Janoska Ensemble

Ensemble | Genre: Janoska Style

With their “Janoska style” the four members of the Janoska Ensemble have developed a breathtakingly virtuosic and profoundly personal vision of music, which they interpret in a thoroughly modern way. Among unifying factors are their family ties and an inexhaustible inventiveness that allows them to explore a wide range of works from popular classics to compositions that they have written themselves and, finally, idiosyncratic arrangements of jazz, pop and world music. Firmly rooted in the classical tradition, they are now releasing their début album, for which they have chosen to present a picture of Vienna as a cultural melting pot, lacing it with irony and wit, and evincing a very real delight in music-making that time and again takes them beyond the confines of the Austrian capital. Virtuoso classics by Franz Waxman, Niccolò Paganini and Pablo de Sarasate are heard alongside a Viennese work by Fritz Kreisler and operetta themes by Johann Strauss combined with the strains of a csárdás and music from the Balkans, to say nothing of a number of flights of fancy across the Atlantic to the world of the tango and rumba and of jazz improvisations.

Even as children, the Janoska brothers invented their own music at home. Born into a highly musical family, they were educated at the Bratislava Conservatory before continuing their studies in Vienna. From there they initially went their separate ways as musicians. Ondrej Janoska attended the celebrated violin class of Boris Kuschnir and won several competitions before touring Europe and the United States as a soloist. From 2008 to 2012 he was a rank-and-file violinist with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Vienna Philharmonic. His younger brother Roman Janoska is also classically trained, studying the violin with Pavel Vernikov among others and winning several European competitions before being increasingly drawn to jazz and appearing with ensembles such as the Vienna Art Orchestra, in which he was able to realize his dream of what modern jazz can sound like on a violin. He has now emerged as one of the outstanding jazz violinists of his generation. František Janoska is one of the most versatile pianists of our day. Like his brothers, he was trained as a classical musician and is now in demand as an arranger and composer. Stylistically speaking, he inhabits the most varied musical worlds. For many years he has played the piano with the Roby Lakatos Ensemble. He was also the music director of Erwin Schrott’s Rojotango tour and was the solo pianist on the tour undertaken jointly by Anna Netrebko, José Carreras and Ramón Vargas. He continues to be the pianist for the project Hollywood in Vienna. Roman and František Janoska also appear frequently with the chamber ensembles of the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics. Julius Darvas, who is related by marriage to the Janoska brothers and who comes from a well-known family of Hungarian musicians, is also at home in several different musical worlds. He graduated with honours from Alois Posch’s double bass class at Vienna’s University of Music and the Performing Arts, quickly making a name for himself as a jazz musician and, since 2001, performing with the onstage orchestra of the Vienna State Opera. He is also a regular substitute with the Vienna Philharmonic.

All of these musicians had repeatedly appeared together in a whole series of ad hoc projects, but in 2013 they decided to focus their energies on the Janoska Ensemble and realize their dream of concentrating entirely on their own music. They met with an immediate and positive response on the part of audiences and colleagues alike, thanks to their new and breathtaking arrangements, which they invariably perform with a white-hot intensity and a single-mindedness of approach. Since 2013 they have performed their various programmes on three continents. A fixed point in their concert calendar is the benefit gala organized by the Janoska family with the aim of raising money for various charities, such as UNICEF and Licht ins Dunkel (Light Into Darkness); guests at the galas have included Sir Roger Moore, Angelika Kirchschlager, Michael Schade, Ildikó Raimondi, Mischa Maisky and Julian Rachlin.

But let us return to the question of the sources of the Janoska style. While the boys were merrily making music at home, we must undoubtedly imagine alongside – or behind – them a long line of musical forebears. The Darvas family can look back on three generations of double bass players, while the Janoska family has traced back its musical roots over no fewer than six generations. Even so, it is unlikely that any earlier generation could have invented a style that combines classical music with the music of the present day or seeks to bring together the popular and academic traditions in the way that they do. Certainly, the instrumental traditions that have been passed down in the family from father to son are scarcely those that could be picked up in a conservatory. On the one hand, these traditions include performance techniques that allow the players to demonstrate a rare degree of virtuosity not only in folk styles but also in jazz, pop and classical music, while on the other hand the players all have a self-evident understanding of creative music-making that is typically found throughout the whole of this extended family.

Of particular importance is the head of the family, Ondrej (“Bandy”) Janoska, a well-known figure in Vienna, who from the outset ensured that his sons received a solid classical training from only the finest teachers. As a violinist he himself has for a long time performed music in the Viennese coffee-house tradition. He would often bring back gramophone recordings from his foreign tours, records that his sons would almost literally tear from his hands as soon as he arrived back home: recordings by Oscar Peterson, Stéphane Grappelli and many others helped them to expand their musical horizons in the same way as the recordings that were always available at home and that included perennially popular numbers and examples of folk music from central and eastern Europe.

In short, there is a lot of music to grip the listener (and occasionally the dancer, too). It is music that draws its vital spark not only from its lively rhythms and its recourse to universally well-known tunes but also from a playfulness and wit that dispel every hint of boredom. The rhythms that are found here have been given some particularly unattractive names by European musicologists and include English-language terms such as “groove”, “swing” and “drive”. (This same dependence on the English language is also found in jazz.) If this is light entertainment, then it is a kind of entertainment that is committed to discovering the new in the long familiar, an aspect that finds expression above all in improvisations in which musical allusions to current events are by no means out of the question. The result is an antidote to the cosiness of the concert hall to which the classical works adopted by the Janoska Ensemble are otherwise often consigned. Ironically, of course, many of these classical works were themselves inspired by popular music.

The Janoska Ensemble is keen, then, to trace each work back to its source of inspiration, often in the narrower sense of that term, as is clear from its new version of the overture to Die Fledermaus in which the stylistically untrammelled genre of Johann Strauss’s operetta more obviously faces east. Sometimes, by contrast, the allusions span a period of several centuries or are purely fictitious, as is the case when Mozart – already in his own day an internationally orientated composer – encounters the rhythms of Latin America. At the same time the Janoska Ensemble avoids the temptation of thinking that everything can be mixed with everything else and that every single piece may be interpreted as jazz or turned into some seething Balkan number. Behind each of their arrangements lies a particular idea, and each of František Janoska’s versions is worked out in elaborate detail. The musical spark that is struck from each of them does not destroy the original work but ensures that it burns with a new and brighter flame. © Nina Rohlfs

 

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The Janoska Ensemble plays Vision Titanium solo, Vision solo, Vision and Peter Infeld violin strings and Belcanto and Spirocore double bass strings exclusively by Thomastik-Infeld Vienna

"With Thomastik-Infeld strings we are reaching the perfect frequency for a brilliant sound in all our music genres that we are combining in our Janoska Style."