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Johanna Weitkamp

Chief Conductor and Managing Director of the SAP Symphony Orchestra

SAP has been a source of musical inspiration.

Johanna Weitkamp

At SAP, we believe that when you bring everything you are, you can become everything you want.

Johanna Weitkamp holds a very special role in SAP. She is the chief conductor and managing director of the SAP Symphony Orchestra, a 21-year-old institution that brings together professional and amateur musicians in the company and performs by the motto: “Making the world sound better”.

The story of the orchestra’s founding is now part of SAP lore. In 1997, when Johanna first joined SAP as a software developer, she posted a message on the company online bulletin board asking: “Does anyone here play an instrument?”. She received 25 responses, and the rest is history. Today, the orchestra continues to bring together kindred spirits who share a love of performing, across all genres and styles of music. To date, the orchestra has staged more than 400 concerts, with 12,000 concertgoers attending its performances every year. All proceeds from its ticket sales go to charity supporting SAP’s corporate social responsibility programs.

A female conductor and software developer in largely male-dominated fields, especially in the ‘90s, may seem like remarkable achievements to many, but to Johanna, gender has always been a non-issue. SAP provided her a supportive and open environment to succeed, and she believes with hard work, determination and passion, anything is possible. Johanna studied conducting at the University of Music and Theater in Leipzig in her native East Germany. Her teachers included the renowned conductor Kurt Masur, a future music director of the New York Philharmonic. But after the Berlin Wall fell, she got another degree, this time in information technology, and moved into computing.

She says it is no surprise that people with math or technology backgrounds are often musical: “You need a high degree of abstract thinking to understand how music functions, and I think there’s a connection that exactly in this field you find so many people who can play violin, oboe, bassoon, clarinet, flute or horn.”

When asked about her favourite moment in the history of the orchestra, Johanna says it is difficult to pick just one. “There were so many – from the performances of whole operas tackling major works like Mozart's Magic Flute, to the concert gala with the celebrated opera singer Rolando Villazon on the 40th birthday of the SAP, to rocking open-air concerts and a concert in the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg.”

The connection between the orchestra and SAP extends far beyond a side passion of its employees. Its members approach music with similar values of innovation and curiosity and have put on ambitious productions that delve into the zeitgeist. “SAP has been a source of musical inspiration. Back in 2013, the orchestra staged Machine and Music Machines – Can Computers Compose?, a part-theatre, part-concert performance on what is now highly topical in the world of IT – artificial intelligence,” she says.

Orchestra members, who span all generations and backgrounds, rehearse once a week with the occasional weekend practice when a big production is on the horizon. In Johanna’s eyes, every performance is creative teamwork at its purest.

She says, “There’s no activity in the world where you have to react so quickly to each other and work together so well as in an orchestra. Down to the hundredth of a second, you have to listen to the other person, respond to the other person, pass the ball to each other — it’s a prime example of good cooperation among people.”

And having spent more than two decades at SAP, Johanna knows it’s about delivering great experiences, no matter who the consumer is. She says, “For me, success in a concert is to give our audience a great musical experience. It is true to our motto: ‘Making the world sound better’.”  

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