Max Zenger appointed as the 2nd alto saxophonist of the UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra  


Saxophonist and woodwind specialist Max Zenger (b. 1988) has been appointed as the new 2nd alto saxophonist of the UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra.

Zenger, who graduated from the Sibelius Academy in 2018, is a respected jazz musician and composer who has risen to the top of the Finnish jazz scene in recent years. He leads his own bands, such as Maxxxtet and Max Zenger Globus, with which he won the first place in the European Broadcasting Union’s (EBU) jazz ensemble competition in 2018. In 2017, Zenger was awarded Pori Jazz Festival’s Talent of the Year prize and was chosen as Artist of the Year for Turku Jazz Festival in 2018. He is a founding member of the record label Flame Jazz Records. 

Later this year, Zenger will release his tenth album with his own compositions. In addition, he has played on dozens of other artists’ and on several UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra’s records.

Zenger first performed with UMO in 2016. Since then, he has regularly worked with the big band as a freelancer, has also done longer substitutes in the saxophone section and has been a soloist in UMO’s concert series.

Zenger will assume his new permanent duties in the autumn season 2023, but he can be seen in the orchestra’s sax section several times before that. His repertoire of instruments in the front row of UMO is impressive: in addition to his main instrument alto saxophone and the most usual instruments of the saxophone, clarinet, and flute family, he plays e.g. contrabass clarinet and bass saxophone. His expression is distinctive and easily recognizable, and he is at home with both traditional and more experimental jazz.

The open and international call for applicants was carried out in a four-round audition process. The first stage was as an anonymous audio pre-selection round, after which the successful applicants were invited to a live audition. It was also possible to be selected for the first round of live audition by getting an invitation from the UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra. Those who received an invitation were deemed to meet the application requirements based on previous cooperation with the orchestra. As in the audio round, the first two rounds of the live auditions were played anonymously behind a screen. Only the last fourth round was played face-to-face in front of the jury of more than 10 people. The audition consisted of solo and section playing with and without rhythm section accompaniment, prima vista and improvisation tasks, as well as an interview. 

– Already at the Pori Jazz Festival 2008, when I was watching UMO’s gig and Manuel Dunkel’s solo, I thought that one day I would be playing in UMO too. Being selected to this orchestra is definitely one of the highlights of my career so far. It is a great pleasure and honour to continue the story of one of the most legendary big bands and bring my own spice to the soup, Zenger comments.

– I am thrilled that the UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra has chosen Max Zenger as its newest permanent member. Max demonstrated outstanding abilities as an improvisor, section player and multi-instrumentalist in a wide variety of styles to convince the search committee that he is the perfect candidate for the position, says Ed Partyka, UMO’s artistic director and chief conductor.

– Max Zenger is an exhilarating player. He continually explores melodic and rhythmic possibilities, leaving his listeners in awe. In addition to his solidity as a section player, he shows curiosity and inventiveness, both of which are musical virtues rarely found at this level, says the Dutch saxophonist, clarinetist and flutist Joris Roelofs, who acted as an international specialist of the jury.  

– We had more than 30 applicants; the number and the field of applicants was impressive. I would like to personally thank everyone who applied and auditioned. I would also like to thank the orchestra and staff for their hard work, transparency and cooperation throughout the entire application and audition process, Partyka continues. 

– The UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra is a big band with a standard line-up of 16 musicians. Currently, the orchestra has 12.5 permanent musicians with monthly salaries, and the remaining 3.5 positions are filled with freelancers. The increase in the grant from 2023 on from our owner, the city of Helsinki, makes it possible to recruit and fill one position and invest in the development of the orchestra’s quality, appreciates Henriika Steidel-Luoto, deputy general manager. 

Photo: Petri Anttila

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