Article and interview THE BRASS HERALD - May 2017
The VIENNA BRASS CONNECTION has just released its second CD called “Open Minded”. Markus Bebek interviews Stefan Obmann, trombone player and organisational mastermind of this extraordinary ensemble.
The Brass Herald: Mr. Obmann, let me start by congratulating you on the Vienna Brass Connection‘s new CD “Open Minded”. How did this CD project come about?
Obmann: In 2012, we released our first CD (“Take One”) which mainly revolved around film music. Now from time to time, every ensemble has to think about where their journey is headed and how they want to evolve. We wanted to add some other styles of music to our repertoire while, of course, not cutting film music completely. As we are all interested in a wide variety of musical styles, that is exactly what you hear on our new CD. The title “Open Minded” not only describes the broad selection of music you get to experience on the CD, but also the mind-set of each and every musician in the Vienna Brass Connection. In the world in which we live today, we feel that being open-minded, unprejudiced and unbiased is more important than ever. That is another message we would like to send through this CD.
The Brass Herald: Let’s talk a bit about the Vienna Brass Connection: When was the ensemble founded?
Obmann: Everything started when Manuel Huber, principal horn at the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, wanted to form a truly extraordinary brass ensemble. He fulfilled his own wish in 2011, by getting together a group of like-minded musicians, all of them great friends. This huge group of brass players is supported by three percussionists. And to harness the power this ensemble generates, it is conducted by Johannes Kafka.
The Brass Herald: On the CD we get to hear three soloists: the violinist Marie-Christine Klettner, the opera tenor Vincent Schirrmacher and the trumpet player Lorenz Raab. How did this cooperation come about?
Obmann: Each soloist adds their own touch to the CD making it more vibrant and emphasising its eclectic nature. The special arrangement of the famous Carmen fantasy for violin solo, for example, was done by us for a festival. There we had such a lot of fun working with the young violin virtuoso Marie-Christine Klettner that we decided at once to record the piece. A string instrument playing a solo part and being accompanied by a brass ensemble: This is another way we want to deliberately stretch and cross the limits (which only exist in our heads anyway).
One of the CD’s centre pieces is a selection of music from Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot. Of course we couldn’t leave out one of the opera’s most famous arias, Nessun Dorma. Here, we were able to enlist the help of the tenor Vincent Schirrmacher who we knew very well from productions at the Vienna Volksoper. To record Nessun Dorma with this special combination of instruments was a new experience for him and for us, but it was definitely worth the effort. And that our friend and colleague Lorenz Raab joined us for the CD was not even planned in the beginning. He started out as our recording manager but when we were recording the last piece, we just asked him on a whim if he wanted to join in. That is how the wonderful and unexpected flugelhorn solo came to be on the CD…
The Brass Herald: Were all pieces on the CD arranged specially for the ensemble?
Obmann: Yes. Normally, all the music is arranged by us as we are fortunate enough to have very talented arrangers within the ensemble. One the one hand, we do it ourselves because there are only very few pieces for this combination of instruments. On the other hand, it gives us the possibility to tailor the music to our needs. Apart from that, we love creating something new. It can happen that we commission an arrangement from musicians or arrangers who are also good friends. Leonhard Paul, for example, wrote a piece specifically for this CD: firstname.lastname@example.org. The idea for this piece popped into my head while I was in the cinema watching “Mission Impossible 5”, which was largely filmed in Vienna. One very long scene takes place in the Vienna State Opera during a performance of Puccini’s Turandot. I was able to convince Leonhard Paul that bringing together the theme of “Mission Impossible” and music from the opera Turandot would be a good idea. And he composed a brilliant piece of music from it. His own, unique style of writing gives it, and therefore the music in our program and on our CD, a very special feel.
The Brass Herald: How often do you get together as an ensemble and how regularly do you give concerts?
Obmann: Well, that is a very interesting question. To coordinate rehearsals for the whole ensemble is a big challenge. With 21 musicians who all have a lot to do, this can prove extremely tricky. Some of the musicians are very successful and sought-after freelancers, most have a position in a renowned orchestra. Just recently, I counted them and found out that we combine musicians from ten different orchestras: the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne, the Vienna Volksoper, the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra Vienna, the Tonkünstler Orchestra of Lower Austria, the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg, the Carinthian Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonic Orchestra Graz. To bring together 21 busy schedules and find time for rehearsals and concerts requires foresight and good planning. We try to have blocks of rehearsals: We work on a new program, rehearse it and then we start planning the concerts. As there is considerable effort involved on all parts, we are currently only playing about six concerts a year. However, we are trying to plan more concerts as we love playing together and the rehearsals and concerts give us the possibility to see each other more often and to have fun together. After all, we are all really close friends.
The Brass Herald: Is there a certain repertoire or genre you enjoy playing more than others?
Obmann: With 21 musicians you get a lot of different opinions and tastes. Everyone has a particular repertoire or genre he likes most. But I think the best pieces don’t necessarily have to come from one particular genre. As long as they sound great and we all have fun playing them, they’re perfect. That fun and joy also spreads to the audience quite quickly. My personal indicator: If I get goose bumps while playing, then the music can be used for the Vienna Brass Connection.
The Brass Herald: What was your personal highlight with the Vienna Brass Connection? Was there a concert you will always remember?
Obmann: With this ensemble, each and every concert is special and unique in its own way. It always depends on the setting, the hall and the audience. Nearly every concert has some moments where you can feel the energy crackling. However, there was one concert at a big brass festival in France that I will always remember. On the day of the concert, most airlines were on strike and it became apparent that not all musicians would make it in time for the concert. So we played the first half of the concert as the trombone quartet Trombone Attraction. This ensemble consists of four of the Vienna Brass Connection’s trombone players. We then played the extended second half with the whole ensemble. The whole day was just incredibly stressful but when the moment came and we all stood on the stage together, everything just fell into place. We, as well as the audience, were just so happy and relieved to be there. The atmosphere was just fantastic.
The Brass Herald: For you personally, what do you think is the secret? What is so appealing about the sound of brass ensembles
Obmann: I’m always fascinated by the enormous range a good brass ensemble offers. From extremely delicate and soft tones to very powerful parts, you can transmit a host of different atmospheres and feelings to the audience. Those moments during a concert when a raptured audience is silently listening to the music and nobody dares to clap or even move after a piece: those are the moments I savour every time.
The Brass Herald: You, yourself are very active as an orchestra and chamber musician. What fascinates you about chamber music?
Obmann: As a trombone player in an orchestra you have quite little to do some of the time. Apart from that, a host of different conductors tells you in great detail how you are supposed to play certain parts. As a chamber musician you get to take over responsibility for yourself, the interpretation, the music etc. Nevertheless, or maybe just because of that, it is very important to add your creativity and your personality to the music. I love playing in the orchestra. But at the same time, I find it incredibly appealing, interesting and exciting to work as a chamber musician.
The Brass Herald: Which projects are planned for the Vienna Brass Connection in the future?
Obmann: We have a great deal planned for the future: some live concerts and many ideas for new arrangements and projects which still have to be brought to fruition. You’ll definitely hear from us.
Mag. Stefan Obmann did his instrumental studies on the trombone at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna. He played with renowned orchestras such as the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the Staatskapelle Berlin, the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne, the Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester, the Tonkünstler Orchestra of Lower Austria and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra. He is also a member of the Vienna Brass Connection, the trombone quartet Trombone Attraction and the Ensemble Wiener Collage. Stefan Obmann is a freelance trombone player living in Vienna, Austria.