“A few days without a piano and I really get nervous’ asserts Joja Wendt. “I constantly hunger for the keys, five hours playing feels like only hour to me.” Joja Wendt is a pianist through and through, his concerts fill the largest concert halls. He is, without doubt, technically brilliant and driven when at his instrument. However, when he talks about his music, easily sitting back and yet elegant, it seems impossible that this man could ever get nervous. Even his small talk is ‚great entertainment’ - Joja Wendt is charming, attentive, articulate and quick-witted, in a word: poised. A characteristic that not only his audience appreciates. He has reached the point, where his name is used synonymously with that of his instrument: Joja Wendt = Piano.
The fascination of the singing keys grips the boy before he can even pronounce his own name “Johan” correctly. The name remains “Joja” and he stayed with the piano. But what started as a game, quickly turns into an all encompassing part of his life.
The parents are not thrilled that their son plays until late into the night and thus the boy lets himself be locked into the music room of the school by the janitor - secretly, of course, and well provided with sandwiches and something to drink. Joja Wendt even misses his ‚A’ Level graduation party, because he is playing and he finally goes to study in Hilversum (Netherlands) and afterwards in New York at the Manhattan School of Music.
At least since their honeymoon his wife knows that she has serious competition. Four weeks on a dream of an island in the South China Sea, with one drawback: No keyboard to be found for miles around. Salvation comes in the form of a 5-star hotel at the other end of the island. That means several hours of marching through dense jungle, following a guide. And all that for a mediocre keyboard, but at least the honeymoon can continue.
Today Joja Wendt lives in Hamburg with his wife and two children; obviously his love of the piano has not harmed his marriage. After all, Joja Wendt is not a grim nerd, he can easily distance himself from his work. For recreation he reads about evolution biology and he has been playing table-tennis in Hamburg’s highest class to keep body and mind in tune. And if he wants more thrills, the passionate free rider takes his skis to the best powder snow runs on the planet.
Numerous concert tours have taken Joja Wendt around the world. From Germany and Europe to the stages of glittering metropolis’, such as New York’s Carnegie Hall as well as out-of-the-way corners like a small music school in the Siberian peninsula of Kamtschatka, of which he likes to tell in his concerts. He played with icons like Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry, played as support for Fats Domino and Joe Cocker on stage, hosted TV shows, composed the music for one of Germany’s most successful cinema film and currently is part of the jury for the ambitious children TV project “Your Song”, in which the composition of children have the chance of being performed by stars.
In the year 2006 “Steinway-Artist” Joja Wendt was on a world tour with the “Steinway Family Tour” for nearly 6 months and played in sold out concerts before enthusiastic audiences on 4 continents, in Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Singapore, Korea, Indonesia, the USA and Canada.
Joja Wendt has done, seen and played many things, but his thirst for more is still unquenched: Whether he plays incognito with a false beard and hair piece at small festivals, works on a virtuoso electronic project named ‘Classic Reloaded’ or plans rock versions of classical pieces with the help of an alternative band - he never seems to run out of ideas. Where does this drive come from? Joja Wendt shrugs and laughs his youthful laugh: “I simply love doing it. I am a pianist.”
The Best Thing About a Piano
The unique range of his concerts has a simple reason: ‘As a child I have decided on an instrument, but until today I have not yet decided on a musical genre’, says Joja Wendt. ‚There is simply a lot I like as long as it is good.’ He doesn’t wear blinkers, his selection is not based on style or epoch, but on quality and uniqueness. After very successful concert tours with various members, Joja Wendt now comes alone with his piano, but certainly not with a dry piano concerto. ‘The Best Thing About a Piano’ is a virtuoso and humorous journey. It follows Joja Wendt’s personal milestones of piano music, seasoned with amusing anecdotes, artistic interludes and illustrative presentations. He asks questions, such as what the most-played jazz piece worldwide is, plays the boogie-woogie “Stomp”, the driving rhythm of which was the background to the destruction of the interior of the Carnegie Hall in 1938 by the enthusiastic audience, spends time on formative greats such as George Gershwin and his “Rhapsody in Blue” - but, of course, the party version of the classic that was developed by Gershwin later on and is partly played lying on one’s back. True to his motto ”Playing the piano is fun“ Joja Wendt now and again interrupts himself, explains and comments individual passages and facilitates entirely new, laughing, relishing insights into the piano and music. And once in a while, when it gets complicated, he doesn’t mince words: ‘I am sure, I will make a mistake here – and just as sure nobody will notice!’
Joja Wendt confirms the topic of the tour with immense technical difficulties: As the first German he is trying to play the infamous ‚Variations on Bizet’s Carmen” of the genius Vladimir Horowitz, Joja Wendt’s favourite classical pianist. The piece is considered one of the most demanding in the history of the piano, and making it more difficult is the fact that each note has to be transcribed individually, because no score exist. Originally it was idée fixe. As unconditional optimist I have made a bet with a daily newspaper in Hamburg - and now I have to see it through. It will cost me blood, sweat and tears, but I will get this almost unplayable piece ready for a concert some day.’
Even in such moments of utmost concentration, Joja keeps his sense of humour, the precondition for any of his appearances. A good concert is much more for him than simply a brilliant performance, it requires charisma and presence, in order to engage the audience: ‚I noticed that I play best, when the atmosphere in the audience is relaxed and not self-conscious or tense. For me the often rigid distance in so many classic concerts is counterproductive - I don’t need that: After all, I am no different from the people in the audience, I am interested in the same music, probably have a similar sense of humour. The only difference is that I play piano perhaps a little bit faster.’
Joja Wendt – THE SIGN OF THE LYRE
She is considered to be the mother of all string instruments and is the namesake of a constellation. The verses sung to her music later became known as “lyric poetry” – and even the pedal system of a concert grand piano is named after her: The LYRE is a symbol for music and its long history and has therefore become the perfect setting for Joja Wendt´s new project. Up until now, his concerts have usually circulated around a particular theme filling up concert halls all over the world. „Sehr schwer zu spielen“ (Very Hard to play), „Mit 88 Tasten um die Welt“ (Around the World in 88 Keys) or „Das Beste am Klavier“ (The Best of Piano) – these were the names of his programs in which he combines the art of piano playing with entertaining conversation, and this to the pure delight of his large audience. But now for the first time ever, Joja Wendt dares to musically arrange an entire story. „Im Zeichen der Lyra“ (The Sign of the Lyra) – A Story in Music is a parable from the world of music.
A ten year old girl loses interest and fun in playing the piano even before its desire is lit up: Constantly cramming for grades, the same old exercises - school alone is hard enough but now there´s added pressure in having to learn how to play an instrument! When complaining about these sufferings to her grandfather, he responds with a story which the child listens to, spellbound. The story is about a musical instrument – the organ - the queen of instruments, which resides in an ancient, petrified tower and reigns over the other instruments. She is a strict guardian of rules, rankings and sacred scores. Musical freedom is regarded as blasphemy. And so it comes as it must come: One day, the piano cannot keep itself under control any longer and starts improvising, it gets kicked out of the instrument family and blown out off the tower by the organ pipes – and with a sudden bang, lands in the middle of Joja Wendt's concert stage.
This entrance marks the beginning of a concert journey across all styles and eras. Beginning with the Seikilos Epitaph, the oldest known inscription note AND spanning over to the greatest classics of music history, all of this very freely interpreted by Joja Wendt. In its search for spiritual brothers, the piano meets with numerous other instruments. Humorous and playful, Wendt weaves musical dialogues, making different colors and characters resound while gradually other instruments join in and unite in order to bring the 3D animated threatening tower, in the middle of the stage, to collapse.
„Im Zeichen der Lyra“ has become a kind of life project for Joja Wendt. "The longer I worked on the story and its implementation, the more I realized: This is my own story!" says the 47 year old, Hamburg-born artist. "I constantly deviated from the path that I was supposed to musically go, I often found myself caught between two chairs and even got kicked out every now and then. To the classics, I was too popular, to the jazz people, I was too classical and the Boogie-Woogie scene automatically disqualified me because of my interest in the other two varieties." he says laughing. "But I also experienced a lot of solidarity, last but not least due to my success with my audience. And I've never worried - on the contrary, I feel very convinced with my music!"
“Im Zeichen der Lyra” not only is a passionate plea to burst open musical boundaries: By telling this story, the grandfather wants to show his granddaughter how important it is to find ones own way. "Heraclitus is credited with the statement: "To educate is to switch on a light and not to fill a barrel." "And this is so true, even figuratively." says Wendt, "...you must burn inside for something, then it’s right for yourself - no matter what others say."
By no means is “Im Zeichen der Lyra“ a mere children's program. "It is an entertaining concert that tells an exciting story - and it works generally without any age restriction. But unlike most piano concerts “Im Zeichen der Lyra“ is deliberately for children as well because it all begins with them." Wendt emphasizes and smilingly adds after a short pause for reflection: "However, I know a few people who were 60 years old when decided to play the piano for the first time in their lives. It is never too late to find yourself in music - and experience lots of fun by doing so."
Kiso Siefert Dropmann Lawyers
Warburgstraße 35, D-20354 Hamburg (Germany)
Phone: Tel: +49 40 4152050
Tour Promoter Germany:
Am Mühlgraben 70, D-95445 Bayreuth
Phone: Tel: +49 921 74600-631, Fax: +49 921 74600-731
Heinrich & deWall
Ulmenstr. 8, D - 22299 Hamburg
Phone: +49 40 4146 8001, Fax: +49 40 4146 8002