Whoever thinks that only folk music can be played on the Zither would quickly be unburdened of that myth by listening to Willi Huber. In his concerts Munich-born Huber surprises his audiences with the multifaceted nature of the instrument.
[An adaption into English of Willi Huber's brochure with additional comments, copyright Donald Tsusaki, 2007.]
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Whoever thinks that only folk music can be played on the Zither would quickly be unburdened of that myth by listening to Willi Huber. In his concerts Munich-born Huber surprises his audiences with the multifaceted nature of the instrument. From minuets out of Anna Magdalena Bach's Notebook to "Solvejgs Lied" of Edvard Grieg; from Bavarian landlers to John Lennon's "Yesterday"; from meditative Japanese pieces to pop-music in "easy-listening format," Willi Huber leaves no musical stone unturned.
Under his noms de plume, Willi März, he has composed many original pieces and transcribed other works, such as "Habanera," for the Zither, some of which he has recorded and released as CDs.
Huber has been making music since he was a child. At the age of five he started taking piano lessons. His father started teaching him how to play the Zither when he was thirteen. Within four years he took first place performing on the Zither in a Jungend musiziert competition. At the University of Munich Huber majored in piano, also minoring in jazz harmony and arrangement.
By 1990 Huber was performing his own compositions – in light and popular music styles -- that he penned as Willi März. In 1992 he again walked away with first place as a Zither virtuoso, this time in the ZDF Auftakt musical competition for young people.
As a professional musician Huber composed and arranged numerous instrumental works used in television and radio. Since 1999 he has been collaborating with the SWR Rundfunkblasorchester (SWR Radio's wind orchestra), producing works for Zither and wind orchestra. In 2000 Huber took on further responsibilities with the SWR Rundfunkorchester as composer/arranger/conductor. Simultaneously he has been working as a composer/arranger for Symphonic Saxophones, a sax quartet with rhythm section.
In the last several years, Huber has been actively exposing audiences internationally to the music of the instrument. Huber performed before Hu Tschin Tao, the former Vice President of China, on the occasion of a state visit to Bavaria in 2001. Touring Japan in 2003, Huber performed in Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe, Nagaoka, and Ito, wrapping the trip up by holding a seminar for Japanese Zither players. The following year found him once again in Japan, performing as guest artist at the International Harp Festival in Soka, Japan. For EXPO 2005 in Aichi, Japan, Huber was invited to be a guest artist representing an important aspect of German culture. After that he gave concerts in Tokyo and Sapporo as well as a Christmas Concert at the Goethe Institute in Taipei.
In between his trips to Asia, Huber also performed closer to home in Germany. In 2002 he debuted the official opening fanfare Entrada bavarica at the New Year's reception of the Bavarian Minister-President, Dr. Edmund Stoiber, in the Muenchner Residenz. He performed his own compositions for Zither and orchestra at a 2003 concert of the Heilbronn Symphony Orchestra.
I had an opportunity to speak with Huber at some length in May, 2006. One topic was very interesting to me: what are some ways to expand the overall audience for the music of the Zither? While there are certainly many possible approaches to "solve the issue," Huber described a couple of options for which he can leverage his talents. With audiences that may never have heard the Zither before, Huber feels one should at the outset perform music that might be familiar to most, or at least music that has a familiar feel to it. While the audience is in a general comfort zone, Huber extends their listening paradigms by presenting the instrument in more non-traditional settings. His arrangements for Zither and symphonic orchestra, or Zither and band ensemble are examples of how he does this. It is interesting to consider that a first-time listener may come away with the notion that the Zither is an orchestral instrument.
Performing in other venues is another outreach option to expose new audiences to the music of the Zither. Huber has found that audiences in Japan have been quite receptive to the instrument. Someone once suggested to me that familiarity of the Japanese with the koto creates a certain natural affinity for the Zither. It seems to me that it would have to be proven whether some sort of audience pre-conditioning is necessary to understand the Zither. I believe that, given the opportunity, audiences respond quite genuinely to, as Huber described in a letter to me, the "very distinguishing and harmonious sound of the instrument that gives it its special charm."