Sunday, September 7, 2003

Everyone German at this gig

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Whoops and whistles went up when Erich Kunzel entered Music Hall's stage in lederhosen, for his Oktoberfest show Friday night with the Cincinnati Pops. But the Popsmeister's bare knees were upstaged by a sextet of alphorn- and cowbell-playing musicians, Sonnenschein Express, who yodeled, Schuhplattler-danced, oom-pahed and brought down the house.

It wasn't Munich, but most of the audience didn't need the printed words for the medley of German drinking songs that concluded the show's first half. That was just their warm-up. Sonnenschein's show seemed fueled by audience participation, as the crowd clapped, linked arms and swayed, yodeled, shouted "Hoi Hoi Hoi!" and hoisted thumbs en masse for "Ein Prosit," in the best Hofbrauhaus tradition.

It all climaxed when three unsuspecting audience "volunteers" were subjected to a yodeling contest - and despite a few chicken squawks, they did it. The crowd howled. For the encore, "Beer Barrel Polka," some couples got out of their seats and danced in Music Hall's aisles.

Sonnenschein Express, which performs at Disney's EPCOT Center, is the brainchild of Martin Gross - a man with the unique ability to yodel and play the trumpet at virtually the same time. Gross and his musicians - who juggled tuba, clarinet, accordion, drums and an array of Alpine folk instruments - played traditional German medleys and marches.

What made it fun was the way they did it. Gross played "Edelweiss" from The Sound of Music on a "singing saw," while drummer Mark Goldberg brought in boards for him to saw.

It was a silly gag. But between the oom-pah-pahs, one had glimpses of real musicianship. Goldberg was a whiz on the Holzgelachter - wooden xylophone - whose solo was a breathless race to the finish. Tuba player Todd Campbell joined Gross for, perhaps, the most unusual duo ever to appear on Music Hall's stage - with a pair of 12-foot alphorns (in F-sharp, for horn players out there). They projected a mellow timbre, and then picked up the tempo for a flurry of horn calls.

Kunzel's opening was an engaging mix of Viennese waltzes and polkas. Local talent - the Kolping Sangerchor, Jack Frost Accordion Band and Donauschwaben Schuhplattlers - added to the festivities.



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