May 15th, 2012 in the Music Hall of Markneukirchen, Germany
Having lived and worked in the most beautiful city of Bamberg of northern Bavaria as a member of the Bamberg Symphony for almost 20 years, I not only enjoy- and hopelessly fight- the constant temptation of delicious food and quality beer. I also take advantage of so many important tuba-related activities and places. Some of the best tuba manufacturers and repair craftsmen in the world are here, the famous Bayreuth Festival and the Bavarian Music Academy Hammelburg where the Deutsches Tubaforum hosts their biennial tuba workshop and local conference, and last but not least the musical town of Markneukirchen, location of the B&S company and the world famous international tuba competition. All are within less than three hours’ drive.
I was lucky that my tight schedule allowed me to drive to Markneukirchen on May 15 for what promised to be a worthwhile event: the world premiere of the newly built Giant Tuba being played in concert! The featured soloist was highly acclaimed tubist and Professor Jörg Wachsmuth, member of the Dresden Philharmonic and the Melton Tuba Quartet. He was accompanied by the City of Markneukirchen Concert Band, conducted by Dr. Enrico Weller and Jochen Krebs.
Contributors to the design and fabrication of the Giant Tuba.
The concert was planned to be the highlight of the musical program around this year´s tuba competition and had a traditional start with the “Fanfare der Vogtländischen Musikwettbewerbe e.V.,” which had been commissioned years ago to start every concert at the competition. The program continued with the “Optimist´s March” by Miroslav Juchelka followed by a brilliant and witty introduction by B&S chairman Gerhard A. Meinl, who led the entire concert. Mr. Meinl especially welcomed the participants and jury members of the ongoing tuba competition. He pointed out the importance of the Czech and Bohemian composers and their music, which had their origins in the K.u.K. monarchy back in the times when Bohemia was the music conservatory of Europe.
Mr. Meinl introduced soloist Wachsmuth, who was winner of the Markneukirchen competition in both 1988 and 1992. His first solo on the program was the Tuba Concerto by Pavel Stanek. Jörg had played the world premiere of that piece and recorded it on CD in 2008. The first movement presents a classic dialogue situation between soloist and orchestra, interchanging between lyrical passages and more rhythmically accentuated structures. The second movement has a pastoral introduction led by the high woodwinds and long melodic singing lines in the solo tuba leading into an agitato section and a grandioso in 12/8 time, finally finding its way back to the pastoral cantilenes of the beginning. The third movement starts as a burlesque with tricky rhythms in the percussion accompanying the melodic lines of the solo tuba, daring fugato lines in rapid 3/4 rhythm bringing the piece to a brilliant stretta finale. Mr. Wachsmuth performed Stanek´s concerto on his B&S 3100 F-tuba, showing his stupendous virtuosity as well as heartwarming melodic qualities and a fantastically beautiful and clear sound.
Meinl quoted a few sentences in Czech to introduce the evening´s next piece, the four- movement Frydlant Suite by Pavel Stanek. This was followed by Alois Klima´s Concert Polonaise. After an intermission the concert continued with Julis Fucik´s famous Florentiner March. Then the other two soloists of the evening, singing couple Sabine and Jürgen Kaiser of Markneukirchen, were introduced and performed Otto Wagner´s Polka “Man muss nicht erst nach Böhmen.” Gerhard Meinl afterwards pointed out the differences between the sousaphone and the “much more beautiful helicon” before introducing the composer of the next piece, Gustav Ploß. Mr Ploß, 81 years of age, had written the concert waltz “Brambacher Radiumperlen.” After the performance of the waltz he was asked to come on stage for grand applause.
Next was a speech by Markneukirchen´s City Mayor Andreas Jacob, who praised the more than 30 craftsmen and companies involved in constructing and building the Giant Tuba, Riesentuba in German, which was already positioned on stage on its giant stand during all of the second half of the concert. During the first half it had been standing aside, next to the stage, well visible for the audience to raise anticipation. Mayor Jacob pointed out the especially crucial efforts of craftsman Mr. Hartmut Geilert and project coordinator Mr. Mario Weller, as well as the B&S company, as major sponsors of the project. The eight most important contributors involved were asked to come on stage to receive some honorary presents accompanied by long and enthusiastic applause from the audience. I was most impressed by the major contribution of master craftsman Jürgen Voigt and his team, who produced the humongous bell amongst many other parts, as well as the tools needed to produce those parts.
For the international guests, Meinl spoke in English, making fun of an existing giant EEb tuba located in Boston which is said to have some awkward proportions. The Markneukirchen Giant Tuba is built in an absolutely exact 2:1 scale ratio, making it actually playable. Mr. Meinl pointed out that a daring project like this could only be possible in a place where such a tremendous number of craftsmen are located within an area of just a few kilometers. Such is the case around Markneukirchen; it is a singular situation.
Finally, Professor Jörg Wachsmuth took the stage in lederhosen and set up behind the huge horn to play Julius Fucik´s “Der Alte Brummbär” (“The Old Grump”), originally written for bassoon… and custom arranged for giant tuba in BBBb and concert band by Hans-Reiner Schmidt of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony. There is already a request to have the piece transcribed for giant tuba and strings for performance at the New Year’s festive concert at the Dresden Philharmonic Hall, aimed to top the Vienna Philharmonic concert on TV.
Wachsmuth solos with the Markneukirchen Concert Band
The evening came to its climax when Jörg played the first notes on the Giant Tuba, showing superb ensemble playing with the band, perfect tempo changes and stupendous virtuosity in what proved to be a very clever arrangement of Fucik´s composition, leaving enough sonic space for the wonderfully mellow and still huge sound of this grandiose and spectacular musical instrument. Instant standing ovations showed high appreciation by the audience, most deserved by the soloist´s skills. Gerhard Meinl expressed his gratefulness towards Jörg Wachsmuth, who hadn´t hesitated a second when asked to do this solo appearance on the Giant Tuba, which hadn´t even been finished yet when the concert project was proposed. Meinl pointed out the extreme difficulties of playing such an enormously huge horn and compared handling it with blowing onto a tennis ball with a straw.
The next pieces of music were Julius Fucik´s March “Schneidig Vor” and the Polka Medley “Mein Schönes Heimatland,” again featuring the singers duo Sabine and Jürgen Kaiser.
Mr. Meinl gave a final speech pointing out how proud the whole region can be of all the folks involved in building such a unique piece of craftsmanship.
Last on the official program was Rudolf Friml´s “Donkey Serenade,” a fun piece for concert band. Of course the audience asked for an encore, so Jörg Wachsmuth had to enter the stage once more to do Hans-Reiner Schmidt’s very clever arrangement of “The Flight of the Bumble Bee” on the Giant Tuba. Having tried to press the valve levers myself it is utterly enigmatic to me how Jörg was able to achieve such clarity and speed. After more standing ovations, the piece had to be played a second time, even faster.
Jörg is planning to beat the world speed record of violinist David Garrett on this piece.
The City of Markneukirchen Concert Band ended the concert with Vejvoda´s “Rosamunde Polka” and the traditional “Markneukirchner Musikanten Marsch.” Little bits of the performance can be found on YouTube.