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Reviews: 3rd International Jew’s Harp Festival & Congress @ Molln, Austria 1998


The Jew’s Harp in the Pocket – A music festival of a special kind

R. Sagretinov and  M. Sainetdinov (RF Baschkortostan) Foto: Henk Postma

R. Sagretinov and M. Sainetdinov (RF Baschkortostan) Foto: Henk Postma

For a whole week, from the 22nd – 28th of June, the Jew’s harp was the centre of interest at a unique international festival in Molln/ Upper Austria. Playing this inconspicuous instrument 90 musicians from 20 nations swept along their listeners into a magic world of sound colours and rhythms.

The types of Jew’s harps, the styles and manners of play may differ, but the Jew’s players from Japan, Siberia, Austria, India, USA, Indonesia, Norway … they all speak the same language, the natural tone series.

Made of bamboo, iron, brass or wood, the Jew’s harp unfolds its variety of sounds only within the oral cavity that serves as an amplifier and former. Jew’s harps made of bamboo, bones, and wood probably existed already several thousand years ago; the oldest one made of iron dates back from a finding in Japan and is more than 1200 years old; in Europe the oldest one stems from the 13th century, for more than 400 years Jew’s harps have been produced in Molln.


Koichi Makigami (Japan) and Bolot Bajryschev (RF Gornij Altai) Foto: Henk Postma

Molln, the European centre of the Jew’s harp-forging-tradition, was selected for the third meeting of the international Jew’s harp community after the two international Jew’s harp congresses in the USA and Yakutia/ Siberia.

During the first days various aspects of Jew’s harp culture were presented and discussed in lectures and debates: The Jew’s harp in the context of overtone music, various techniques of playing, the manufacture of the instrument, its relation to eroticism, the application of the Jew’s harp in musical therapy. During the week, for all Jew’s harp freaks and those who wanted to become one there was plenty of time to talk to experts and excellent musicians from all over the world, to get acquainted with various styles and techniques of playing and, of course, to use the occasion in order to buy one or two exquisite pieces for the own Jew’s harp collection.


Heinz Anzinger and Manfred Rußmann (Austria)

Heinz Anzinger and Manfred Rußmann (Austria)

The evening concerts presented successfully the unique musical tradition of the different nations, the individual expression the musicians put into their play, the Jew’s harp’s harmony with the ensemble, and an open-minded meeting of traditional styles and avant-garde experiments.

May I give prominence to a few performances of this fascinating wide range. The group from Sakha-Yakutia (Siberia) arriving with more than a dozen musicians inspired by their masterly and colourful solo- and ensemble-playing giving insight into a culture in which the Jew’s harp (khomus) plays a central role and its forgers are considered to be some of the best in the world. Tran Quang Hai, a Vietnamese musicologist, composer and musician living in Paris, electrified his audience with his dynamic and expressive playing evoking frenzies of enthusiasm.


Anton Bruhin (Switzerland) Foto: Henk Postma

Anton Bruhin (Switzerland) Foto: Henk Postma

Anton Bruhin (Switzerland) who is known in the scene for his well-contrived playing styles and his tendency to cross musical borders surprised with his witty play and technical refinement, but also with a Jew’s harp stimulated by electromagnetic waves and created by himself. Bolot Bayryshev from Gorniy Altay who had already worked with Joe Zawinul and other international stars fascinated not only on the Jew’s harp, also his overtone singing on unfathomably deep key notes moved his audience.

For me this festival was one of the most intensive and successful of all those that I have experienced so far. Although it focused on one instrument it was still diversified and world-wide and offered the possibility of a vivid exchange among various cultures; the possibility to dive into instead of merely enduring the programme. The „Mollner Maultrommelfreunde“ have realised a project of international standards. The Jew’s harp has freed from the pocket and is on the way to present itself as a global player. It makes you listen attentively and – in the opinion of the Yakuts – it will be the instrument of the 21st century.

Gottfried Schmuck from the music magazine Rewind: Concerto No. 4



Another important Voice about the International Jew’s Harp Festival in Molln:  Frederick Crane, USA

For over 20 years, I have been getting acquainted with the performances of the world’s leading trumpists-on recordings and in person. It has been a history of exposure to ever more variety, as I heard from more geographical styles, and more varied personal styles.

The culmination (so far) came in Molln, with by far the greatest diversity ever heard in one place at one time. There were traditional musics form many places in Asia, from the U.S.A., and, for the first time at an international congress, from a large number of European countries. Among features particularly impressive to me were Ånon Egeland’s subtle and sophisticated Norwegian rhythms, and the amount of excellent playing on wooden trumps by people form many places.

But probably a majority of the trump pieces, from everywhere, were improvisations. Here one hears a preponderance of non-harmonic-series playing techniques, in great variety. I suspect that such techniques have been inspired to a large degree by the playing of the Yakuts and other Siberians; but undoubtedly very many players today are working out their own special sounds, and contemplating how to integrate them into organized improvisations. Another strong trend is to include throat-singing and other Tuvan/Mongolian-type vocalisms together with trumping, sometimes even simultaneously.

With the Wednesday evening performances of the Austrian duo Attwenger, we heard the trump strikingly employed in avant-garde pop music. And with an Albrechtsberger concerto, there was even a bit of written-out art music (not to mention Leo Tadagawa’s playing of the William Tell Overture on a mail coupon).

Frederick Crane

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