Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Franz discovered the joys of sound early on, as music was central to the Pillinger family's life. The young Pillinger - already an expert on the bass clef ( "my grandfather was a bassist") before he could even read or write - was accepted into the piano class at the Mozarteum in Salzburg at the age of nine. In his teens he developed an interest in the different forms of jazz. By the time he was 16, he decided to fully concentrate on it. "I only did Free Jazz for two years - almost on a daily basis. Later my teachers were people like Benny Baily, Mike Longo, Barre Phillips, Bill Elgart, Roger Janotta and Tom van der Geld." Simultaneously he was also studying Indian music and took lessons on the tabla with master Hom Nath Upadhyaya.
A 'proper" education soon beckoned and he headed for the universities of Salzburg, Vienna and Graz to study double bass and music theory, already focused on a career as a classical and jazz soloist.
In 1980 he took up studies in the small town of Oberschutzen, a branch of the Graz music university. Pillinger`s memories of this beautiful region and its inhabitants are captured in his 1983 double bass quartet Pannonica (Doblinger 03991). In the same year Pillinger founded his double bass quartet "Circus Bassissimus," the later "Franz Pillinger Bass Quartet". Very soon a concert in the Vienna Konzerthaus came up and from that point on hundreds of performances have been filled by the ensemble on stage and TV in Europe and USA. In 1995 the quartet gave its debut in Carnegie Hall; in 2000 it is invited to the International Stringquartet Festival ,Vilnius - first time ever for a doublebass quartet to perform in a program with the leading `real` stringquartets of its time.
In 1985 Pillinger lifted first prize in Jazz at the Menuhin Competition in Paris, going on to work with Sandor Vegh`s elite ensemble Camerata Academica as a solo bassist. The group`s outstanding achievements include winning the Prix du disque on four separate occasions. As a bass soloist, Pillinger now performs at classical festivals such as Copenhagen,Paris, Ludwigsburg, Besancon, and - in the avantgarde field - in Barcelona, Budapest and Vilnius. But his educational work is of equal importance to him. In demand as a masterclass teacher and juror for bass competitions, Pillinger also initiated the first children`s double bass class in Austria.
As a composer and arranger, Pillinger is prolific. Since 1983, he has written more than 300 arrangements for bass in all styles - from renaissance to jazz, four further quartets and the Quintet sur le nom del Maitre Gary Karr, premiered by the Outer Indianapolis Bass Ensemble and awarded the Grand Prize at the ISB composition competition 1999. Pillinger already knew Karr from the days when he was still a student in Vienna, an experience which left him `deeply impressed by this outstanding personality among today`s solo bassists`. When he later had the opportunity to attend several masterclasses with Karr, it proved to be an artistic encounter which was of great importance for his own development.
But Pillinger's composing goes beyond his own instrument. He combines the most diverse musical styles and means to realise his concept of Fantastisches Musiktheater. After Pyramide and the 1988 work Geistertrilogie he created the performance Gala de dos in 1989, which won him the composition prize of the German radio station WDR in Cologne. One of the most remarkable of Pillinger's works, Ins Licht gestorben, followed in the Mozart year of 1991. Taking Mozart's Requiem as its starting point, the piece featured Japanese botha dancer Tadashi Endo, soloists, choir and large orchestra as well as ethnic players when it was premiered in Salzburg's festival theatre. Pillinger also worked with Endo in 1997 to create a fascinating paraphrase on Schubert's Winterreise song cycle, making use of electronic means such as bass samples and backing-tapes. Since then, both artists have worked together continually, touring Germany (Leipzig), Japan (Tokyo), Hungary (Budapest) and the US (Houston). Endo's great expressionist art - one as archaic as it is touching in its complexity - can open whole new creative vistas when combined with Pillinger's particular aesthetic.
Collaboration has proved fruitful for Pillinger: Another musical theatre style emerged from his alliance with the outstanding young choreographer Rod Madl in 1993. The result was Eros-ion, which was praised by the Austrian cultural ministry. Superstition (1995), on the other hand, combines a solo bass with an hour-long video, whereas I am because you are (1998) embraces art photography.
Pillinger also writes for orchestra, choir, string ensembles, for theatre and for film. He composes songs, jazz, choral works and works for other chamber music formations. Pillinger is drawn to the ideas of Surrealism and Dadaism - the philosophy championed by Max Ernst and Salvador Dali, and the film director/writer Luis Bunuel. The solo piece Suite Surrealiste won Pillinger the composition prize of the Musique Contemporaine Deux in Avignon in 1994. In 2000 Pillinger works on two commissions from the Tutzinger Zeitakademie and the Austrian Ensemble for New Music: Music is the game of time for solo-bass and orchestra.
Upcoming projects for 2001/2 and 3 include: Scoglio Pomo for double bass orchestra (text by Fritz von Herzmanovsky-Orlando), Basstravellers Storybook / Tagebuch eines Bassreisenden (MusiComedy) and Gamba tunes and Jazz sonatas (Marais,Bach, Gershwin,Bernstein.....). "I get strong impulses for my work from literature, visual arts and last but not least nature," Pillinger continues. "Especially important to me are the Japanese Zen architecture, the Chinese Tao philosophy and the Native American tradition." Thanks to such different influences, Pillinger makes his bass sing with a human voice.The Austrian critic and writer Walter Krautler once commented that "Pillinger is a master of the instrument, but more than that he is a person, who can open doors so, to let in the primal musicality." He constantly develops new bow and pizzicato techniques, as well as completely new playing techniques using different percussion sticks - some made of wood, bamboo, metal and plastic, sometimes chopsticks, metalballs, brass slide fingers, brushes. On top of that, he includes every part of his bass in his playing, from the scroll to the end-pin, and all parts of the wood body: " All this serves the discovery of new sound worlds," he insists. "If music is entertainment in the one, it is the godly element in the latter. Music is not music is not music: many more completely different terms would be necessary, a bit like the Inuit have all those different words for snow."
But the main attraction for Pillinger lies in "being on stage with my solo bass, without electronics and other support, simply a man and his instrument, sounding out the sound." Franz Pillinger can be encountered interpreting his own works as well as performing an adaptation of Schubert`s Arpeggione sonata; playing the standard bass repertoire; or working as a rock artist in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. His creativity stretches from the orchestra pit of the Vienna State Opera to the stage of Carnegie Hall, from the chamber music room to the alternative dance studio and includes youth educational work. For much of Pillinger`s professional life, his work for and with his bass quartet (the first professional of its kind) has been central.
Doublebass Solo on: Eros-Ion, Winterreise, I Am Because You Are; Doublebass Quartett: Von Amadeus Bis Jazz, Europaische Musik Der Renaissance, Franz Pillinger Bassquartet-
Triology Of Bassipillities; Circus Bassissimus, Ltg; also with Camerata Academica/Sandor vegh/ A. Schiff and Salzburger Chamber Soloists, Boris Belkin.
Performances: He gave a recital at Carnegie Hall, New York in 1997
Franz Pillinger Bass quartet appeared at Carnegie Hall, New York in 1995 and at Philharmonic Hall.
He also appeared at the Vilnius International Stringquartet Festival 2000.
He performed Ins Licht gestorben, Pillinger version of the Mozart requiem at the Great Festival Hall Salzburg 1991
Honors and Awards:
WDR-Composition Award, Koln 1988
Musique Contemporaine Deux - Composition Award, Avignon 1994
Grand Prize of the ISB Composition Contest, Dallas 1999
Anerkennungspreis of the Austrian Cultural Ministery, Vienna 1994
Honorable Mention ISB Composition Contest 2001
Named "Best Salzburg Artist" by the "Salzburger Fenster" in 1995 and 1999
Named "Champion of this kind of instrumentation", ISB magazin XXI/2 -1996
THE STRAD reports on Pillingers outstanding bassquartet work , 1997
Pillinger gives masterclasses at universities in the US (f.e. Columbia,N.Y.), Southamerica and at the music academies of Vilnius, Vienna and Munich.
Specialist periodicals such as Strad, Doublebassist, and Bassworld report on his unique work.
"FRONTIER PIONEER" by G.F.Kasparek, in DOUBLEBASSIST, 1999. (The bio above is adapted by Pillinger from this article.)