Interview: Jan Vogler chats about meeting Bill Murray & their New Worlds show

Bill Murray and Jan Vogler walk into an airport. The comedian and cellist bond over music and decide to tour together. The result is New Worlds, where these two men are joined by some other friends. The AU Review’s Natalie Salvo caught up with Vogler to learn more about the show, swimming, West Side Story and Walt Whitman.

Can you begin by briefly introducing yourself. How long have you been working in the arts industry?

I was born into a family of musicians in East Berlin. I started concertizing around the age of 16 and became principal cellist of the Staatskapelle Dresden at age 20. I left this position a decade later in order to travel the world as a cello soloist. That’s what I have had the privilege of enjoying for the past 20 years, it never gets boring and being here in Australia the first time is a beautiful example of how exciting my musical life can get.

How did you come to collaborate with Bill Murray? Is it true you guys met at an airport check-in?

Yes, that is a true story. Bill started talking to me, he was wondering about my cello and how I would be able to take it on board. I told him it has its own seat and that was a conversation starter. When we boarded the plane we happened to sit next to each other. I watched Stripes for the first time with him sitting next to me, it was pretty funny. Over the next two years we became friends.

What can audiences expect from New Worlds?

I saw Bill singing in ‘Jungle book’ and reading poetry at and event in NYC. I sent him a text saying ‘I think we can do a show and travel the world’. His answer was short and clear: ‘I would love this’. Bill is a very versatile artist and with him being a singer, actor and story teller and the music that Mira, Vanessa and I play- there is a broad repertoire and color palette that is rich, entertaining and deep at the same time. Best is not to expect anything, but trust that you will have a great time. 😉

The night promises words and music by American Greats like George Gershwin, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and Leonard Bernstein. How did you decide on the setlist for this show?

I made a music list first, after Bill and I had listened to music together and had talked about favorites. The music list included 3 songs from West Side Story, with Bill singing- I just couldn’t wait to hear him with this great music, I knew this would be a great finale for the show. The beginning of the show is simple, I am bringing a movement of Bach from Europe and Bill is answering with the great Walt Whitman. Soon enough music and words melt into each other with Cooper and Schubert, both describing nature with their very own tools and we continue bouncing back between Europe and America. There is everything in between, from pop music to humor and a very touching song from the civil war era. It took a little time to create the show, but it was a fun process!

Out of all of the American Greats you showcase, which one is your favourite and why?

Bill brought Van Morrison to the table. The particular song ‘When will I ever learn to live in god’ gives me a kick every night and surprises the audience.

What is it like working with a comedian? Are you the straight man to Bill’s comedian?

Well, I am definitely not trying to be funny! It would be suicidal to try that next to Bill. 😉 It is very inspiring to observe the great repertoire of expressions Bill has on stage, and off! And we are having a blast. Traveling together, working and hanging out, Bill is the friend I was always longing to have, an artist from an entirely different field, a person I can talk to about life and art.

You’ve played with the New York Philharmonic and the Boston and Chicago Symphony Orchestras. Will you be using any Australian musicians at your show?

No, we have a set team with Mira Wang playing the violin and Vanessa Perez on the piano for this show. But I admire the music scene in Australia and hope to come back to explore and collaborate. I have heard recordings of the Australian Chamber Orchestra that are wonderful and the Symphony Orchestras in Australia are on a very high level.

How do you feel about playing at the Sydney Opera House?

We all are very excited and can’t wait to get on the stage. We have played this particular show in some pretty awesome venues like Carnegie Hall, the Berlin Philharmonie, the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg and Royal Festival Hall in London. Sydney Opera house still feels like a new high, I can see it right from my hotel room window it falls nothing short of its iconic reputation, we will enjoy every minute.

Do you change the set list at your shows? If not, is there any song or text you wished you’d included? What would these be and why?

The show is very detailed and scripted, but we cut loose in the encores. We choose from a list of about 15 encores and try to reflect the venue and city where we perform with our choices of music.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell the readers of The AU Review about New Worlds or your other forthcoming projects?

I would like to thank our hosts here in Australia for the warm welcome. We went to swim in the Indian Ocean the first day and will continue to explore the nature and cities of Australia. This is such a beautiful country, we hope to come back many times in the future.


New Worlds featuring Bill Murray, Jan Vogler and friends played the Sydney Opera House over the weekend. The show then tours New Zealand, Brisbane and Melbourne with information available HERE.