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Sächsische Bläserphilharmonie
60 years of the Rundfunkblasorchester Leipzig (Leipzig radio wind Orchestra)

The Sächsische Bläserphilharmonie is the only orchestra in Germany composed only of wind instrument players. The ensemble can look back on a colourful history after 60 years in existence.

Live light entertainment concerts have been broadcast from the Leipzig broadcasting studios since 1948, and these included a large contingent of wind players consisting of freelance musicians. Hans Rüsing conducted and also wrote the arrangements in cooperation with music editor Georg Girke. The orchestra played marches, polkas and small concert pieces. After brief "getting to know you" rehearsals, a half-hour original broadcast was made every week. The response was overwhelming and the demand increased. It did not take long for the radio station to decide to found its own wind orchestra with salaried musicians.

The Rundfunk-Blasorchester Leipzig first performed in public in June 1950. Werner Krumbein was employed as the first principal conductor, and his eight years in charge decisively shaped the profile of the orchestra. Gerhard Baumann, Otto Kayser, Edgar Brandt, Klaus Wiese and other well-known guest conductors such as Hans Schadenbauer, Kurt Brogli, Motti Miron, Antal Farkas, MiloÅ¡ Machek, Günter Joseck and Hans-Hendrik Wehding followed him.

The Dutch composer Henk van Lijnschooten, who worked with the Leipzig orchestra several times between 1988 and 1990, told a journalist: "It certainly wasn't a walk in the park for them [the musicians], because they actually had to record pieces I composed in which I used a mixture of style elements from both classical and modern music to a considerable extent. This is where the orchestra proved its ability to adapt to different styles. On top of this, the well-balanced sound of the individual instrument groups impressed me. The powerful fortissimo captivated just as much as the delicate piano. The rhythmical accuracy and assurance of intonation, on top of the pure musical exuberance of the orchestra members, inspired me in a particular way to allow what I consider to be interesting musical details to shine through even more. In other words, it was a give-and-take, just as every conductor would wish." (Sächsisches Tageblatt published 27.04.1989).

The Rundfunk-Blasorchester Leipzig had permanent broadcast timeslots in both radio and television. It was in demand on stages across the world as a guest orchestra. Concert tours took it to places like the former Soviet Union, Finland and Japan, amongst other locations. Serious cutbacks to the orchestra took place after the fall of the Wall. During the course of the revamped Central German Broadcasting's economic considerations, several of the radio's own orchestras were wound up. The RBO's own musicians were also given notice despite public protests and statements of solidarity such as those given by Kurt Masur and Gunther Emmerlich on Augustusplatz Square in Leipzig. On 6 December 1991, Gerhard Baumann conducted the last Rundfunk-Blasorchester Leipzig radio production. A section of committed musicians fought for the retention of this popular orchestra at great personal sacrifice.

A difficult period began, but things continued to move ahead. Central German Broadcasting (MDR) made the sheet music archive with over 27,000 original scores, in other words all the special arrangements, available. This was the only way that the orchestra could put its aspired transparency of sound into practice. The MDR also allowed the orchestra to carry on using the rich tradition of its original name. This meant that the Rundfunk-Blasorchester Leipzig existed but, curiously enough, without any connection to a broadcaster. The existential problems remained, however.

Through the new cultural laws in Saxony which came into force in 1995, new sponsorship possibilities and hence new business model were created. This provided social assurance, but only partially provided the necessary goal-oriented artistic development. The separation from radio broadcasting did not just mean that the continuous production activities were discontinued, but also meant that new content needed to be found for concert and event performances.

Jochen Wehner, who succeeded Harald Weigel as principle conductor in 1994, was one of the driving forces in this case. The orchestra increasingly dedicated itself to symphonic wind music and a range of chamber music ensembles. This period also included the founding of the orchestra's own musical education centre, the Bläserakademie Sachsen (Saxony Wind Academy), in which the musicians devoted themselves intensively to the advancement of youngsters. The services offered by this academy, which has been working under the name of the Deutsche Bläserakademie (German Wind Academy) since 2011, are now being taken up by amateur and professional musicians from all across Europe.

Transcriptions of "classical" composers always provoke considerable discussion. The orchestra's top priority is faithfulness to the original. In 1996, the Berlin composer and arranger Siegmund Goldhammer was given the assignment of arranging Mozart's "Magic Flute" for the wind orchestra, which initially provoked controversy. However, the result was excellent: several concerts with renowned soloists and a CD production were proof both of the exemplary transfer of the Mozart piece for the wind orchestra and also of the excellent interpretation, which was faithful to the original but differentiated down to the last detail.

Jochen Wehner, whose roots lie in electronic music and has a huge knowledge of repertoire, used all the possible facets of his wind players' tonal possibilities. In March 2000, Jochen Wehner retired from his post as principal conductor of the Rundfunk-Blasorchester Leipzig. Only one year later, the orchestra achieved its long-awaited independence once again. Under the continued support of the Saxony cultural region laws, the orchestra was now able to fully concentrate on implementing its own artistic objectives. A new artistic director was found in Jan Cober from Holland, who could approach the subject of wind music with considerably more impartiality since he came from other traditions. Pieces by Igor Strawinsky, Dmitri Schostakowitsch, Hans Werner Henze, and other composers who originated more from the field of electronic music, were more often incorporated in the orchestra's concept planning. Mr Cober continued down the route shown by his predecessor through intensive work on a symphonic wind sound. The internationally active conductor considered classical wind chamber music to be just as much part of a wind orchestra's repertoire as contemporary original composers.

During this period, the orchestra was discovered by international publishers and record labels who all appreciated the extremely effective work done during recording. Despite 40 years of radio work with over 20,000 productions, the orchestra never compromised its high quality standards. Travel activities also increased. In addition to concerts throughout Germany, the Rundfunk-Blasorchetser Leipzig made increasingly frequent guest appearances in the Benelux countries, in Austria and in Switzerland. A concert tour through China lasting several weeks, including concerts in Shanghai and the forbidden city of Peking in 2009, was one of the high points but, at the same time, the end of the period with Jan Cober as principal conductor.

In the same year, the Rundfunk-Blasorchester Leipzig was able to fill the now vacant position with Thomas Clamor. Although he first started work in the position of principal conductor in January 2011, he had cooperated intensively with the orchestra the previous year. During this time, the musicians benefited considerably from the rich artistic experience which he had gained over 20 years as a trumpeter with the Berliner Philharmoniker (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra).

A further major event was the handover of the new rehearsal and academy location in the Saxon spa town of Bad Lausick in May 2011. After almost 2 decades without a permanent location, the orchestra was finally able to find a home. The orchestra decided to underline its significant position in the international orchestra landscape by renaming itself the Sächsische Bläserphilharmonie on the occasion of its 60th anniversary. This name is synonymous with the continuous further development of a symphonic wind instrument culture with high aesthetic objectives. This means that the orchestra will be able to continue its tradition of setting extremely high standards in symphonic wind music with its high artistic potential in the future as well.