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Eurovision Song Contest 2015 - Sarah Willis with Martin Grubinger, Copyright: DW/M. Roddewig
Image: DW/M. Roddewig

Sarah Willis: 12 points!

Martin Roddewig / jgt
May 26, 2015

Pop or heavy metal, chanteuse grandmothers or transvestites - Eurovision knows no boundaries. So much so that a member of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra made the trek to Vienna: horn player Sarah Willis.


"They could have quietly warned me once," Sarah Willis laughed after the first rehearsal on stage. But, of course, it was hardly a secret that things were going to get loud. As a member of Martin Grubinger's ensemble Percussive Planet, Willis provided the interlude music at this year's Eurovision Song Contest finale in Vienna. Once all participants from the 27 countries performed and the jury was busy deliberating, the stage was turned over to Percussive Planet.

And a wild Planet it was: The Austrian multi-percussionist Martin Grubinger carted two trucks loaded with percussion instruments from around the world to Vienna, including marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, bongos, congas, and bass drums.

And wielding a giant mallet directly behind Sarah Willis' head, a percussionist struck a kettledrum with ferocious force. "If you know it's coming, it's okay," she grinned.

Innocent intentions

Sarah Willis' involvement with Grubinger's Percussive Planet is a consequence of her DW classical music TV series Sarah's Music, in which she requested he appear in an episode. He is one of the world's most renowned percussionists.

Grubinger promptly came back with a reply: "Yes, of course. But only if you play in my band at Eurovision." His father assembled a break-neck medley of compositions by great Austrian composers, including Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner as you've never heard them before.

The band laid down an exotic rhythm, over which Grubinger unleashed. Drenched in sweat, he stepped down from the stage after the rehearsal: "Is it okay if I take a shower again before the interview?"

Sarah Willis of the Berlin Philharmonic and Josef Reif of the Vienna Philharmonic at Eurovision Song Contest 2015, Copyright: DW/M. Roddewig
Sarah Willis of the Berlin Philharmonic and Josef Reif of the Vienna PhilharmonicImage: DW/M. Roddewig

Of course, no problem, as for Sarah Willis there was yet another challenge.

In the spotlight

In the giant Vienna Stadthalle rehearsals went on for weeks ahead of time. From the light show to the dramatic effects and camera staging, everything was meticulously planned. It was now Sarah Willis' turn. Along with second horn player, Josef Reif of the Vienna Philharmonic, she performed on both the stage and the stairs, where she played a short fanfare before rushing back across the room to join the band.

On Saturday, the performance took place place in front of 10,000 live spectators and an estimated 200 million television viewers around the world. For Sarah Willis, all in a day's work.

The episode of "Sarah's Music" featuring the Eurovision Song Contest and her interview with Martin Grubinger runs on May 30 on Deutsche Welle TV. A report will also feature on Euromaxx, DW's daily cultural magazine, next Monday.

Percussive Planet at Eurovision, Copyright: DW/M. Roddewig
The Percussive Planet on stage in Vienna's StadthalleImage: DW/M. Roddewig

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