Gregor Huebner is a globetrotting violin virtuoso and composer, with a jazzy musical past, present and future. He studied violin and piano in Germany and Austria before moving to New York City to attend the Manhattan School of Music. There he received his Masters of Music in Jazz Performance and Composition. He currently performs with several invigorating ensembles including the alt-contemporary classical group Sirius Quartet, the latin-jazz-improv group Salsafuerte and El Violin Latino. Onstage he combines precise classical training with the verve of a rock show mixed with gypsy-latin jazz.
On March 30 he performs in New York City with Nova Philharmonic, conducted by Dong-Hyun Kim. A new album by Salsafuerte featuring many of his new compositions will be released in May and they will tour Europe this summer.
FIR: You recently took a short hiatus from performing. What was it like not playing your violin?
Gregor Huebner: The break I took from playing was not by choice, I had to take care of a shoulder injury I had for years and I had to take off from playing for 3 months. Friday’s concert will be my first solo appearance after this break. Since I started playing music I can’t remember a time that I took such a long break. It felt very awkward. On the other side I had some time to think about my choices and could take care of some things I wanted to do for a long time. Fortunately I could start to practice the violin after 6 weeks and had some time to focus on things which I couldn’t before when I was playing regularly.
I am happy to play again and the only thing I can say, it is scary to play the violin the first time after 6 weeks and see if everything still works. Now I can say it still works and you don’t lose almost 40 years of practicing and playing.
HUEBNER: Last year after the tsunami in Japan and all the disaster with Fukushima, Dong-Hyun Kim, the conductor of Nova Philharmonic organized a benefit concert for Japan. My colleague Chern Hwei Fung asked me if he could arrange one movement of a string quartet of mine called Ground Zero for this concert. I was in Europe on a concert tour at that time and got a lot of enthusiastic Facebook and e-mail messages about the performance and about my composition. Dong-Hyun Kim came by a concert of mine in New York and asked me if I would be interested to play that piece again as a soloist as well as my own Violin Concerto #2. It’s my first time meeting this group so I am really looking forward to this concert.
FIR: You will also be participating in the Tribeca New Music Festival on April 18 at the Merkin Concert Hall. What piece will you be performing for that event?
Colors of the East is the title of this new composition and it features a great musician and friend of mine Peter Stan on accordion. I worked with Peter on and off over the last 12 years and we both have something in common. We both grew up with gypsy music and he is a master in the music of the Balkans. Since he also is open for different kinds of music and improvisation he was the right person to ask to play this piece, which combines contemporary written music, improvisation and folkloric music from Eastern Europe.
FIR: Face the Music, the alt-contemporary high-school music group, will also be performing that evening. They performed one of your pieces before. What was that experience like?
HUEBNER: Face the Music is a fascinating ensemble and one of a kind. It was great to see them last year playing my Cuban Impressions and having so much fun with it. This is the right way to get new contemporary written music to young players. They just look at it in the same way they look at a composition by the classical masters, so it’s fresh and they get in contact with this music early.
Often when you get to be performed as a composer by an established ensemble you fight against built up opinions and resentments against contemporary music. I think this comes from new music not being in the focus of the academic music education for a very long time. Face the Music is the perfect example of how to integrate contemporary music into the music education of today.
FIR: What other musical events do you have on the horizon?
HUEBNER: Right after Friday I will be traveling to Europe to perform at the Easter Jazzfestival in Stuttgart Germany where we will premier Uri Cain’s piece together with him and the Sirius Quartet in Europe. At the same festival I will join Richie Beirach for his 65th birthday concert.
As a composer I am writing a new string quartet that integrates spoken word and a piano concerto, a commission by the International Bachakademie in Stuttgart.
Another exciting week will be in August when I perform with the Richie Beirach Quintet featuring Randy Brecker, George Mraz, Billy Hart and me at Birdland Jazz Club in New York City. The concerts will be recorded for a new CD.
In May the CD of Salsafuerte will be released in Europe. It will be available for download in the USA, followed by a European Tour in July. I had the chance to write a lot of the music on this CD, so this is also an exciting event for me.
FIR: You have a new album Salsafuerte featuring Yumaria coming in May. Tell us more about this project.
HUEBNER: Salsafuerte is a group founded in Europe about 13 years ago. It was inspired by all the Latin bands I played in at the beginning of my life in New York. Some of my friends in Europe wanted to create something similar in Germany so we created Salsafuerte which is now an international band. The music of Latin America became a big part of my compositional work as well. I love to write for this band and for Yumaria, one of the greatest singers I know. And I love being the piano player in this band since this is the instrument I don’t play so often anymore.
FIR: Tell us about your new violin?
HUEBNER: I just picked it up in Frankfurt at the music convention. It’s created by Augustin Penic in Slovenia and is part wood part, carbon fiber.
What makes it special is the combination of a great pick-up system, a great sound and playing it feels totally comfortable. No feedback with a great sounding violin is hard to find. I am not sure when I will play it in public. I still need some time to make it my own.
FIR: What musical project are you dreaming about these days?
HUEBNER: I would love to record a new CD with my El Violin Latino project and tour it in the US as well as in Europe. I think this is a unique idea and hope I can promote it more.
I also want to compose some new works for strings using electronic pedals, for example, in a concert with an orchestra.
The Radio Big Band of the SWR recorded my latest composition Elleguas Mind and made me think of Big Band in another way. I am also think of extending this piece and making it a piano concerto for solo piano and Big Band.
FIR: We look forward to hearing it.