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Andreas Vollenweider

Since debuting in the late 1970s, Swiss harpist and composer Andreas Vollenweider has amassed a broad catalog of music that traverses new age, jazz, classical, and world music. Combining a self-modified electro-acoustic harp with synthesizers, percussion, and orchestral instrumentation, Vollenweider broke into the global mainstream in the mid-'80s with albums like White Winds (1984) and Down to the Moon (1986), the latter of which earned him a Grammy Award for Best New Age Album. Amid a series of successful world tours, he continued exploring new approaches including large symphonic works and collaborations with star vocalists like Luciano Pavarotti, Carly Simon, and Bobby McFerrin. 1999's Cosmopoly album and subsequent tour relied on free improvisation with a rotating series of guests and helped carry his music into the 21st century. Over the next two decades, Vollenweider collaborated with film composer Hans Zimmer, celebrated his catalog with a best-of compilation, released new albums like Midnight Clear (2006) and Air (2009), and worked with the University of Geneva on a scientific project creating music designed to stimulate the neural development of premature infants. He later returned to album-making with 2020's Quiet Places and its 2022 follow-up Slow Flow & Dancer. Born in Zürich in 1953, Vollenweider learned to play a number of instruments before discovering the harp in 1975. Already seeking a more progressive sound, he developed his own distinctive playing style and modified his instrument into an electro-acoustic harp. An early ensemble, Poesie und Musik, set to music the poetry of François Villon and Heinrich Heine, but he soon left the group to record his solo debut, 1979's Eine Art Suite In XIII Teilen. His newly formed ensemble, Andreas Vollenweider & Friends, performed at the 1981 Montreux Jazz Festival where he was discovered by German producer Vera Brandes who signed him to her CBS-distributed VeraBra label. His next two albums, 1981's Behind the Gardens - Behind the Wall - Under the Tree and 1982's Caverna Magica, were chart successes in Germany and helped establish Vollenweider around Europe. They also introduced his signature new age sounds, an instrumental mix of harp, synthesizer, percussion, saxophone, and other instrumentation with an ambient, sometimes environmental tone. 1984's White Winds more or less served as his North American debut. With the support of CBS, Vollenweider found chart success and earned a more mainstream fan base, among whom was American singer/songwriter Carly Simon. An early champion of his work, Simon presented his U.S. concert debut in New York, which kicked off the first of many major North American tours. 1986's Down to the Moon became Vollenweider's breakout release, turning him into a bona fide star of new age music and earning the 1987 Grammy Award for Best New Age Album, making him the inaugural recipient of that newly introduced category. He closed the decade with 1989's Dancing with the Lion, a much larger production that featured guest players from a variety of different genres. During the '90s, Vollenweider continued to tour heavily while expanding his sound. 1991's Book of Roses introduced a fuller symphonic element while 1993's Eolian Minstrel was his first to feature guest vocalists like Carly Simon and Eliza Gilkyson. As the decade wore on, his eclectic list of collaborators grew to include Luciano Pavarotti, Bryan Adams, and Zucchero. After 1997's symphonic Kryptos, Vollenweider scaled back down to a more intimate ensemble that focused on free improvisations. On his tour for 1999's Cosmopoly album, he invited guests like American jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin, Brazilian icon Milton Nascimento, and Spanish multi-instrumentalist Carlos Núñez to join a rotating cast of friends. By the mid-2000s, he'd become a perennial globe-trotting act with a lengthy list of collaborators. After working with Hans Zimmer on the score for the 2003 film Tears of the Sun, he celebrated his earlier catalog with 2005's career-spanning retrospective Magic Harp. Along with a four-hour documentary DVD, The Magical Journeys of Andreas Vollenweider, he earned another Grammy nomination for 2006's Midnight Clear, a collaboration with Simon. After 2009's Air, Vollenweider's output slowed as he moved on to other projects. He continued to perform regularly, however, and in 2011 made a grand return to the Montreux Jazz Festival to perform an exclusive jubilee concert. He also became more involved in charities, helping to promote ROKPA, an organization that helps homeless children of Katmandu, Nepal. In a unique scientific study with the University of Geneva, Vollenweider was asked to compose a series of ambient pieces designed to stimulate the neural pathways of premature babies. In 2020, after an 11-year gap between releases, he returned with a new album. Smaller in scale and designed for more intimate listening, Quiet Places featured ten new improvisations accompanied by cello and drums. The more eclectic two-album Slow Flow & Dancer, appeared in 2022 and featured contributions from British producer Andy Wright.
© Timothy Monger /TiVo
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