Sebastian Sternal: Sternal Symphonic Society VOL.2: Release Information
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Release Date: 20.02.2015
TT Catalogue No: 4616
Sternal Symphonic Society VOL. 2
“Basically it were two ideas, that brought forth the Symphonic Society”, Sebastian Sternal recounts. “I wanted to bring together many musicians I really like, and furthermore I have been keen on working with a string quartet for a long time.” In 2011 the Cologne-based pianist and composer founded his Symphonic Society, one year later the debut album was released, which was awarded a Jazz-Echo in 2013. For Sternal, born 1983 in Mainz, this was neither the first, nor the last prize, but possibly the most important. In any case, it resulted in the unconventional project exceeding all commercial expectations as well. It was originally not a focus of Sebastian Sternal’s considerations that the appeal of the Society reaches across boundaries of style and genre. “I had wasted no thought on the question, if it is a mix of jazz and classical music,“ he explains, “actually the combination was not a conscious part of the concept, but it belongs to my biography.”
Sebastian Sternal had his first piano lessons when he was six years old. In high school he was crazy about Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Sting and film music of John Williams; from time to time he also directed the school’s big band, when they were playing his compositions. After graduating with a double major (artistic and pedagogical) in Cologne, Sternal studied composition at the conservatory in Paris for one year - with a lasting effect. “Classical music played a big role there, not only in theory and analysis. I was also composing for a symphonic orchestra at the time.” Back in Germany it was self-evidently beyond all question to use such huge orchestra instrumentation for a project of one’s own. Sternal was much more interested in crossing the richness of sound of a much more flexible string quartet with typical jazz instruments. The core idea thereby was that everybody plays 100% that, what he or she is best at. “I love this full string sound, which classically trained musicians master so precisely,” Sternal says, “I’m not concerned with the fact, that they can improvise too. The important thing is that they can impress the listener with their own qualities just as much as the jazz musicians do with their talent for improvisations and abstractions.”
The second album is even more cut out for the personalities convened by Sebastian Sternal. “After the first production and the following concerts I know them all even better and I have composed certain sections or lines specifically to suit their strengths,” Sternal describes the advancement, “in this way I could devise an even greater spectrum of timbres and tones.” Of course the strings are not just laying down static tapestries of sound here. Even in reticent accompaniments they rather seem like independent energy fields, with a great enjoyment of counterpoints. Thereby they are not fixated on their role as a quartet, but can also appear singularly, as individual parts.
Everybody who has followed jazz from Germany in the last couple of years will probably be familiar with a majority of the Society members. Trumpeter Frederik Köster and drummer Jonas Burgwinkel, both Echo-awardees as well, have distinguished themselves as jazz-individualists with their own remarkable productions. Just like Pablo Held, who is one of the most exciting young pianists and has been in an outstanding trio with Burgwinkel and the great bass player Robert Landfermann for years. Trombonist Klaus Heidenreich is the youngest member of the NDR-Bigband and alto-saxophonist Christoph Möckel is responsible for the warmhearted tones. Niels Klein, who has already played with Toots Thielmanns, Charlie Mariano and Peter Erskine, contributes full-blown improvisational art.
The strings participating in the current production are also top-class musicians. The first violinist Erik Schumann has already played as a soloist for Christoph Eschenbach, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestre National de France as well as with the WDR Symphony Orchestra. The violist Magdalena Härtl is also part of this WDR orchestra, while the cellist Thomas Schmitz is part of to the internationally award-winning Signum Quartett (and by the way is an Echo-Award winner too). Sebastian Sternal says about the 33-year-old Erik Schumann, that he is not only one of the currently most sought-after violinists of his generation, but that he also has a remarkable sense for jazz. “His concentrated and simultaneously open attitude towards making music influences the entire band.”
As composer and arranger, Sebastian Sternal has put the improvisation mostly in the hands of his jazz-colleagues. But not only in solo passages are there parts of the score that are open for ideas of the partaking musicians. However, these don’t always directly reveal themselves as such. “Pablo can often decide for himself, how he interprets chord symbols”, Sternal describes his principle of composition, “likewise, Jonas has a lot of freedom within a clearly defined pulse, to enhance it with personal sounds. I just know that the outcome will be better, if I give the jazz-virtuosos a lot of individual responsibility.”
Of course Sternal Symphonic Society Volume 2 is also a jazz album, despite the unusual instrumentation and several solo-sections of the strings; alone on account of some grooves and breaks of Jonas Burgwinkel or because of Sternal’s energetic piano playing in the erratic piece “Run”. Not to mention the occasionally expressive solos of the wind section. “Jazz has had an essential influence on me”, Sternal states. “I like it, because it is inherently open and has always incorporated the most different influences and created something new from them.” That can undoubtedly also be said about Sebastian Sternal and his Symphonic Society. It is in good and likewise international company.