This article by Jeffrey Palmer was published in Australian music magazine CutCommon on 3 April 2019. To see the article in full, click here.
Gernot Wolfgang is one of those contemporary chamber music composers that pushes musical boundaries while simultaneously keeping his audience incredibly engaged and entertained. Gernot is originally from Bad Gastein, Austria, but has been based in Los Angeles for the past 23 years. His latest album for Albany Records Vienna and the West is a collection of works that touch on the composer’s connection to both the high-brow musical ingenuity of early 20th-Century Vienna and the free expansiveness of the American West. Gernot assembled some of LA’s top classical musicians to bring these pieces to life – some of which are Grammy nominees and winners; others who perform with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and more. Together, they pay masterful tribute to both Gernot’s native land and current home.
From the first bars of the album’s opening track Road Signs, I was immediately struck by the effortless grace with which the composer wove the soaring bassoon line through the rhythmic jazz chords of the piano. It felt like a dance, sailing along, pausing, and then picking up again to take me around another musical bend.
I later came to find out this piece was about navigating LA traffic. Perfection.
The album continues to impress with pieces that very clearly demonstrate Californian and Viennese influences in ways that surprisingly complement each other. Standouts include Passage to Vienna for piano trio, in which the composer takes us from contemporary America back to early 1900s Vienna (think Schoenberg and Webern) and back again; and the epic Impressions for clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello, and double bass. Upon first hearing the three movements of the latter piece called Carnival in Venice, Dream and Country Road, the composer somehow managed to take me from a heady night at a carnival (it could have been in either Italy or Venice Beach, LA), to a smoky Viennese salon, to racing down the Ventura Freeway with the wind blowing through my hair.
Don’t believe me? Have a listen.
The album ends with the beautiful, Mahler-inspired From Vienna with Love. Touching on the brilliance of early 20th-century Austrian composition, the exciting influences of Eastern European music on Vienna, and the American jazz that has so influenced the composer, this piece serves as the perfect conclusion to a musical testament to the greatness that is Gernot Wolfgang.
In short, Gernot is proud of both his Austrian and American ties, and both nations should be equally proud of him.