Wien (AT), Porgy & Bess - mathias goes 70 & The Blue Piano
I can’t begin to tell you how much discussing and planning this date - mathias’ birthday, this concert at Porgy & Bess including the Blue Piano preceded. December 8th and the Blue Piano had to go through quite the process for everyone and I guess it’s fair to say, especially for mathias and me, before it was born. The Blue Piano also meant the beginning of the end of our collaboration between lied and song. mathias did all the composing and planning for his birthday night and after almost a decade of working together and a total of 4-5 decades of making music he had a lot to choose from for his music marathon at Porgy. And it really was a challenging process in many different ways but now December 8th was here and we we’re ready to go. I think, I honestly didn’t realize what a musical marathon this was going to be and how many musicians were involved until I saw the schedule for the soundcheck: the choir ‘Chor Neubau’, pianists Soley Blümel, Sabina Hasanova and Georg Vogel, baritone Benjamin Harasko, saxophone player Harry Sokal, the actor Wolfram Berger, on violine Stano Palúch and of course the rhythm section of our quintet consisting of Ingrid Oberkanins on percussion, Hans Strasser on bass and man of the hour on piano mathias rüegg. The programme for this night showcased many steps of his personal musical path leading up to his own Kunstlieder and arrangements of those in the second set: The Blue Piano. It feels kind of strange to write about an evening, a night that you’ve been working towards for such a long time and then suddenly time flies and it’s about to happen and you find yourself getting ready backstage a couple of minutes before going on stage. It’s almost as if time moves at a different speed once this day starts and it is hard to try to catch up – even now – a week later…thinking back…replaying it in my head. Everybody was excited. Everybody was busy and I was more nervous than usual...getting ready, soundchecking, warming up, running up and down the stairs between stage and backstage. But I guess our favourite sound guy Thomas Egger was especially busy that day : ) - can you imagine the tech rider for this night with all the different set ups that had to go fast and very smooth : )…it’s crazy! And we couldn’t have done this without you Thomas!!! A very big thank you also to the amazing team at Porgy & Bess and I think it’s fair to say that mathias’ birthday concert marathon could not have taken place on any other stage than Porgy’s. Thank you Christoph & the whole team of Porgy & Bess!
Like I said soundcheck was a busy time : ) and backstage was in constant movement, people coming, people going, getting ready, resting, warming up, ironing or secretly preparing birthday gifts and presents!
And then suddenly, it was time. Porgy was full and awaiting the marathon mathias had planned to begin.
Stano opened the evening solo with the beautiful sound of his violine leading into the choir ‘Neubau’ (under the direction of Martin Guthauer) who sang four poems written by mathias’ father Robert Rüegg that he had set to music. The first birthday cake of the evening was handed over to mathias by the whole choir (by the end of the mathias was facing the logistical challenge of carrying 7!!! birthday cakes home).
Next up was the one and only Sabina Hasanova playing one of my personal favourites of mathias’ piano works ever “Playing around lovely with a fragrment of W.A.M.”. I especially love the 2nd movement! I truly love Sabina’s craft, her playing inspires me deeply. I’m always stunned with what intensity she can take you into the world she’s creating while playing. It’s magical and so is she.
The actor Wolfram Berger followed Sabina and shared mathias’ Schüttelreim dynasty, which was a great success (and you can’t be sure of that beforehand, cause it’s quite crazy to be honest : ) ). There is really no way to describe it, so you’ll find it down below! Of course Harry Sokal and his sound on the sax could not miss on a night like this. Harry and mathias go way back. With their duo version of the song ‘Voltaire, La bibliothèque immaginaire’ carrying the VAO spirit on its back, they took everyone down memory lane. Coming up next was the incredible 14-year-old!!! Soley Blümel with four takes of the ‘Solitude Diaries’ and then I had the pleasure to join Soley on stage for a rendition of ‘In a sentimental mood’ that mathias had arranged in a somewhat ‘Kundstlied’ manner for a classical pianist and myself. It was really something playing with Soley!
After that it was time for the birthday speech of mathias, in which he takes a few looks from different directions back on his personal journey within the world of music and the business(es) around it…(you’ll also find it in German down below). And now to clarify Soley Blümel’s twin sister Mooney playing the cello with amazing Georg Vogel on piano before the pause was/is herself just wearing a different outfit. I can assure you : ), I helped her get changed myself; she plays both, the piano and the cello – it’s incredible! At this point - a big thank you to my friend Christine who always shows up bringing either what I forgot or what is missing at the moment. Thank you for always helping out in so many ways! And this was the first set : )! Followed by very busy times for the tech crew – they had to change the whole set up for the second set in 20 min while the wonderful audience had time to chat, relax, order more drinks or snacks and get ready for the second set and The Blue Piano marathon. What we played in the 2nd set is usually a full length concert on its own …pretty wild. We all – the whole Blue Piano team – really loves the songs of this program and we were looking forward to sharing these Lieder with the beautiful Porgy audience and so, so many friends listening and supporting us that night! Sabina and Benjamin opened the 2nd Set with ‘Ein kleines Lied’ followed by our take on ‘A little song’ with Hans, Ingrid, mathias, Stano and me but when I was about to start my microphone gave up : ) and Thomas hurried on stage to exchange it : ) and I think it was about time that the audience had the chance to meet Thomas properly. After a couple of minutes the second mic stopped working too and Thomas once more made an appearance to save the day while I had the chance to introduce T and tell a story or two : ). Third time’s a charm and so T brought me another mic and we continued our journey through the Blue Piano. As always, Sabina and Benjamin not only played together beautifully but also sang together beautifully – in ‘Faunsflötenlied’ Sabina suddenly joined in with ‘Sing Flöte dein Gebet der Lust’! Time flew by and I enjoyed every song, every note. Hans played a rockin’ solo in 'Happy Little Song', Ingridi did her magic on her reduced set : ), Stano played his extraordinary lines on violine while mathias laid the harmonic foundation throughout the colourful arrangements. We had played the songs a couple of times live but this time it felt we really gotten to know the songs and the songs had gotten to know us : ). 'The Lydian Cow' – what else - was the last songs of the Blue Piano Set – with everyone on stage and a lot of singing while clapping featuring once again amazing Stano on violine and Ingridi and her bells and whistles aka her ‘Glockenspiel’.
mathias was under the impression that this was gonna be the last song of the night but we had other plans. Ingrid, Hans, Georg and I had prepared one more song. We had rehearsed one of mathias’ all time fav ballads as a birthday surprise and I knew that he is not a big fan of surprises when it comes to changes of the programme during a concert but you only turn 70 once, so we took that risk and played a song, not any song, but the beautiful ballad ‘Here’s to life’. A song by Artie Butler and Phyllis Molinary that mathias had always loved in Shirley Horn’s “time stands almost still” – version. “No complaints and no regrets, I still believe in chasing dreams and placing bets.” It was a moment on stage of playing together and sharing a moment that I will carry with me and I or we hope that mathias feels the same way. Happy Birthday! Here’s to you!
And then…Partytime at Porgy with family and friends and lots and lots of bubbly wine : )! Naima, mathias’ daughter surprised him and had come from Berlin, dear friends from Switzerland Elisabeth und Roli, our record label and long time companion Harald Tautscher, Julian Schönfeld, the one and only Burgi, my mom, incredible Aurelia and all the way from L.A. wonderful writer Zach Ring, Christine, Moni, some familiar VAO faces showed their support and many many more…and almost everybody brought cake : ) mathias turned 70 and by the end of the night had 7 cakes! A night to remember and lots of cake to eat! Hour by hour Porgy became more and more quiet until there were only three left: Christine, Zach and me. We left an empty Porgy at dawn and I remember thinking:
Here's to life
P.S.: Thank you dear Bert Müller & Christine Kern for taking so many beautiful pictures!
P.P.S.: You can find the sheet music for the Blue Piano right here.
If you'd like more background info on the Blue Piano visit this site: The Blue Piano.
And if you'd like to order the album, click here.