Mnozil Brass is a sassy septet

Mnozil Brass
The Morning Call

Members of Mnozil Brass have serious talent, but what they do with it is pretty funny stuff

By Dave Howell

They are pop. They are jazzy. And they are goofy.

They are the Mnozil Brass — seven highly trained musicians from Austria who started as a bar band but who can play classical music with the best of them, and share opera and symphony orchestra experiences.

But what's the fun in that? In a phone call from Styria, Austria, trumpeter Thomas Gansch says his Vienna-based group plays "great old-school, light music, with schtick like Spike Jones and the City Slickers, although not that crazy. We play any kind of music, including classical, country and jazz."

The seven have taken on music ranging from '30s big-band music to hip-hop, and love surprising audiences with their variety.

You can see for yourself how crazy Mnozil (pronounced NOSE-el) is when the group performs Sunday at Lehigh University's Zoellner Arts Center.

Along with expert ensemble music, there will be a lot of family-friendly silent comedy, with pantomime skits and frenzied movement all over the stage. You might also see a few magic tricks, a battle between the trumpets and the trombones and tuba, a bit of dancing. Each "Mnozil" — has his own character, so they can create many different interactions.

It is hard to notice how well the members play when they are doing it for comic effect. But on their straight numbers, they can be majestically powerful, weaving through intricate arrangements or they can be entrancing when they soften their sound for a quieter piece.

In past performances the group has done shows that have a plot from beginning to end. Their last was called "Blofeld," named after the villain in James Bond stories. They have also performed their own operas and operettas.

In this fourth tour of the U.S., however, Mnozil is performing a compilation of their most popular turns. "It will be the best of the past 11 or 12 years, a lot of those things that people have seen on YouTube. We have picked out our favorites," says Gansch.

Each member can sing ("sort of," says Gansch), and you can expect to hear a version of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." He also says the group will do its "Lonely Boy," in which Leonhard Paul simultaneously plays two trumpets with his hands and works two trombone slides with his feet.

Gansch plays a specially designed trumpet called the Ganschhorn, which features a bell that points upward.

It all began 20 years ago in a small tavern in Vienna called the Mnozil Inn, across the road from a music academy, where a group of friends got together for informal jams to play familiar waltzes and marches.

"We entertained in pubs, and we have brought that experience onstage," says Gansch. "At first we were completely raw. We did weddings, funerals and parties. It was five years before we did our first stage show." A button-box accordion or a harp might have been in an early configuration.

"We had seven people telling jokes at the same time, until we got a director. We also learned acting, although we do not speak much unless we are in German-speaking countries. We gained a whole new audience, while pissing off some older ones."

Today many classical musicians have embraced pop and other forms of music, but Mnozil was one of the first. "Many have tried to get out of the classical corset. It used to be that brass bands came out in tuxedos and went from song to song, and perhaps the tuba player might do a funny announcement," says Gansch.

With seven brass players, Mnozil is loud enough to play without amplification. The members also include Robert Rother (trumpet), Roman Rindberger (trumpet), Gerhard Füssl (trombone), Zoltan Kiss (trombone) and Wilfried Brandstötter (tuba).

"We might be miked at one or two shows a year, in a large tent or at a festival. We need a sound technician who knows the music. It is difficult, because you have to play differently, and we have an enormous range, from soft to very loud," says Gansch.

Mnozil used to do about 120 shows a year, but did less than a hundred in 2011, and Gansch says the plan is to downsize to 80 or so in the future. They are family men, with a total of 16 children among them.

Gansch also plays in a duo with a bassist and participates in a Don Ellis big-band tribute, while many of the others teach.

"We don't have to, but otherwise we get bored," he says.

The group already is working on its next project, not yet titled. It will be heavier than their previous work, since it is based on the music of Wagner. Gansch says it will not be ready until 2015.