the performance richer,” says Möst, as she discusses both The Glass Window and TAU. “When you bring in another art form it makes the music easier to understand…and for myself as a performer, it keeps things fresh.” 

This kind of cross-genre combination can also be found in Möst’s partnership with actress Rita Dummer, as she explains: 

“We both love The Little Prince, and we decided to perform it together, combining the book with music. The composer Carlo Domeniconi created 12 works inspired by the characters in the book, and you can really visualise them when you hear the music. It’s a great mixture between music and theatre, and something I really enjoy performing.” 

Although her three main projects at the moment all involve contemporary compositions, in her solo shows Möst is actually known for her mixed programmes that create connections between new works and historical pieces. 

“For me personally it’s really important to have a balance between new works and the classics,” she says. “I feel that all epochs spring out from one trunk of a tree and split into different branches. So, you can find links between old the old masters and new composers. 

“For example, if you listen to the works of someone like Violeta Dinescu – a very wonderful Romanian composer – you can hear the ideas of Mozart and Schubert. You can’t really separate her music from theirs. So, when I put a programme together, I love to find these connections and share them with the audience – for me it’s a real thrill. 

“Sometimes people come up to me after a concert and tell me that I have helped them get a better understanding of the music by showing these links, and I’m very thankful for that.” 

As well as showing audiences the connections between the old and the new, Möst also wants to shine a light on composers that might not have heard before. 

“Right now I’m trying to find all the solo concertos for flute and orchestra written by women,” she enthuses. “Right now I’ve found about 20, and I want to make sure all of these get the recognition they deserve. 

“I also want to record music by Austrian composers that are not so known outside of the country,” she adds. “For example, composers like Wolfram Wagner, Cäsar Bresgen, Paul Badura Skoda and Carl Frühlin. It’s a real joy for me to introduce audiences to these Austrian composers who created such wonderful music.” 

The Glass Window and TAU: A Sign of Change are both available for booking now. For booking requests, please email Elisabeth Möst will tour China later this year with 12 piano and flute concerts. She will also perform a concert at the ichard Straus-Institute in autumn 2022.