Mike Svoboda's Alphorn Special - family concert

A "tongue-in-cheek" homage to complex simplicity in our simply complicated world. Mike Svoboda ("trombone virtuoso and all-round wind player" - die Zeit, "a little bit Otto, a little bit Loriot, high-performance artist and music clown" - Süddeutsche Zeitung), a soloist from the field of classical and new music, who has already worked with composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Frank Zappa, presents his entertaining and humorous "Alphorn Special" program and elicits unusual sounds not only from the alphorn but also from other exotic instruments such as didgeridoo, conch shell, and garden hose.


concert program

part one: the alphorn player's ten commandments:
Mike Svoboda - D'r Brahms f'r Hoinz (1994) for alphorn and cow-bells
Alphorn Traditionals: Dem Tüchtigen freie Bahn!, Du klagst?, D'r alt Schüpfer Der alte Muotathaler -, etc.
plus the recitation of the "The Alphorn player's Ten Commandments" from s' Alphornbüechli by A.L. Gassmann, 1938
Adriana Hölszky (*1953) - Weltenenden (1993) for Alphorn -
Mike Svoboda - Airbag (1995) for Gardenhose -

part two: the alphorn as a means of communication in the Alps:
Mike Svoboda - VW Boogie (1994) for didgeridoo
Mike Svoboda - Call (1994) for conch shell
Karlheinz Stockhausen (*1928) - from "Tierkreis - 12 melodies of the star signs " (1974) for trombone and music boxes
Mike Svoboda - Hommage à Badesaison (1995) for conch shell and water -

part 3: the interactive alphorn:
Mike Svoboda - Pressure (2000) for a trombonist with three assistants
Mike Svoboda - Du-du-du..dudu (1997) for trombone and audience
Mike Svoboda - "V" as in "Cool" (1995) for didgeridoo and audience
Alphorn Traditional "Abendroth" duet for alphorn and audience


60 minutes


Michael Svoboda's Alphorn Special: cheerful and serious, magnificently fresh, with power and poetry: The all-around musician Mike Svoboda – "...trombone virtuoso and multi-instrumentalist..." (Die Zeit), "...a musical clown, and a high-performance instrumentalist..." (Süddeutsche Zeitung) – presents in his inimitable way an entertaining, tounge-in-ear homage to the complex simplicity in our simply complicated world. The world-class trombonist from the world of New Music, who has worked with composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Frank Zappa, elicits highly unusual sounds not just from the alphorn but also from the didgeridoo, conch shell, trombone, and the common garden hose. The “good sound” of the lovely alphorn, a natural horn, can turn up even far from the Alps, as has already been demonstrated hundreds of times by the world-class trombonist Michael Svoboda in his Alphorn Special since 1995. Two notable CD productions (The Complete Alphorn and Alphorn in Manhattan) testify to the great success of the thoroughly enjoyable concert program that has brought pleasure to diverse audiences from New York to Paris, from Houston to Cologne, and from Barcelona to Tokyo. Svoboda’s repertoire includes traditional folk melodies, jazz, contemporary composition, and interactive works that this American from the Swabian Alps uses, with his talent for entertainment, to draw his audience into the performance. Michael Svoboda, born in 1960 on the Pacific island of Guam, is one of the most sought-after brass players on the international scene and a regular guest at international festivals all over the world. “The alphorn belongs in the mountains,” emphasizes the first of the “The Alphornist’s 10 Commandments” in A. L. Gassmann’s Alphornbuechli of 1938. “Test first your location for good sound and long-distance effects (echoes).” That the “good sound” of this lovely natural horn penetrates the air with a wonderful purity and fullness when the alphorn player blows his horn outdoors. In a concert hall, by contrast, Svoboda takes a broad view of the term alphorn –the trombone, the didgeridoo, the shell horn (a kind of Polynesian alphorn), and the “common garden hose” all function according to the principle of the alphorn, using the natural harmonic series. Svoboda, born on the South Sea island of Guam and a full-blooded musician, employs all these instruments in a way that makes surprising musical sense. Svoboda’s alphorn repertoire includes traditional folk melodies, jazzlike grooving didgeridoo drones, contemporary compositions by so-called “serious” composers, and interactive musical works that this American from the Swabian Alps uses, with his talent for entertainment, to draw his audience into the performance: “A deliciously entertaining and informative evening that ended after two hours with four encores brought on by foot-stomping applause.” Neu-Ulmer Zeitung

When a trombone player who has specialized on contemporary music invites us to his "Alphorn Special", it is bound to be an unusual evening. But on Thursday evening Mike Svoboda disappointed all those, who had expected muffled noises from the instrument. He played interrupted by readings on the "alphorn player's ten commandments" from A. L. Gassman's "Alphornbüechli" the very same alpine tunes that make an avant-garde audience take to their heels. No, he did not caricature, he did not destroy, didn't turn it around one way or the other, but played with a pure tone as do the alphorn players on their mountain pastures. He saved his scorn for others, like the didgeridoo disciples dreaming of the New Age. For those three members of the audience who came expressely to hear the wooden tube hollowed out by termites, he played first his "VW Boogie Woogie", a splendid layering of standing drones and rhythmically diverse melodies. After an impressive performance, however, he finished off the mystique of the instrument for good by putting to his lips a counterpart made from two tubes from the hardware store (price: 2.50 DMs) to produce the identical dark and mystical sounds. Everything has its real and sober core, free of philosophers' mumbo jumbo. This fresh approach could be felt throughout the evening. Jazzfans have learned from Steve Turré that a conch shell can serve as a musical instrument, and Mike Svoboda proved this fact to New Music fans. Polyphonic moans and glissandi produced by putting the hand into the opening extended the instrument's sound spectrum in a most enjoyable fashion. The fact that he also poured water into the conch shell, making the tones gurgle and sputter in his own composition, fitted with the title: it was the "Hommage à Badesaison". Apart from amusing and virtuosic showpieces such as these there was, of course, the high art of the alphorn. Claus Kühnel's "Hommage à Schubert" made a rather conventional impression, providing a running commentary to a poem by Goethe with wind effects and multiphonics. Next, Adriana Hölszky's "Weltenenden" with its fragmentary tones, percussion on the wood and other noises symbolized a refreshing exploratory start into the instrument rather than the end of the world. A trombone being nothing else but a "metal slide alphorn", Mike Svoboda did eventually introduce us to Luciano Berio's "Sequenza V", a wonderful homage to the clown Grock, and to the melodies "Leo" and "Taurus" from Karlheinz Stockhausen's "Zodiac" "haus-music of the seventies" on the trombone: portamentoes, multiphonics, mute effects, sonorous and fragmented sounds galore. Much more transparent was Tom Johnson's "Sequenza Minimalista" that restricts itself to four of the trombone's slide positions und sends tones and rests on their ways, following a rigid pattern. After this concert everybody who considers contemporary music to be sterile and inaccessible is refuted. Mike Svoboda has the rare gift to present complicated music with exactly the right twist of irony making it what Mozart's piano concertos had once been: excellent entertainment, wholesome for belly and intellect that lets the audience laugh as well as think. There ought to be more serious concerts with that much humour! - Stuttgarter Zeitung

It started off like a normal concert: the optimistically provided seating used up to almost the last chair, the faces raptly absorbed, the silence as well. The missionarily-minded artsy set hushed down the gossipping whisperers and gigglers well before anything was happening... Then a low grunt came from the hall. Helping hands with a high priest's face carried the monstruous opening of a remarkably long cone into the room, five yards later the artist came following after Mike Svoboda's Alphorn Special had begun, and nothing happened as expected thereafter. Svoboda a virtuoso on the trombone, the alphorn, didgeridoo, conch-shell, garden hose and plastic plumbing manages a delicate act of brinkmanship with aplomb: he entertains with leg-slapping humour, shakes hands with late-comers and introduces them by name ("You can sit beside Thorsten there, he was late, too") and has his audience, after a good hour of witty words and (musical) phrases, willing to sing, shout, howl and snap their fingers along with the silliest nonsense, and yet they are ready to take in serious stuff along with it: Luciano Berios highly virtuosic and poetical "Sequenza V" for trombone. According to the artist there was a mild sensation: the complete performance of 20th-century alphorn repertoire both compositions. "There's nothing you can do to stop someone who wants to write something for Alphorn. The problem ist it's me who has to play it." With a piece like Adriana Hölzsky's garruluos "Weltenenden" this is a fun and rewarding task. Less so with Claus Kühnl's tepid and pseudo-humourous "Hommage à Schubert" for alphorn player and flexatone... For the conch shell, on the other hand, you probably won't find more than Svobodas own compositions. And, most of all, there surely exists nothing more ambitious than "Hommage à Bathing Season" for conch shell and water: Svoboda bellows into the shell portentously, pours in a glass of water und then goes on to belch and gurgle quite exquisitely. Wonderful musician, great program, happy audience, what more do you want? - Leipziger Volkszeitung

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