Melancholy, Mysterious, Sensuous

Ten Years of Bolero Berlin

Latin American music with a philharmonic sound – that is the trademark of Bolero Berlin. Martin Stegner, a violist who has been a member of the Berliner Philharmoniker since 1996, had the idea for this unusual ensemble. Ten years ago the musician, who has been fascinated by both classical music and jazz since childhood, wanted to establish an ensemble in which he could combine both of his interests. At that time he had just discovered the Cuban bolero, which is very different from the Spanish bolero, and was immediately captivated by its style: “The mood of this music inspired me. The Cuban bolero is melancholy, mysterious, sensuous, slow in tempo and full of wonderful melodies.” The warm, dark, smooth sound of the Cuban bolero is particularly appealing to the violist: “My instrument is one of the middle voices of the orchestra. I wanted to avoid any shrillness in the ensemble.” He quickly found kindred spirits among his orchestra colleagues who were eager to be involved: clarinettist Manfred Preis, principal bass Esko Laine and percussionist Raphael Haeger, who appears as pianist with Bolero Berlin. They were joined by two “real” jazz musicians, guitarist Helmut Nieberle and the Argentinian percussionist Daniel “Topo” Gioia. Today they consider it a particular stroke of luck that these six musicians found each other. “We look forward to every concert, and we have a very relaxed, respectful relationship. That has not changed during the ten years.”

A very special sound

What has changed, however, is the way they interact with each other. The sound is more balanced, more atmospheric and colourful today, says Stegner. “In addition, we have learned how to support the other musicians better when we play.” Along with the chamber music style of their playing and the philharmonic sound, Bolero Berlin has its own unmistakable character. None of the members knew whether this concept would work when they started out. They realized that two stylistic realms were combined in the group which do not really belong together – at least not for many concert promoters. “They still think in categories,” Martin Stegner says with regret. “Organizers of classical concerts don’t dare to present jazz sounds to their audiences; jazz promoters, on the other hand, question whether orchestral musicians can find the right groove in jazz and Latin American music.” Martin Stegner would like to see more courage on the part of presenters. In their anniversary programme the musicians combine titles such as Consuelo Velázquez’s “Bésame mucho” and Django Reinhardt’s “Troublant Boléro” with well-known operatic melodies, which Helmut Nieberle has arranged in the ensemble’s distinctive style. Suddenly “La donna è mobile” from Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto and Richard Wagner’s “Lied an den Abendstern” (Hymn to the Evening Star) sound quite Latin American. “Our goal,” says Martin Stegner, “is to continue to surprise listeners with familiar melodies in an unfamiliar guise.”

Das Ensemble im Gründungsjahr 2008
(Photo: Timm Kölln)
2009: Education Project “Tango”
(Photo: Monika Rittershaus)
Baden-Baden Easter Festival
(Photo: Monika Rittershaus)
Playing football backstage
(Photo: Privat)