Weimar Vibe: Max Raabe & Palast Orchester
Small wonder that there is universal nostalgia for the hectic life of the Weimar Republic’s golden era, when hyperinflation saw speculators spending their day’s profits in clubs and bars so that they wouldn’t lose its value the following morning. Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester arrives in London for its UK premiere just in time to find the perfect climate for its repertoire of 1920s-inspired big band jazz. Talk about zeitgeist.
From 1924 to 1933, Germany played both witness and host to a flowering of national and international talents: Marlene Dietrich and The Blue Angel; George Grosz and die Neue Sachlichkeit; Gropius and Bauhaus; Brecht, Weill and The Threepenny Opera and finally Christopher Ishwerwood and Sally Bowles, the heroine of Bob Fosse’s 1972 movie Cabaret. German Fräuleins bobbed their hair, smoked cigarettes in long holders, slapped on makeup, and went to the movies to see American films; they flocked to the music halls and nightclubs to hear groups like the Comedian Harmonists and dance to American jazz: less Kinder, Küche und Kirche, more Josephine Baker. Extremists from both ends of the political spectrum continued to give Germany’s big cities an atmosphere of excitement and danger until the arrival of the Hitlerzeit in1933. Jewish talent was stifled, American influence discouraged and the depressing hallmarks of a rabid nationalism became all too evident.
On December 13th, Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester will present the UK debut of its big band sound at London’s Cadogan Hall, with a selection of jazz originals and German and American hits from the 1920s and 30s. After training as a baritone opera singer in Berlin, Raabe and fellow students formed his band in 1987 and have enjoyed a phenomenal international success ever since – except in this country. They have played to audiences from New York (at the Carnegie Hall, no less) to Tokyo and Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv? Wouldn’t the band pose problems for much of that city’s audience? The 1930s remain famous for more than its joyous profusion of ballroom hits, after all.
“Mostly it was Jewish people here in Berlin who asked me to go there,” says Raabe, acutely sensitive to international audience perceptions. “Our favourite composers were German Jews, and most of our repertoire was written by Jewish artists before the Nazis came to power. Then, they had to emigrate – if they were in the lucky situation to be able to.”
And what about the Palast Orchester’s debut performance in the UK? Will a British audience appreciate German lyrics? Will they understand them?
“Everybody feels, to me, very familiar with this music, even if we have German songs. Of course we have English numbers as well, like Cheek To Cheek or Singin’ in the Rain. But I explain the themes of the German songs before I sing. You just need few words to introduce a song and everybody thinks ‘okay, I understand what is going on.’ One of the song titles is Der Liebe Komme, and I translate it simply as ‘Love Comes, Love Goes’. The song starts, and nobody has to understand every word. You understand the message immediately, you are touched by just the composition, the melody and the arrangement of the orchestra. And, of course, by my voice.”
Hear Raabe’s voice, as well as the 12-piece band accompanying it, and toast to the lavish decadence and bohemian abandon of times past – and present.