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The NZSO unleashes Frankenstein!! in Wellington and Auckland

Celebrated Austrian composer and conductor HK Gruber makes his New Zealand Symphony Orchestra debut in October performing his monster hit Frankenstein!!.

The acclaimed work, based on children’s rhymes written by Austrian poet HC Artmann, references scientist Victor Frankenstein, his creature, and other fictional heroes and villains, such as James Bond and Goldfinger.

Frankenstein!! requires an assortment of toy instruments to be performed by NZSO players, including plastic hosepipes, which are swung around in the air, a toy piano, toy trumpet, kazoos, whistles, sirens and more.

Maestro Gruber, whose ancestor Franz Xaver Gruber wrote the famous carol Silent Night, performs as chansonnier during Frankenstein!!, where he will half-sing, half-speak in a style influenced by German cabaret.

For the concerts in Wellington and Auckland Maestro Gruber and the NZSO will be joined by Sweden’s renowned Håkan Hardenberger, one of the best trumpeters in the world.

The virtuoso will perform the work Aerial, which Gruber wrote for the trumpeter, and also conduct the NZSO during Frankenstein!!, while Gruber is chansonnier.

Frankenstein!! was first performed in 1978 and turned Maestro Gruber, who sang in the Vienna Boys Choir and was a bass player in orchestras, into a sought-after composer. He has collaborated with many top musicians, including superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, renowned conductors such as Sir Simon Rattle and had his works performed by the world’s top orchestras.

A decade ago Maestro Gruber estimated Frankenstein!! had been performed more than 1000 times, including a performance involving 500 school children. He’s since stopped counting. “But I never grow tired of it, because it's always a different experience,” he says.

Toy instruments will also feature in the concert’s opening work, the popular Kindersinfonie: Toy Symphony, written in the late 1700s.

The programme also features Stravinsky’s charming Circus Polka: For a Young Elephant, originally written for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to be performed by 50 elephants and 50 ballerinas.

Another highlight will be Haydn’s Symphony No. 22 The Philosopher, written in 1764 and ground-breaking for its time with its innovative use of instruments and reordering of movements.

Maestro Gruber is delighted to share the concert with Hardenberger. “Håkan Hardenberger is the most interesting trumpet player in the world,” he says.

Hardenberger has performed Aerial at least 85 times since its premiere in 1999 and considers it the best new piece of music written for trumpet in the past 50 years. “It’s proved to be a wonderful piece. It is tremendously difficult, but it’s also very, very poetic,” Hardenberger says.

Tickets for the Wellington and Auckland concerts are available via

HK Gruber and Håkan Hardenberger will also feature in a special free NZSO In Conversation event in Association with Waitoa Social Club at its Wellington brewery on 9 October. Hosted by NZSO Section Principal Trombones David Bremner, it will be an extended conversation-style interview with Gruber and Hardenberger on their exceptional careers and passion for music. Both are highly entertaining speakers, and along music by NZSO players, it’s a relaxed introduction to these two superb artists. No booking is required.

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