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Big Apple in an apple community

Helga Plankensteiner and Michl Lösch are old hands in South Tyrol’s music business. For more than 25 years now, the saxophonist and the pianist have been a couple – both on stage and at home. They have launched numerous joint projects such as the “Lana meets Jazz” festival.

What’s so special about “Lana meets Jazz’?
Helga Plankensteiner: It’s a festival built up from scratch each year. It’s not just about music or about culture, but about fostering young talents. You don’t find that very often. Of course, that’s also because I work as a teacher at a music school, and many of my colleagues participate in the festival.
Michl Lösch: It’s simply a great mix, some true synergies.
Helga Plankensteiner: We don’t need a lot of advance planning. We give everything room to evolve. You always need the right vibes. Nothing should ever be taken for granted. Most of the energy we need for this comes from our students. This festival was initiated for them and together with them, to give them the chance to play on stage in front of a wider audience together with some professional musicians.

How did you become interested in Jazz?
Michl Lösch: For me, classical music was always a little too boring. I was more into improvisation, into simply playing whatever came to mind. My first band played a lot of fusion, i.e. a mix of jazz and rock. Later, the jazz component became stronger and stronger. But back then, there were not a lot of options for studying jazz, so I first went to Milano, to Franco D’Andrea, and to Graz in Austria. It was only later that you could find more workshops in other places, too. To listen to jazz or buy jazz records, you had to travel to Bologna, Milano or Munich, Germany. Very slowly, a jazz scene started developing here in South Tyrol. First in Merano/Meran, Bolzano/Bozen and Bressanone/Brixen, where there were now some opportunities to play in bars and pubs. Today, we have various festivals, and all the music academies have their own jazz classes.
Helga Plankensteiner: My career was pretty straightforward. First, I was member of a church choir and played the clarinet in a band. Later, I went to Innsbruck, Austria, and to Milano to study voice, and I also went to New York. When I came back, I got more serious about learning to play the saxophone: I attended workshops and listened to a lot of music before getting a regular degree at a music academy.
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How do you manage to accommodate all the different projects you do? I mean, you work as composers, play in various bands, are teachers, are the artistic directors of the concert series “All that Music…!” in Bolzano…
Helga Plankensteiner: Well, you neglect your families and friends!
Michl Lösch: You simply need to focus on whatever needs to be done first. If you’re composing a piece, that is what you focus on for the next few of weeks.
Helga Plankensteiner: Getting invited to participate in band projects, however, is very relaxing. I really love that. You don’t have to take care of anything, you can just focus on playing your music. Managing your own projects is a totally different story, what with all the composing, writing, organising and marketing you need to do.

Are there any pet fads or pet peeves in your work? Things you especially like or dislike?
Michl Lösch: I really like our own projects, of course. It’s great to have my music played by others. It’s not all that great to play in front of people who aren’t really interested in music, though, when the audience doesn’t really catch fire.
Helga Plankensteiner: For me, it’s not so important whether people really listen or not – but the performance has to have the right vibes. And that’s something you can feel right away.
How important is teaching music to you? Sure, it’s your job, what you do for a living, but I’m sure there’s more to it?
Helga Plankensteiner: Sure, because if there wasn’t, I should quit right away. You can only teach music if you really want to. And if your students really want to, when they’re open to your teaching, when they really practice their music and see some success in return. If not, teaching can be very painful. When teaching, I try to pass on everything I know. This is great. For me, playing music and teaching music go hand in hand. If I quit playing music, I would have to quit teaching, too.
Michl Lösch: I used to earn a living as an architect for a very long time. I’ve never worked as a teacher for longer periods. That’s just not my cup of tea. But I like teaching classes every once in a while: Just recently I started holding monthly jazz workshops in Merano and a piano workshop in Bressanone.

You have both travelled the world, spent time in Milano and New York, won several international awards, and played with famous Jazz musicians from around the globe. So why stay in Lana?
Helga Plankensteiner: Lana is my home. I do my teaching in Lana. And we can always travel abroad if we want.
Michl Lösch: All the projects we’re involved in allow us to travel the world time and again. And if not, we do our own projects to bring the world home to us.
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