Hildegard Learns to Fly. Picture: Reto Andreoli

Switzerland’s ambitious and award-winning sextet, featuring some of the top jazz musicians Europe has to offer, heads to South Africa for a whirlwind tour of three cities across the country.

Hildegard Lernt Fliegen, also known as, Hildegard Learns To Fly, embarks on a journey fuelled by world-class musical ingenuity and characterised by their unique style of jazzy exuberance and quirky humour.

After a busy schedule as one of the acts at the Standard Bank Jazz Festival at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival, Hildegard Learns to Fly spreads their music to Cape Town and Johannesburg audiences between today and Wednesday, July 4.

The Hildegard Learns to Fly sextet comprises Andreas Schaerer (vocals]), Andreas Tschopp (trombone), Matthias Wenger (soprano/alto saxophone, flute), Benedikt Reising (baritone /alto saxophone, bass clarinet), Marco Müller (bass), Christoph Steiner (drums) and Christoph King-Utzinger - accompanying as sound engineer and bass player in collaborations.

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Chatting to the band leader, acclaimed Swiss vocalist and composer Andreas Schaerer, ahead of the tour, he told me that he is wrapping up a tour of Canada, with another project that he’s involved in.

“I am currently touring Canada with a brand new quartet called the A Novel of Anomaly. We just played a concert of Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa, as part of our album release tour. We released it in March this year,” he explained.

Hildegard Learns to Fly. Picture: Reto Andreoli

While this project sounds interesting and deserves a discussion of its own, it’s the musical madness of Hildegard that I am a bit more interested in.

My first auditory experience with the their music was a piece of work produced in 2017 with the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra, featuring a 20-minute appearance by Hildegard Lernt Fliegen. Schaerer didn’t just grab this opportunity - he really ran with it. What he composed was a six-movement orchestral work, with parts for 66 players.

It encapsulates what Schaerer speaks of in a slightly wistful tone - of the childlike freedom matched with a technicality that the sextet has come to master.

“We started working together 13 years ago; we worked hard, toured many smaller clubs, sleeping in some cases on couches, playing for small fees until we developed a more professional approach and had the chance to play bigger festivals. We’re still developing new material. We’ve had beautiful collaborations with wonderful musicians, classic orchestras, etc, mainly pushing boundaries.

“We quit the traditional jazz stages and we’ve opened up to classical venues and even the theatre environment.

“We play in the most beautiful places with complete freedom. I have never had the feeling that we need to fulfil certain expectations, be they from an agency, or a label or even an audience.

“We have this joyful, almost childlike freedom that we’ve kept until today,” Schaerer said.

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Speaking specifically about The Big Wig, Schaerer said South African audiences can expect variations of this performance, specifically because they will not be performing with an orchestra while in the country.

“Of course we cannot play this material (The Big Wig) without an orchestra on tour, but we will play two movements from The Big Wig programme, without orchestra accompaniment. It will sound different. I think listeners will still be able to hear in the music the orchestra, even though they won’t be on stage with us.

“After the tour in South Africa, we’ll make a stop in Europe and then stop touring for 18 months, working on new material that we plan to record in about a year. Then we’ll release a new album with the sextet in February 2020,” he said.

They have made five albums already and, explaining the sextet’s sound, he said: “I don’t think too much in genres. Like many other jazz musicians of our generation, we don’t grow up with just jazz music, but also with a lot of other influences like rock, hip hop, electronic music and classical music. 

All of these influences become part of our music, so when I compose a new piece, I don’t think in styles, but rather about who will be in the ensemble, playing with me, that specific piece of music, and then try to compose for that specific person.

“Sometimes it turns out to be jazz idiom; sometimes it’s closer to ethnic music or contemporary, or classical or psychedelic stuff.

“The style of our sextet I’d describe as contemporary jazz ensemble, mixing up influences from different musical backgrounds, as well as a sense of humour that comes from our theatrical sides.

“It’s quite entertaining to hear this project on stage, I think. We’re very communicative with the audience and it’s an energy that comes out of the belly, out of our hips and out of our hearts. This we mix with strong, open improvisation, and some quiet, defined, clearly structured composed parts,” he added.

Being the consummate musician that he is, Schaerer has kept his finger on the South African jazz pulse, adding that a local jazz musician who’s work he enjoys is Abdullah Ibrahim, and he has collaborated with respected jazz players such as Mark Fransman, but that he is hoping that the sextet will have enough time to check out other musicians in the country.

Hildegard Learns to Fly performs as a part of the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia’s Winter Programme that is designed to cultivate audiences, develop cultural exchange and connect communities throughout June and July 2018.

Tour Dates:

Cape Town

* Monday, July 2, Norval Foundation, 7.30pm

* Tuesday, July 3, Joseph Stone Auditorium, Athlone, 7.30pm.

Johannesburg

* Wednesday, July 4, UJ Arts Centre Theatre, University of Johannesburg, 7.30pm.