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Martin Grubinger

August 10, 2009

At just 26, Austrian percussionist Martin Grubinger's concerts sell out around the world. Praised for his musical versatility, he told DW how all musical genres are linked - and what he's going to do when he retires.

Martin Grubinger
Grubinger was born in Salzburg in 1983 and is playing at this year's festival thereImage: Michael Herdlein

Martin Grubinger has performed in some of the world's top concert halls, including the Koelner Philharmonie, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and Carnegie Hall in New York. He is currently active in the European summer music festival scene, playing at the Salzburg Festival in Austria and at Germany's Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, where he is an artist in residence.

Deutsche Welle: You're at home in practically every musical genre. How did you become such a versatile musician?

Martin Grubinger: For us percussionists, there's a logical connection between contemporary music and jazz. Or take salsa, samba, tango, funk, fusion, rock - all of these belong together for us percussionists. Every genre has a connection to all the others and percussion is at home in all these areas.

Was exactly is the connection between jazz and contemporary music?

Contemporary music has a lot to do with percussion because the composers today use a lot of different percussion instruments in their works. They're discovering the instrument, both in solo and orchestral contexts - there's always quite a lot of percussion in contemporary compositions. Without percussion, the music wouldn't work - without the rhythm and the stringency.

Can you describe the different challenges that jazz and contemporary music involve?

Yes, of course these different types of music have to be approached differently. With jazz, you are creative and you can do a lot - every evening is different. In contemporary music, it's important to the composers that you stay true to the score and actually play what's written. That's crucial because the composers have something particular in mind.

If I were to improvise a work by Iannis Xenakis, for example, it would be a scandal, a falsification. It would totally miss the composer's idea. Xenakis mathematically calculates the relationship between the instruments. That means if you don't play exactly what's in the score, the result would be total chaos.

With jazz, it's completely different. There, you just have to stay within the meter and the harmonies and otherwise you're pretty much free.

Martin Grubinger performing at the opening of the Salzburg Festival on July 25, 2009
Without percussion, contemporary music wouldn't work, says GrubingerImage: picture-alliance / APA/NEUMAYR,MMV

This year, you're an artist in residence at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, where you've given a wide variety of workshops and concerts and with diverse programs. All of your concerts were sold out, which earned you the label "audience magnet."

Yes, it's actually really funny. For us musicians, things happen via friendships and connections. You hear people when you're on tour - you sit in concerts and think, he has to play with my ensemble, I want to work with him!

In our case, we're in a position to bring a big audience into the concert hall, so of course the good musicians want to play with us. That's a big advantage, because that way we can gain a lot of quality and expertise in very different areas.

The other musicians who work with you have said they really enjoy it. Is there a reciprocal effect with the members of your ensemble?

It's unbelievable what you can learn on such an evening, you're sensitized to entirely new things. As a percussionist, you work in one direction, then there's a violinist who has a completely different idea of how things should sound and a much bigger palette of colors. He has a different idea of phrasing and rhythm, and an entirely different perspective on music. It's important, then, to learn to say, I want to watch out for those things too.

You once said you work with a sports medicine specialist to be able to perform at 100 percent capacity even when your pulse is running at an average of 160 beats per minute during a concert. You always perform from memory - do you ever have time to relax?

I'm passionate about cycling and can relax really well when I'm doing that, or when I'm playing or watching soccer. I like to read about socio-political things and I love history. When I stop playing percussion, I want to study history.

Interview: Magdalene Melchers (kjb)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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