Oompah music coming from the upstairs ceremonial hall of the Hofbräuhaus isn’t an unusual occurrence, especially not around 11am on a Sunday. Unusual was the band, though, and perhaps the presence of a paying audience of six-, seven hundred that absolutely packed the splendid Festsaal just to hear that particular band.
The winds of the Munich Philharmonic had beckoned for a few hours of tradition march-music and imbibing plenty of the traditional nectar of Bavarians… all on the occasion of an upcoming CD of traditional marches* they recorded a week earlier, with the pro-forma help of Zubin Mehta and Lorin Maazel.
The two figurehead conductors of this project—to benefit the MPhil’s youth player academy and an idea borne out of the unholy depths of the crafty horn section—were not present on Sunday, March 3rd. But bass clarinetist Albert Osterhammer, who provides the actual musical leadership of the oompah-project anyway, was—and he led the band with aplomb. The most amazing thing wasn’t even the playing (some of the wind bands at the Oktoberfest can play a mean Verdi in tip-top quality!), but the naturalness in which the event went down with the crowd. It raised the question: Why hasn’t the MPhil done events like this all along? I can’t think of a single event where an orchestra bonded more naturally with its home community… potentially widening its already very considerable customer base among the diverse crowd, furthering the connections with its roots, and kicking up local pride. With any foresight at all, one could see them already scoring political points that will help in future budget-struggles. That’s all apart from the generally brilliant idea of serving beer with classical music, which could do wonders for the popularity of concerts. (It might do wonders for Verdi, too.)
The event struck me as a potential accomplishment in another way: There is scarcely a more intuitive way to show that provenance—of an orchestra as such and its musicians specifically—still matters. Much, but not all, phrasing, accents, and expressive minutiae can be learned on paper. And when composers and performers are both familiar with the same local and cultural musical language, its unwritten rules, and its musical aphorisms where worlds of sentiment can hide behind sometimes just the turn of two, three notes, they communicate these local subtleties more efficiently. It isn’t coincidence that the wind section, especially the brass section, hails very notably from the greater German-speaking Alpine region and central Europe. And how better to delicately insinuate—especially abroad—that the orchestra might have a little natural advantage when it comes to interpreting local composers (Bruckner, Mahler, Strauss among the most obvious picks) than by playing traditional marches as encores?!
Incidentally Bavarian: When the various hometowns of the players were announced, the approving crowd responded with ovations, always a little louder and particularly enthusiastic when a especially traditional Bavarianish locale was mentioned. When Osterhammer came to a wind player who is from Kiel, Germany’s northernmost major city and about as un-Bavarian as it can get, there was a notable pause and dip in the response, almost a gasp, before the crowd collectively recovered from the shock (“is she really supposed to be up there?”), remembered its manners, and welcomed this strange alien creature, who surely-presumably tried her very best, as warmly as possible.
The only fly in the ointment was the ghastly “Traudi” Siferlinger as mistress of ceremonies, with her made-for-TV-Bavarian accent and tediously fake country-style enthusiasm, screaming into her microphone and rattling off quickly gathered Wiki-factoids about the composers whose marches she introduced. A few quick ones were necessary, and still not sufficient, to dull the edge of her grating, cliché-mongering personality.
Picture of Zubin Mehta recording with the MPhil © wildundleise.de; graphics below adapted from snapshots taken by "Reitmeier/pawo.de"
* In order to keep sales to an absolute minimum, the CD will be released on a direct-marketing non-label, internationally unavailable, and by all appearances undistributed.