Hermann WeindorfBorn: May 31st, 1953, Isny im Allgäu (West Germany, nowadays: Germany)
“In 1964, with some friends, I formed my first band. We played music in the Oberkrainer style (a brand of Alpine folk also popular in Austria and Slovenia – BT). Listening to records, I wrote out the parts for all instruments – trumpet, clarinet, accordion, guitar, and bass. I didn’t have much theoretical grounding at the time, but, remember, as an accordionist I had learnt to play the melody with my right hand and the accompaniment with the other. This helped me get a broader insight in how music works early on. Around the same time, I switched from accordion lessons to a local classical piano teacher – and not much later, I also took up studying the clarinet. It was around the age of twelve or thirteen that my mind was made up; I wanted to pursue my music studies and become a professional musician.”
“Looking back, it was fortunate that my parents never objected to my dreams. They were both creative souls; somehow, they must have sensed that this was the way for me. At the same time, although they must have understood I had some talent, they never gave me the feeling that I was something special. My upbringing was very normal; we were a working-class family, nothing more, nothing less. At the age of fifteen, I left Isny to study at the Richard Strauss Conservatory in Munich. I graduated with the clarinet being my main instrument, but initially, I studied to be a state-certified music educator. In truth, I never aspired to be a teacher. My ambition was to play, to create music. Still, if things hadn’t gone well for me, I could have fallen back on teaching. Perhaps my parents acquiesced in my choice more easily because of this.”
“In my early conservatory days, The Beatles were very important to me. At the boarding home where I lived, I met a guy who also studied music. We became the best of friends and played Beatles’ records endlessly. After The Beatles came Stevie Wonder and Yes. This was music in a style which had been unheard of before. To us, all of this was a revelation! You may say that I was a hippie – but only in terms of musical outlook; I didn’t really connect with the rest of the hippie ethos. As a student, I formed a rock band called Because, with my brother Berthold playing the saxophone. It was a large group with two, and at some point even three, brass elements. We were inspired by the music of Chicago, but by this time I composed most of our material myself. We didn’t do that much performing; the costs were simply too high to travel around with such a large group. This was mainly about having a good time; there wasn’t much money in it. Still, I was able to augment my small student’s grant by playing the piano and organ in a bar in Munich where the city’s black community used to meet. Initially, I had gone there out of interest; the type of music being played in this Negerkneipe was completely different from the average café. I met some very interesting people there. The experience broadened my musical outlook considerably.”
“Fortunately, my clarinet teacher at the conservatory, Karl-Heinz Hahn, wasn’t a man with a narrow classical outlook. The first clarinettist in the Munich Philharmonic, he originated from East Germany where he played jazz in his early years. Although we never played jazz together, we had long conversations about the subject, which was a breath of fresh air. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel love for classical music, but to me, music has always been a living thing; something taking place in the present. All those bands performing in bars in and around Munich… that was the life for me. Of course, the music academy was important for my development as a musician. The theoretical background helped me later in life when I began writing orchestral and choral arrangements.”
“During the last year-and-a-half at the academy, I performed my mandatory community service – not in the army, which I refused, but a civil service at the mental hospital in Haar just outside Munich. For someone who had always lived in the ivory tower of art, it was a hard learning school. I recall practicing Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, the piece I had to play at my final exam, in the afternoon breaks at the hospital – and because the work there took up so much energy, I didn’t prepare as well as I should have and only passed the exam with a 2 (in the German school system, marks are given from 1 to 5, with 1 being the highest mark – BT). Utterly frustrated, I asked the examinators to be given a second chance – which was duly allowed… and I was awarded a 1 score the second time around! After my diploma at the conservatoire, I spent two more years of taking singing lessons at the University of Music and Performing Arts, also in Munich. Given that my teachers were so enthusiastic about my voice, I shortly considered a career as a lyrical tenor, but in the end my desire to be contemporary inevitably drew me back to pop music.”
After Because, Weindorf was part of several more bands – Albatros, Munich, and, between 1980 and 1982, Oktagon. “Albatros and Munich were rock-oriented,” Weindorf explains. “Munich was the first band I was in which one could label professional. Peter Bischof-Fallenstein was our lead singer; I mainly played keyboards. We recorded two albums, for which I wrote or co-wrote about half of the songs. By the time of founding Oktagon, I was heavily influenced by fusion groups such as Weather Report. Oktagon’s first drummer was Curt Cress, who loved jazz music and would go on to be one of the most important people through my career in music. When Curt quit the band, he was succeeded by my youngest brother Alfons, who was just seventeen years of age and studying percussion at the academy. Oktagon released two albums before disbanding. By that time, I was looking for something other than jazz and fusion. In the 1980s, I regularly performed in jazz concerts with Passport, Klaus Doldinger’s combo, and it was great fun to be on tour with them, but I never became a jazz man through and through. Improvisation can be nice to do, but I’m always looking for variation in compositions – and in that respect, jazz sometimes left me a bit disappointed.”
“The first time I was in a record studio must have been in the days with Albatros, so around 1977. In the following years, I got to know more and more people in the studio world. Before long, I was regularly working as a backing singer or session keyboardist in different record studios. At that time, the studio business in Munich was booming and there was plenty of work. From the mid-1970s onwards, Munich more and more eclipsed Berlin and Hamburg as the centre of Germany record business. A central figure in this development was Ralph Siegel. Ralph could be extremely difficult to work with on a personal level, but he was successful as a commercial producer and provided me and many other musicians with work for many years. It had never been my ambition to be a session musician; it was something which quite simply occurred. Slowly but steadily, producers became aware of me. It helped that I was one of a minority of studio players with a thorough theoretical background. Many others, especially backing singers, didn’t even know how to read notes.”
It was while he was working as a songwriter for pop artists that Hermann Weindorf started to make his mark. In 1978, his composition ‘Café au lait’ was recorded by the disco group Silver Convention; while another, ‘With the Birds’, was released as a single by Conny Morin one year later. Working under the pseudonym ‘Steve Mandy’, Weindorf also arranged and co-produced the song.
“That was the first time I got my foot in the door as a producer, although, again, this was something that came along almost incidentally. At the time, Conny Morin was an aspiring singer. Her partner was a guy called Werner Rygol. Werner didn’t have a background in music, but he was rich and he had the ambition to work in the business. As he wanted to help Conny forcing a breakthrough as an artist, he went looking for someone to write for her. Around that time, I happened to meet him, probably in some studio while I was rehearsing with my band Munich. At his request, I wrote her two titles and produced that first single. It was a natural thing; after all, I was the composer and the arrangement was pretty simple – there was no orchestra involved. We released several more singles with Conny, and one or two were quite successful. From that time on, Rygol and I were friends. In 1982, he finally saw his ambition of having a record studio of his own in Munich come true. That studio, the Weryton Studios, became my second home. I did a lot of work at Weryton; rehearsing band projects, recording demos, anything really. Some crazy things happened here. The Clash even came to Munich to record their album ‘Cut the Crap’ at Weryton. They needed a keyboard player – and I was the man. All keyboard parts on that album were done by me. I believe they credited me on the album as ‘Young Wagner’… hilarious really!”
As the 1980s went on, Weindorf extended his studio activities further, composing and arranging song material for the likes of Amanda Lear, Peter Alexander, and Mireille Mathieu. In 1983, as a producer, he was involved in two international hits by Italo-dance duo Righeira, ‘Vamos a la playa’ and its follow-up ‘No tengo dinero’.
“Righeira were the brainchild of La Bionda, a producer duo from Milan,” Weindorf explains. “In those days, there was a constant exchange of ideas between studios in Milan and Munich, with lots of co-productions with Italian artists and German producers and the other way around. The La Biondas were two brothers, guys with refreshing ideas about music, who were keen to incorporate elements of the Neue Deutsche Welle into their productions. For Righeira, they were looking for a style like what Dave Stewart was doing with Eurythmics – but even more accessible and commercial. It was a sound that relied heavily on keyboards and synthesisers; and that’s where I came in. You could say I arranged the songs for them, but in reality, the sound was born in the studio. The music was fun to work on and those two singles were extremely successful. It was mind-blowing how many countries Righeira were in the charts of that year.”
Amazingly, given the activities with his bands and in the studio, Weindorf also had time to write film music. In 1981, he scored Didi Hallervorden’s film ‘Ach du lieber Harry’. During the 1980s and 1990s, he also wrote the music for several TV films and ZDF’s drama series ‘Blaues Blut’. However, film was never more than a sideshow for him.
“It might look like quite an impressive list of credits, but don’t think too much of it. The commissions coming my way were all thanks to my contacts in the record studios. Most of it came about thanks to a studio group I founded in the early 1980s, Panarama. Some of our music was used for television and films (including TV detective ‘Tatort’ and Willy Bogner’s feature film ‘Fire and Ice’ – BT). My brothers Berthold and Alfons were in Panarama as well, as was my old friend Curt Cress. The most important band member was Ian Bairnson, a guitarist from Scotland who had been in the first line-up of the Alan Parsons Project; and, in terms of sound, we were following in Alan Parsons’ footsteps. It’s fair to say that Ian and I were the core of the group. I usually did the lead vocals. Our executive producer was none other than Ralph Siegel. He treasured Panarama as a trophy in his display case! Given that he had a bad reputation in some circles for only bothering about hyper-commercial drivel, Ralph was looking for ways to polish his image. This internationally-oriented band with music which had nothing in common with German Schlager was exactly what he was looking for. In terms of marketing, we were let down, which perhaps explains in part why the Panarama project lacked commercial success, but we had a good time… even now, all these years later, I’m quite happy with the music we recorded back then.”
Yet another band Hermann Weindorf was the driving force of was Zara-Thustra. Between 1982 and 1996, the group released four albums and several singles. “Zara-Thustra was me combining forces with my three younger brothers. By that time, all of them had been to the music academy or were still studying music. Berthold, who had studied the clarinet like me, played the saxophone in our band, with Clemens on French horn and the youngest, Alfons, on drums. With this band, we wanted to combine contemporary pop music with elements of the German classical tradition – composers like Wagner and Richard Strauss. We were looking to create something which was modern, yet a little more sophisticated and harmonically more complex than your run-of-the-mill German Schlager record. We performed our debut single, ‘Eiskalt’, at the Classic Rock Night in Munich, with Eberhard Schöner conducting a huge orchestra. The orchestrations were all mine; I guess they were the first full-orchestral score I wrote. It was a transcription of the arrangement I had completely done with synthesisers for the studio version. Our first album didn’t attract that much attention, though, and in the following years Zara-Thustra more and more developed into a project my brothers and I liked to spend time on once in a while to get away from the more commercial pop and Schlager work we were earning a living in.”
In 1983, while his professional career was blossoming, Hermann Weindorf was hit by tragedy in his private life: his wife – and mother of his three children – passed away. “It goes without saying that this was a very difficult moment. Inevitably, I did a lot of soul-searching. What did her passing mean? Why did it happen? It couldn’t have been without a deeper meaning, could it? I was already a religious person, but my faith deepened considerably in the wake of what occurred. For a short time, I even considered entering a convent to become a monk, but I couldn’t leave my three boys alone. From that time on, however, I’ve defined my entire existence in communion with God. This also influenced my music. In 1989, I released the album ‘Pax Domini’ with a set of intimate song dedicated to my wife – and two years later I took over the leadership of the St Bruder Klaus Choir, a parish choir in Munich. It’s a mixed choir of about twenty elements, including two of my brothers. The choir gave me the opportunity to compose as well as perform religious works – and meanwhile I’ve written several masses. I’ve conducted the choir from 1991 until the present day; we usually rehearse once a week. The feeling of spiritual fulfilment derived from the choir I couldn’t really do without anymore.”
In 1991, Hermann Weindorf had the privilege of conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London for an album with symphonic arrangements of Elton John hits. It was the first of an impressive series of crossover CDs with the Royal Philharmonic, including albums dedicated to the music of Genesis, Pink Floyd, and Queen. “It was very unusual for me to work with a full orchestra,” Weindorf explains. “I am too young to have known the large studio orchestras which were part and parcel of popular music until the early 1970s. Sometimes, a producer wanted, let’s say, a woodwind arrangement, or a string arrangement – and then I wrote a string arrangement and invited a limited group of players over to the studio to record it. The project in London was very special. Somehow, my friend Curt Cress, who had become an influential producer, had convinced the record company that crossover was a good idea. Christian Kolonovits in Vienna was the first arranger to combine rock with a symphonic orchestra; Curt wanted to jump on that bandwagon and give it a try as well. Curt commissioned me to write the arrangements, because I was one of the few musicians in Germany to know his way in rock as well as in the classical spectrum.”
“Admittedly, I was extremely nervous for that first session with the London Philharmonic. I knew how to conduct a group of studio musicians, but a 100-piece symphonic orchestra is quite something different! Apart from some rudimentary lessons at the music academy, I had never studied any conducting. I didn’t calm down until seeing the roadies setting up the instruments in the studio. They looked just like ordinary crew guys of a rock band. “Well,” I told myself, “if this orchestra has such roadies, things can’t be that bad.” In fact, I had a great time; from the beginning, the atmosphere was very relaxed – and the musicians played excellently. Somehow, in England, classical players have a more positive outlook on pop music than in mainland Europe. During the break, I went down to a pub with part of the orchestra. I was introduced to one of the cellists who turned out to have played on the Beatles’ original recording of ‘Yesterday’. Incredible… I still get goosebumps now remembering it! We went back to London regularly to record new albums. The musicians became very fond of me, especially when I brought them German bratwurst… believe it or not, they had asked me to bring them some at the previous session. Imagine; there I was boarding the plane with an extra suitcase full of meat. I have nothing but happy memories of my time in London. Thinking back on those productions now, I’m baffled at the amount of money the record company allowed us to spend. Those were incredibly complicated, expensive productions.”
Back in Germany, Weindorf spent the 1990s as an in-demand record producer and songwriter; composing songs for Nicole, Engelbert Humperdinck, and Johannes Heesters; and writing arrangements for Roland Kaiser and Hanne Haller. Moreover, as an arranger, he contributed to four albums by Udo Jürgens. Most notably, for Jürgens’ 1999 album ‘Ich werde da sein’, Weindorf recorded a full-blown 13-minute symphonic arrangement to the song ‘Die Krone der Schöpfung’, played by the Berlin Philharmonic.
“For ‘Die Krone der Schöpfung’, I first travelled down to Zurich to discuss the song and the arrangement. Udo lived there all alone in a huge apartment above an old cinema. Being the composer, he played me the song on the piano as he felt it should sound. We spoke about the dramaturgic build-up, and he had some ideas for which instruments would fit in well here or there. In the end, though, he gave me carte blanche to write the orchestration as I thought fit. Then came the hard part of the job, because I experienced some difficult moments standing up in front of the Berlin Philharmonic… contrary to their colleagues in London, they put on their airs and graces. Of course, they had never heard of me; they must have thought that this guy from the south couldn’t be much of a conductor. In the first half hour, they really gave me a hard time, playing wrong notes and seeing if I would spot them. Their behaviour was typical of the mentality of classical musicians in Germany. They disdained pop music and wanted to let you feel it too. In the end, the orchestra accepted me and the recording was fine, but there were beads of sweat on my forehead that day, I can assure you!”
From the late 1990s onwards, Weindorf’s involvement in pop music decreased as he immersed himself more and more into the so-called ‘Volkstümliche Musik’, German commercial folk music. Among other commissions; he composed, arranged, and produced work for Hansi Hinterseer, the Original Naabtal Trio, and Karel Gott. Furthermore, he co-produced several albums with the immensely popular Austrian band Klostertaler, and composed their hits ‘Ciao d’amore’ and ‘Drei Tiroler mit dem Gummiboot’.
“When those folk music commissions started coming in, in a way, it felt like a homecoming. Remember: I grew up with Alpine music in Isny! Most of the work came my way thanks to my brother Alfons, who quickly made a name for himself as a producer of Volkstümliches repertoire in the 1990s. Alfons was not involved with Klostertaler, however. For their albums, I teamed up with the group’s bandleader Uwe Altenried. Together, we shared the arranging and producing credits, while the two of us also composed the bulk of the group’s repertoire. Some people tend to look down on this type of music… but make no mistake: Altenried is a fine musician and so were most other artists I worked with in this genre. My approach to folk music wasn’t that different from pop music – except perhaps that, in folk, we tend to make less use of synthetic instruments. Writing in the folk genre can be challenging. On the one hand, I have my preferences when it comes to harmonies, but you should stay away at all costs from overcomplicating the composition. The melody should have an instant-appeal to listeners. Let’s say that I always looked for an equilibrium between accessibility and bringing in some sort of sophistication – and perhaps sometimes I succeeded at that! Of course, folk music isn’t my cup of tea, but I worked on each production to the best of my ability.”
Another folk group Hermann Weindorf worked with, De Randfichten, had a hit in 2004 with ‘Lebt denn dr alte Holzmichl noch?’. Although Weindorf oversaw the studio recording of the song, the band from Saxony never credited him for his part in the success – and refused to pay him his 3 percent producer rights. “It’s not a good story to tell,” Weindorf sighs. “Those guys were relative newcomers to the business – and suddenly, with this hit song, they found themselves earning loads of money. They claimed I had just pushed the recording button in that studio session, but in reality, it had been hard work guiding them through the session, musically and sound-wise. Apparently, the guys didn’t recognise the artistic value of my work. It took a lot of time and energy before the case could be settled in court. This was the only time in my career that I had to seek legal assistance to get my due; and, fortunately, this court-case isn’t representative of my experiences the music business in general. It’s an isolated affair, something which I never expected to happen and don’t expect to come across in the future either.”
In 2004, Hermann Weindorf, together with his brother Berthold and three others, took over Weryton Studios from its founder, Werner Rygol. “Werner withdrew from the business, so it was only logical that Berthold and I stepped in. Weryton had been our home for many years. I own 51 percent of the shares, but Berthold takes care of the daily management; the only thing I have to think about is music. Together with one of the others, he does the sound engineering part, while one other colleague is a musician like me, and the fifth mainly spends his time on facilitating live concerts by providing instruments and things like that. In our studios, we work on our own productions, but there are more than enough things going on as well in which I don’t play a part; recently, Chris Norman (former lead singer of Smokie – BT) hired the place to rehearse with his band… just to give you an idea. In the past, we regularly recorded string sessions at Weryton too, for example for an album with Semino Rossi which my brother Alfons produced, but we haven’t seen much of that in recent years. The business underwent profound changes. Hardly anyone is buying CDs now, which makes it less interesting to compose songs and work on album productions anyway. I suppose that’s the way of the world.”
Relatively late in his career, in 2013, Weindorf had the pleasure of having an enormous hit as a songwriter, when acapella ensemble VoXXclub released a cover version of ‘Rock mi’, a song originally released by Austrian folk-rock group Alpenrebellen in 1996. “When composing that song, I allowed myself to be inspired by Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ – but just the stamping effects in the intro; the rest of the melody of my song is completely different; I dare say more of a composition! When Alpenrebellen released it on their album, it already was some sort of a hit, but that was nothing compared to what happened with VoXXclub. Their producer picked it for the group’s first album. I only heard of it when it was ready and finished; a huge surprise… They managed to change a guitar-oriented rock song into a near-completely acapella tune with just a little accordion and percussion at the back – really good fun and very creative! Incredibly, it has tens of millions of views on YouTube and absolutely everyone seems to be able to sing along to it, from schoolchildren to the elderly. I never imagined anything like it when writing it all those years ago.”
In 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Weindorf composed a Holy Corona Mass, which he recorded with his St Bruder Klaus Choir. “Nowadays, I spend much of time sitting at the piano, composing sacral music. Usually, I allow myself to be inspired by my faith, but in the case of Corona, I discovered there was a girl in Egypt named Corona who died a martyr in the second century A.D. I happened to come across her name and thought to myself, “It’s not her fault that there’s a virus raging which shares its name with her.” I felt she didn’t deserve her image to be blemished by COVID – therefore I studied her life and wrote her a mass. It’s great fun taking topical elements and incorporating them into my music. To honour Pope Francis, I wrote an Argentinian Mass, which includes tango elements. Because I’m hoping to perform it at the Vatican, I sent the Holy Father a copy of the score. In his reply, he sent me his compliments, but nothing has happened since. Who knows, perhaps in the future… I’m happy to take life the way it comes.”
When asked if he has any regrets looking back on his life in music, Weindorf comments, “No, not really – or maybe just that I should have focused more on one genre to become really good and successful in a particular corner of the music world. I’ve been a bit of a generalist, doing bits of everything. I’ve tried my hand at nearly every sort of music. On the other hand, I would probably have been bored doing just one thing. My star-sign is Gemini; and the main characteristic of a Gemini is having two souls, two personalities. I’ve always enjoyed experiencing different aspects of music. Of course, German folk wasn’t my world, but in those few instances when I had my fill, there were always my choir and sacral music to get away to. Earlier on in my life, I was quite successful as a songwriter and producer in commercial Schlager music, but on the side there were Panarama and Zara-Thustra, for which I could write in a different, more sophisticated style. Perhaps someone else without this dual character couldn’t have combined those elements, but I guess I needed the variation – and maybe some people observing my activity felt a degree of desperation, but as far as I knew I never hurt anyone’s feelings in doing so. If I did, I hereby offer my sincere apologies!”
Hermann Weindorf in the Eurovision Song Contest
“I can’t remember this particular project,” Weindorf comments, “but Ralph Siegel usually worked on multiple projects simultaneously, so he needed several arrangers and keyboard players. Possibly, several versions were made of one song, in which László worked on the first session, and I on the second one – or the other way around. I did a lot of studio work for Ralph in the 1980s. He saw the Grand Prix as his own private event, and he came up with dozens of potential entries every year. With all the energy and passion he put into it, the musicians working with him were automatically drawn in. The downside of this was that not much personal input or creativity was expected. The ideas were Ralph’s and you were simply expected to follow the path chosen by him. On a personal level, he tends to hold others down. In that sense, it’s hard for any other musician to stay in Ralph’s orbit for too long. You can’t shine in your own right when you’re too close to him.”
“He liked working with me and he once said, “You’re the best pianist in the world!” I was astonished and amused at the same time and asked him why on earth he thought so. “Well,” he replied, “because you can play my songs in any given key!” Such a remark showed that he felt nothing in the world was more important than his own compositions. Ralph is self-centred; he feels the rest of the planet isn’t that interesting. I thought that was extremely funny – and typical at the same time. In the demo recordings he recorded himself, he often tried to play a key change himself, but his playing technique was insufficient… which is logical and not a problem at all. He is an extremely creative person and I appreciated him because of that quality. New melodies keep on popping up in his head all the time. On the other hand, he has always had to rely on others to work out his ideas.”
“Working on a session with Ralph around could be difficult. The guy’s a maniac! He’s more or less unable to handle any given project rationally. When things go to plan, he could be as happy as a child. On the other hand, when there was some problem, his reaction would be childish as well; he would get angry or act stubborn, claiming that the recording is rubbish and demanding that we start from scratch. Such a recording session could be hellish for anyone involved. Still, when thinking of Ralph, the balance is more positive than negative. I would describe him as an egomaniac, but a passionate egomaniac. He has undisputed qualities. This man has accomplished so much in his career for a reason.”
Hermann Weindorf’s first participation as a conductor in the Eurovision Song Contest came in 1991, when Germany took part in the Eurovision Song Contest as a united country for the first time following the unification of East and West. In the international final in Rome, German broadcaster ARD was represented by Atlantis 2000. The six-member vocal group, which included Hermann Weindorf’s younger brothers Clemens and Alfons, had won the national selection in Berlin. This victory had come as a surprise, given that the group was completely new to the scene, while former German entrant Cindy Berger was among their competition. However, her song ‘Nie allein’, penned by Rainer Pietsch, failed to make much an impression, while Atlantis 2000 amassed nearly 20 percent of the jury’s vote with ‘Dieser Traum darf niemals sterben’, a traditional Schlager ballad. The lead vocals were taken care of by Alfons Weindorf, who had also composed the melody; the lyrics were by another group member, Helmut Frey. Atlantis 2000’s win was controversial from the start; they were booed by part of the Berlin audience when they were called onto the stage to receive their trophies.
“I wasn’t involved in this project from the very start,” Hermann Weindorf explains as he digs deep in his memory. “As far as I can remember, Alfons had written the song specifically with Eurovision in mind. It certainly wasn’t the type of composition that we would have done with our own group Zara-Thustra (the pop band Hermann Weindorf had formed with his three brothers in the early 1980s – BT). Alfons had always been more naturally drawn towards commercial music than I; from quite a young age, he worked as a songwriter and producer with German Schlager and folk artists. Based in Munich, like me, he often came across Ralph Siegel, who worked in the same field. That tune which Alfons wrote for Eurovision was purchased by Ralph; in other words, it ended up in Ralph’s portfolio, which meant that he had the publishing rights.”
“The studio arrangement for the song was done by Alfons. Like myself and my two other brothers, he studied at the conservatoire. His main subject was percussion, but he is a fine all-round musician who can handle various instruments. Arranging a studio production with keyboards and synthesisers is one thing, but when the song won the pre-selection, all of this had to be turned into a full-fledged orchestration with strings and brass – and this is something he never tried his hand at. That’s where I came in; admittedly, I don’t even remember if Alfons or Ralph asked me to step in. Given that he is so dominant in any project he is involved in, it most probably was Ralph who took the decision.”
“I worked a lot with Ralph as a studio musician and also as a composer, writing some songs for Nicole – who was his protégée –, but almost never as an arranger. This Eurovision project is one of the few exceptions. On the other hand, this was 1991 and there weren’t that many options left. His two main arrangers at the time were Norbert Daum and Rainer Pietsch, but they had their own projects as well – and, lurking in the background, there still was Wolfgang Rödelberger, an older guy who was wheeled out by Ralph on some seldom occasions to work on more traditional types of music. Wolfgang was a lovely man with a delicate sense of humour; and an excellent musician, but not someone you would ask to work on contemporary music genres. In short, I was one of the few orchestrators available in Munich, and given that I’m Alfons’ brother and was just working on the first of my symphonic projects with the Royal Philharmonic in London that year, I must have seemed the logical choice. Writing the orchestration for that Eurovision song was a relatively easy assignment. There was no discussion about the rhythm or dynamics; all of that had already been fixed by Alfons in the studio version. My job was to highlight the hymnic aspects of the song – by adding a fitting intro as well as the Bach-style trumpet solo in the middle part.”
“To me, the most astonishing part of this Eurovision project is still why Alfons wanted to take part in Eurovision as a singer in the first place. He never had the ambition to be a singer. In Zara-Thustra, he did the lead vocals on one or two occasions only, usually leaving that bit to me. He is not as outgoing as I am; in fact, he’s a rather silent, withdrawn guy, perhaps lacking the charisma and self-confidence to really be the frontman. Perhaps one of the other group members should have been allowed to sing the lead vocals instead of him… I don’t know. I don’t know how Atlantis 2000 was formed and with what ambition; probably, they were keen to make simple, straightforward Schlager music and make an impact in the charts, but to be honest – all of this took place without involvement from my part.”
After having orchestrated ‘Dieser Traum darf niemals sterben’, Hermann Weindorf also was the obvious choice to conduct the song in the Eurovision final in Rome’s Cinecittà Studios. He got to work with the full orchestra, as the choice had been made to work without a pre-recorded rhythm track. Weindorf has the best of memories of conducting the Italian orchestra musicians. “The rehearsals were fine,” he recalls. “The acoustics were ok from the start and the orchestra played the score well. This was my first performance as a conductor for an audience, but I can’t remember feeling nervous. As far as the music was concerned, I felt like not much could go wrong. Conducting a pop tune is quite easy. Usually, there aren’t any complicated rhythm changes. All you have to do is indicate the correct tempo and give the musicians their prompts at the right moment. I never studied classical conducting, even though I dreamt of doing so for many years, but the rudimentary conducting courses I had taken at conservatory in my young years were more than sufficient to do my job in Rome properly. The guys singing on stage did what they had to do as well. There were no problems at all.”
“My overriding memory of Rome is the bad food we were served in Cinecittà’s canteen. In a way, it was comical, as I had looked forward to travelling to Italy for the contest mainly because I was convinced that, if everything went wrong, we would at least have enjoyed one week of Italian cuisine… but it was rather horrible. It was obvious that no love had been put into it. To add insult to injury, the food was served on disposable plastic plates. In fact, the Italian organisation as a whole was rather disinterested. I remember feeling disillusioned. The whole Italian way of life which we Germans love so much was completely lacking. The Cinecittà Studios weren’t situated in a very romantic part of Rome either. In the two following contests I was involved, both in Ireland, the organisation was better prepared. It was interesting to work in Cinecittà, but the Irish went out of their way to make your stay a pleasant one. Their approach was so much more personal than the cold way the Italians handled it in 1991.”
“For the concert, I wore a white tailcoat. Don’t you think I looked great that night? No, seriously, I don’t remember why I wore it. It was part of my wardrobe, but I hardly ever wore it because I felt it was a bit over the top. Possibly, Ralph Siegel wanted me to wear something striking. He was the type of guy to think of things like that. In fact, he sent the five guys in the group (Atlantis 2000 consisted of five male singers and one female, Jutta Niedhardt – BT) away in Rome to buy identical leather boots. He felt that, on stage, they should look like a group and wear something similar. It was extremely funny, because those boots were so tight, that none of them could walk in them comfortably. They moved across the stage like five Frankenstein monsters!”
In the end, Atlantis 2000 failed to make an impact internationally, picking up just ten points and finishing eighteenth in a field of twenty-two participating countries; no German entry since the mid-1970s had done so badly in the voting. “I wasn’t that disappointed,” Hermann Weindorf recalls. “I never expected to win or come close to winning. Perhaps Ralph did, because it was part of his natural self to do so, but I certainly didn’t. The song itself wasn’t that bad, a typical Eurovision hymn as Ralph himself wrote so many times, but it was perhaps a tad too inconsistent, harmonically speaking. A Eurovision song can only last three minutes and you should refrain from putting too many different musical ideas into those three short minutes. The vocal performance on the night wasn’t flawless either. Those were the days when all vocals were done without tuning. The guys were nervous and you can hear that here and there in the performance. Like Alfons, the other five lacked the key factor to be a star singer. They weren’t bad singers, but the charisma wasn’t there.”
“After the contest, we all got back to work. The project Atlantis 2000 ended there and then on that stage in Rome. They won the ticket to the contest by accident; there was just this one song and nothing more, and given the lack of success there was no urge to continue as a group. For Alfons, it wasn’t that much of a problem. He wasn’t that passionate about the Grand Prix in the first place. He continued doing what he did already: composing and producing for others. The Eurovision Song Contest in Rome didn’t have a negative impact on his career.”
“Honestly speaking, doing Eurovision was little more than a professional assignment. I wasn’t ashamed of the music, but with Ralph Siegel being the driving force, it was simply a case of following instructions and doing the best you could on what was little more than an attempt at commercial music. I had never dreamt of taking part in Eurovision. Also when I was younger, the Grand Prix wasn’t my world. Katja Ebstein, Mary Roos… no, I probably didn’t even watch Eurovision back in those days. I had never imagined taking part in the contest one day; when it occurred, I did my job to the best of my ability as any music professional would. It was nice to sit in on some of the rehearsals of the other countries to see how your colleagues from other parts of Europe worked, but I can’t say that I was feeling particularly proud of taking part. Returning home, I moved on to the next project.”
Three years after his first Eurovision participation, Hermann Weindorf was commissioned to conduct the festival orchestra once more – and again, it was with a song written and produced by his brother Alfons. His composition ‘Für den Frieden der Welt’, with lyrics by the Styrian brothers Johann and Karl Brunner and interpreted by Petra Frey, won the national final in Austria, thus earning the right to represent the Alpine republic in the Eurovision Song Contest. In Dublin’s Point Theatre, with 25 countries taking part, Petra Frey – just sixteen years old at the time – finished seventeenth.
“Petra Frey was under contract with an Austrian record firm called Koch Music. She had been discovered by Koch’s executive director, Franz Selb, who later also was the manager of Semino Rossi for whom I wrote some arrangements. Be that as it may, my brother Alfons regularly worked with artists of the Koch firm from the early 1990s onwards, producing records for them at the request of Mr Selb. These were usually artists in the Volkstümliche Musik (German-language folk – BT). Brunner & Brunner were among the first artists to be sent to Munich to work with Alfons. Sometimes, I jumped in to play keyboards in sessions for Alfons’ productions, but I didn’t get involved that much. Alfons wrote most of the arrangements himself. At some point, Franz Selb introduced Petra Frey to Alfons and asked him to work on an album with her. One of the songs Alfons wrote for her was ‘Für den Frieden der Welt’. I don’t even think it was intended to go to Eurovision from the start, but Selb must have decided that it could be a good idea to submit it to the Austrian television’s Eurovision committee. Listening to the song now, I can understand why he thought so. It’s a good melody, with an interesting musical build-up from the verses on to the chorus. Alfons did a good job on it.”
“When Petra won the Austrian final, Franz Selb turned to me to write the orchestration and conduct the Eurovision orchestra as Ralph Siegel had done three years before. This time, the situation was a little different, because Alfons prepared a backing track containing the entire rhythm section with keyboards and all. I was looking to add some extra orchestral flavours here and there in the background to make the sound a little more attractive for the concert. As far as I’m concerned, even though from a musician’s point of view I would have preferred to work entirely live, it was a wise decision to work with a rhythm track. In 1991, our entry was a bombastic ballad which could do with a full orchestration. Petra’s song, however, was more pop-oriented and based on sequences; in such a contemporary production, the role of an orchestra is naturally smaller. I wrote some parts for the string and brass sections, but in fairness this score didn’t change the character of the piece – and it wasn’t intended to do so either.”
“Working with a backing track made my assignment as a conductor in Ireland even easier than it had been in Rome. The rhythm track is in your headphone – and you just follow the tempo while conducting. Unfortunately, in the broadcast, you could hardly hear any additional orchestration. In the sound mix done by Irish television, the backing track is too loud, while the orchestra is put too low. Listening to it, some people must have wondered what I was doing in front of the orchestra, given that all you hear are synthesisers, guitar, and percussion. As far as I remember, the rehearsals with the orchestra in Dublin were smooth.”
“The atmosphere in Ireland was good. It was my first visit to the country and I liked it! Naturally, the Irish are easy-going. I’ve always been fascinated by Celtic culture, so I enjoyed myself. A daytrip was organised for us to a beautiful castle outside of Dublin. We spent most of the evenings in pubs. One night, I was introduced to Johnny Logan – Johnny’s connection to Germany being that Ralph Siegel produced some of his work. Johnny’s father was there with him as well. It was nice hanging out with them; both turned out to be very nice guys.”
When asked what it was like to represent Austria as a German national, Weindorf starts laughing loudly. “Why? Because of the troubled history between Austria and Germany? Well, to be honest, I never gave this a thought. It wasn’t a problem at all, for anyone. In the Austrian delegation, I only met welcoming people. The atmosphere was relaxed. In general, Austrians are more understated than Germans – sometimes even morbid in their self-deprecation, I would say. They don’t come to an international competition expecting to win it hands down in the way that Ralph Siegel does. There may have been high expectations for Petra, because she was a promising singer, but I didn’t have that many illusions.”
“Unfortunately, Petra was a little nervous on the night and made one tiny mistake in the intonation, which must have cost her some points, but what more could you expect from such a young and unexperienced artist? She was a friendly, simple girl, not necessarily endowed with too much charisma, but she did well. To the credit of Koch Music, they didn’t drop her after Eurovision – and it paid off, because the albums she released in the following years were quite successful on the Austrian market. In Germany, Petra never made much of an impact. I composed and arranged some songs for her, and even worked as a co-producer on one of her albums (‘Das ist mein Leben’ in 2002 – BT), but at some point, she withdrew from the business. I wonder what became of her. Petra was a pleasant girl to work with.”
In the following year, 1995, Hermann Weindorf was back in the contest as a conductor for the third (and also last) time, representing Germany with Stone & Stone and their religiously inspired hymn ‘Verliebt in Dich’. Antillean percussionist and producer Glen Penniston and his wife, Tatjana ‘Cheyenne’ Stone, had been picked for the contest in an internal selection process by MDR Television following the duo’s successful debut single ‘I Wish You Were Here’ and their 1993 album ‘Miracles’, which received much radio airplay across Germany. Their self-penned Eurovision entry ‘Verliebt in Dich’ was originally written in English as ‘I Realized It’s You’, but the lyrics had to be rewritten in German to follow the rules of the festival at the time. As was the case with his two previous Eurovision participations, Hermann Weindorf was not involved in creating the studio arrangement, yet was called upon to write and conduct the live orchestration in the international contest.
“This again was a production in which Ralph Siegel was involved,” Weindorf explains. “After that first album of theirs and their selection for the Eurovision Song Contest, Ralph signed a record deal with them for the festival. As far as I recall, the song hadn’t been written with Eurovision in mind. After the demo which they had submitted to German television had been picked for the contest, we made a recording of it – according to the record, Glen and Cheyenne wrote the studio arrangement themselves, which was done with synthetic instruments. Given that my brother Berthold is mentioned as the recording engineer, the song was probably recorded in our own Weryton Studios. I may very well have played the keys on it, but I can’t remember. What I am sure of, though, is that Ralph asked me to work on the orchestration for the Eurovision Song Contest.”
“I was the obvious choice, because I had worked quite a lot with Glen before. In fact, I knew him long before he got together with Cheyenne. Glen was a guy from Aruba who came to Germany in the 1970s. He was part of a small community of musicians from the Netherlands Antilles who did lots of live gigs in Munich. I met him in a pub in Munich where I played piano bar as a student for some time. Glen is a sensitive, friendly guy; someone who preferred staying in the background. In terms of mentality, he was the most ‘European’ black man I met in my life. In the following years, he continued to earn an income as a live musician. In the second half of the 1980s, I first came across him in the studio, when he produced a local girl singer he had discovered in Munich, Mandy Winter. She recorded a single written by him, ‘Julian’, at Weryton. I played keys on it. ‘Julian’ was a hit, and following this, Glen recorded two albums with Mandy in our studio. I met Glen again some years later when he formed a singing duo with his wife. That first Stone & Stone album (this is the album ‘Miracles’ mentioned above – BT) was also done at Weryton… and Eurovision followed quite shortly after that.”
After Ireland’s third Eurovision win in a row, the 1995 Eurovision Song Contest was again held in Dublin’s Point Theatre. Apart from Ralph Siegel and Glen Penniston, two other acquaintances of Hermann Weindorf’s stepped onto the plane to Ireland with him: drummer Evert van der Wal and backing singer Jerry Rix, who were part of the group backing up Stone & Stone on stage in the contest. Both musicians were from the Netherlands, but had been living and working in Munich for many years. “Evert was part of one of my bands in the 1970s, called Munich. After Munich disbanded, he continued working in concerts and galas with different music groups, most notably the Saragossa Band. He didn’t do that much studio work – quite opposite to Jerry, who was a regular backing vocalist in studio sessions. At some point, he and his wife withdrew to live in Rhodos. I once came to Greece to meet him there, which was great. Sadly, he is no longer with us, but I remember him as a fine colleague.”
“Coming to Eurovision, I must say I had somewhat higher expectations than the year before with Petra Frey. It may have been a case of ‘wishful thinking’, because I thought it was a breath of fresh air to take part in the contest presenting a song with a less commercial approach. As a musician, I was happy that Germany finally had the courage to come up with something else than a traditional Schlager melody – and I was hoping that it could be moderately successful. Of course I knew a melody which was relatively complicated couldn’t win, but at the very least it was somewhat artistic. On a human level, I was proud that Germany picked two coloured artists, showcasing the multiculturality of our country. So, yes, I was kind of hopeful and positive. With hindsight, I should have known better. A song with so many key changes may be interesting to a musician, but to an average music listener, it sounds quite confusing. Too many people must have been puzzled as to where the song was going in the first place. In the arrangement, there was little I could do to make the song more accessible. It isn’t too orchestral anyway, with just some strings here and there. I wrote the choral arrangement as well.”
Quite apart from the song itself, Cheyenne’s lead vocals did not please most Eurovision observers. As one member of the German delegation recalls, executive producer Ralph Siegel loudly grumbled, when listening to her singing in the first rehearsal in Dublin, “My goodness, this woman really cannot sing!”, and walked away without paying any attention to the German song for the remainder of the week. “Did he really say that?,” Weindorf exclaims. “Well, it sounds as something which Ralph could have said. Still, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to him. Cheyenne wasn’t a girl with an impressive voice. She certainly wasn’t in the league of Adele! Technically speaking, even when singing lines which weren’t that complicated, you couldn’t fail to note her vocal shortcomings. It was clear from the start that we could make an impression only if people liked this exotic duo and their intriguing, unusual song. Cheyenne wasn’t ill, she didn’t sing worse than she usually did – this was how she always sang. She saw herself as a singer-songwriter; as such, she interpreted her own creations in a way she felt was right.”
Those observers in Dublin predicting a bad result were proved right in the voting. ‘Verliebt in Dich’ received just one vote, from Malta, and finished at the bottom of the scoreboard. It wasn’t the first time a German entry finished last, but it hadn’t happened for over twenty years. In the national press, Stone & Stone were butchered – and these negative comments effectively sounded the death knell for their careers. The duo withdrew from show business. Later, the pair also divorced, with Glenn moving back to his native Aruba.
“I personally wasn’t ashamed of the result in Dublin,” Weindorf comments. “We did what we could and we didn’t make fools of ourselves on purpose. The song didn’t touch a string with the international jurors; that was it. What happened afterwards was sad. Cheyenne and Glenn not only separated privately, but got into a row over that Mandy Winter hit song, ‘Julian’. When it was published, Glenn was named as the songwriter, but now Cheyenne claimed that it was actually hers. The case ended up in court. I’ve always thought of him as her victim. Cheyenne could behave in a most friendly way if she wanted to, but there also was something unpleasant and manipulative in her character. It was regrettable how Glenn more or less escaped to the Antilles in the wake of the court case. He was a top guy.”
Given that Germany failed to qualify for the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest, and did not make use of the orchestra for the performance of their entry in the two following years, Hermann Weindorf is the last conductor in Eurovision history to have led the orchestra for a German entry… that is, not taking into account Stefan Raab who took the conductor’s bow in 1998 for his composition ‘Guildo hat euch lieb’, but didn’t conduct one single note as all music accompaniment was on a backing track.
“Really, I didn’t know that I was the last – and I wasn’t aware that Stefan and Guildo didn’t make use of the orchestra for their Eurovision participation. Love him or hate him, I thought Guildo Horn was witty. It was pretty obvious that Stefan Raab (who had adorned himself with the pseudonym ‘Alf Igel’ especially for the occasion – BT) wanted to make a point about Ralph Siegel. Ralph being involved in the contest for Germany on an almost annual basis had made the Grand Prix a bit too stuffy in the eyes of many people back here. A breath of fresh air was long overdue after all those slick entries in which Ralph had had a hand. It was time for a break with the past. I believe it was necessary.”
“On a personal level, I must say I regretted the abolition of the orchestra – and the development of the contest from a music competition to an event. I still watch it, but it has become a bit exhibitionistic, hasn’t it? It is striking to see that most entries are a mix of music influences from all over the world, ranging from Latino grooves to Arab rhythms. Each year, there are some interesting songs, but it’s kind of sad that most entries are interchangeable. Even the Italians seem to have lost the ability to come up with something which is typical of their music culture. As a music professional, I would hope that each country showcases its own heritage rather than something that could have been produced anywhere else in the world. Even today, an orchestra could be a huge improvement. Technically, the production would become more complicated, but if they can do it in San Remo every year, why couldn’t it work in Eurovision as well? Of course, there are music genres which don’t need much support from an orchestra, but even German rapper Samy Deluxe works with strings for his recordings nowadays – and symphonic pop concerts take place everywhere. I’m convinced contemporary music consumers still love the sound of an orchestra.”
In 1999, Hermann Weindorf for the first and only time took part in the Eurovision pre-selection event in Germany as a songwriter. His composition ‘Together we’re strong’ was interpreted by Cathrin and finished in fourth place. “I also was the arranger and producer for that song,” Weindorf adds. “Cathrin was a discovery of Werner Rygol, the owner of the Weryton Studios where I and my brothers spent most of our time. We decided to do an album with her. While we were in the process of writing songs for that album, someone suggested entering Cathrin in the Eurovision selection. She was a talent and it was worth a try. The Grand Prix could be a launch pad for a successful career. The song which we picked was a power ballad, written by me with lyricist Peter Bischof-Fallenstein. Peter and I had known each other for decades. We were friends. In the 1970s, he was the lead singer of my band Munich. His biggest success as a lyricist was ‘Girl I’m gonna miss you’ by Milli Vanilli, also recorded in the Weryton Studios. Peter and I were quite hopeful for Cathrin. The album we did with her was really good. Even though she did quite well in that national final, the breakthrough never happened. The album didn’t really take off either – and unfortunately she disappeared from the scene. I wonder what became of her afterwards. That girl had a good voice.”
After 1999, Hermann Weindorf never took part in the Eurovision Song Contest or the German pre-selection again. Asked how he assesses the importance of the festival in his career, he explains, “Well, perhaps my name became a little better known in professional circles. The larger audience tends not to take much notice of a conductor taking his bow, but music professionals do. Being commissioned to work with the Eurovision orchestra is some sort of an accolade, a proof of your ability as a musician. Of course the songs I took part with in the contest didn’t do well in the voting at all, but it wasn’t my fault. The arrangements were fine, the orchestras played well. I couldn’t have done more than that.”
“I can’t say I ever perceived taking part in Eurovision as an honour. Representing Germany, making my country proud… no, that wasn’t what drove me at those three contests. Maybe this ambivalence regarding nationality and national pride has become part of the German soul since 1945. To me, Eurovision was about professionality, about doing a job and doing it well. I was happy to do it, no question about that… but it’s not something I think back of every day. In fact, I was astonished to be asked to do an interview about Eurovision. I hadn’t even watched the YouTube videos of those three songs. Watching them now, I can’t help but laugh… this incredible hairdo of mine back then! In Rome, I could still sport quite an impressive amount of hair, but it became thinner as the years went by. In Dublin, I tied it back in a pony tail. I didn’t remember I ever did. Wahnsinn! I can assure you that this problem solved itself in the following years. Nowadays, there’s no hair left on my head, nothing! To make up for that, I grew a beard… just to keep the balance right, you know!”
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