What makes trombones so attractive

Sabine M. Gruber met the trombone quartet Trombone Attraction for an interview celebrating their 10th anniversary.

„Ohne den Musikverein wären wir nicht das geworden, was wir heute sind.“ Das Ensemble Trombone Attraction, seit über zehn Jahren aktiv und attraktiv, feierte sein Jubiläum -- selbstverständlich im Wiener Musikverein.

Names tell stories. "Trombone Attraction - how did you actually come up with this name?" is therefore my first question to the four attractive young men I meet for a lunchtime conversation in the back room of a restaurant in Vienna's second district. Vintage furniture - low tables, sofas, stylish upholstered chairs and armchairs. A daring mix of styles. "Plus", says Raphael Stieger, who casually leans into an armchair opposite me, "there's a G'schicht!"

Anything other than 08/15

Raphael ist der Älteste in diesem jungen Quartett, zweiunddreißig und Kärntner. Aus dem südlichsten Bundesland stammt auch Stefan Obmann, mit achtundzwanzig Jahren der Jüngste. Er ist für die Organisation dieses unkomplizierten Treffens verantwortlich und so etwas wie der Anführer oder Sprecher. Er sitzt Raphael schräg gegenüber, auf einem Sofa. Die beiden erzählen also die G‘schicht, in einer Doppelconférence, werfen einander die Bälle zu. Ein eingespieltes Team. „Unser erster Name war eigentlich -- 08/15. Ja, Wir wollten an diesem Wettbewerb teilnehmen. Genau, dafür hatten wir uns ja ursprünglich zusammengetan. Obwohl wir dort dann gar nicht gespielt haben! Ja, weil wir zu spät dran waren, mit dem Namen. Der war aber auch nicht das richtige für uns. Sind wir bald draufgekommen.“ Und Christian Poitinger wirft ein: „08/15 – genau das sind wir eben nicht.“ Christian sitzt auf dem Sofa, rechts neben Stefan, spricht ruhig und zurückhaltend, mit oberösterreichischem Akzent und merklich tiefer als seine beiden Kärntner Kollegen, wohl eher Tenöre, ja, und sie spielen auch Tenorposaune. Christian ist nicht nur von seiner Stimmlage her Bass, er spielt auch die tiefste, die Bassposaune.

Four friends

One has not yet spoken, Martin Riener. He has placed an upholstered chair opposite the sofa, and is watching the action from above with large, attentive eyes. His speciality is the alto trombone. A few weeks ago he was recorded by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. When he will say something later, you will be able to hear that he is certainly not a bass, but an Upper Austrian, just like Christian. The two have known each other for ages. They are each twenty-nine years old and went to the Linz music high school together. We can already sense - these are four people who, if they haven't already been, have definitely become friends over the last ten years. "That makes things easier," confirms Stefan. Oh yes, the name! One of Stefan's uncles finally came up with it. The name turned out to be perfect. International, yet understandable. "Above all, it hasn't been used by anyone else. It's not easy to find something like that!" "Trombone Attraction" not only describes the radiant attraction of instrument and ensemble, but also contains a reference to the playing technique.

Choir of Angels and Last Judgement

"The trombone was the first chromatic playable brass instrument", explains (while in the background the espresso machine makes a deafening noise) Christian, "that's why it was used to support the vocal parts colla parte, throughout Renaissance literature". What makes the sound of the trombone so extremely attractive? Does it not also have to do with the fact that the sound has been familiar to us since childhood? In any case, it could apply to all those who grew up in the country... "As a child I simply fell in love with this sound," says Christian, "and that's why I chose this instrument. I couldn't imagine any other." It's true: In the brass band the trombone accompanies us practically from the cradle to the grave. Its sound reminds us of baptisms, confirmations, weddings, festive services, Christmas, military parades, round birthdays and funerals. The trumpet stands for the choir of angels as well as for the Last Judgement. Simply everything is stored in its sound and is awakened when we hear it, our whole range of feelings from happy, moved, happy, solemn, thoughtful or deathly sad. The trombone sound, however, has not only something classical and something rustic, but also something casual about it, because the instrument plays an important role in jazz. Last but not least the trombone is also popular in contemporary music. In the sound of the trombone you can feel the tremendous potential energy at every note, which is loudly and radiantly discharged in a romantic symphony, restrained in a baroque fugue in precise colored dots, swinging relaxed in jazz, infinitely dynamically increasing at any time and gliding from one note to another. "Stylistically we have", says Stefan, "no limitations or fear of contact at all. Some modern composers, for example, have written pieces especially for us".

Perfect from the break

All four also play in orchestras, fixed or free - Volksoper, Symphony, Philharmonic... What is the difference to ensemble playing? "We absolutely need that, as compensation," Martin says. "In a quartet we play more notes in one evening than in an orchestra in a whole year. In the orchestra you mainly sit there, listen to your colleagues and count the bars until the next performance." And Raphael adds: "Yes, and after 100 bars of pause you have to play a perfect and clean chord. It's totally underestimated how difficult it is." "In the quartet," says Stefan, "each of us can express ourselves. Even express a lot of things that he couldn't express with other means. Each of us has expanded our abilities, we have recognized our strengths. Martin, for example, simply plays the alto trombone best. Raphael arranges and composes pieces and is a great presenter. I moderate and I'm good at organizing, and" - everyone looks at Christian: "Me? I can sell CDs great!"

The Art of the Fugue

There is no question that the four trombonists do not take themselves very seriously. But they do take the quality, that is, the practice, very seriously. Where practicing does not necessarily mean playing a beautiful melody over and over again, but really: doing the daily exercises. Hard work. For partners, relatives, neighbours or even pets - it takes getting used to. "So my wife and my mother-in-law," says Stefan, "when I practice upstairs, they pay close attention downstairs. If I skip one of my exercises, they get all nervous!" Christian's dog also shows understanding and empathy. "Whenever I practiced, he would always sing along." (Christian imitates the animal, deceptively similar.) The four of them take the audience seriously, especially the audience, but sometimes also the audience on the shovel. "We rehearsed a Bach fugue there", Stefan tells us, "which gets more and more out of control, planned of course, and at the end there is a huge argument on stage about who is to blame for the disaster. The organizer took me aside after the rehearsal: "You're doing great! And about the Bach fugue, don't worry, it'll be fine until the premiere.

Risky success

Ein gewagt gelungener Stilmix zeichnet die Bühnenshows von Trombone Attraction aus -- ein bisschen so wie das Lokal, in dem wir dieses Gespräch führen. Es ist nichts Ungewöhnliches, dass auf Anton Bruckner Duke Ellington folgt oder eine Bach-Fuge zwischen eine Komposition von Raphael Stieger und „Fly me to the moon“ gerät. Dazwischen wird launig moderiert. Oder gelesen. Zum Beispiel humorvolle und nachdenkliche Eugen-Roth-Gedichte im aktuellen Programm „Mensch“. Von Raphael. Oder Stefan. Oder, vor einigen Jahren noch undenkbar: Christian! Nur Martin spricht auf der Bühne wenig. Er konzentriert sich auf das, was er neben Altposaunespielen am besten kann, nämlich (aller Augen ruhen auf ihm): Schönsein! Das zweite aktuelle Programm von Trombone Attraction ist für Kinder konzipiert, was keineswegs bedeutet, dass es nicht auch Erwachsenen Spaß macht: „Max und Moritz“. „Von den Kindern lernen wir am meisten“, sagt Stefan. „Kinder sind beinhart und sagen sehr direkt, was sie von einem Musikstück halten. Wir gehen immer darauf ein, wenn ein Kind etwas Bestimmtes hören will. Warum sollten wir das auch nicht tun!?“

Special thanks

The four trombonists are celebrating an anniversary that is astonishing for their age with a best-of programme at the Wiener Musikverein: ten years ago to the day they met for their first rehearsal in the cellar of the Vienna Volksoper. A year later they performed for the first time in the Glass Hall - and since then they have been doing so with great regularity. "A great opportunity and an expression of trust," says Stefan. "Without the Musikverein, we would not have become what we are today. With this concert we say a very big: THANK YOU!" P.S.: A little note from Christian: "Three CDs have been released so far. All very recommendable!"

Sabine M. Gruber is a music journalist, writer and translator. In addition to novels and short stories, she has published the book "Unmöglichkeiten und die schönsten Möglichkeiten. The World of Language Images of Nikolaus Harnoncourt".

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