An Interview with Markus Theinert
by Adam Frey, Euphonium Soloist & Yamaha Performing Artist
Adam Frey: Markus, it is a great pleasure to interview you for the ITEA Journal . As one of two featured International Artists for the 2007 International Euphonium Institute, I wanted to let the ITEA membership become more acquainted with your history, experiences, concepts, and activities. I have known you for many years and have worked with you as a conductor in Germany, which was very fun, and, of course, I have heard you play many times. I think it is always insightful to hear how things all started in your early music years. So, tell us how you started playing as a young student and in school.
Markus Theinert: My parents were not musicians, but when a local music school started to recruit children and students for their new program they signed all of us up for lessons (we were six children altogether!). I am the second to the youngest and then still was too little to learn a “real” instrument. So they put me in choir and vocal training, and I received piano lessons from the singing teacher. My beginnings with low brass instruments were not until I turned 12 years old. This story must sound familiar to most tuba players: our school band badly needed a tuba for their annual concert (they didn’t own one but had a very old sousaphone instead), and I was the only one brave enough to take the instrument home and get myself ready to join the band. My first concert was three weeks later.
AF: When did you decide you wanted to be a musician as a career and was your family supportive?
MT: As I mentioned before, I was one of the youngest in our family. Three of my older siblings had already gone to college for performance majors in music. So it was not only comparatively easy for me to follow them, but our parents had also given up any kind of initial resistance towards a musical career for their offspring. They were a great support for all of us.
AF: Where did you go for college and conservatory training?
MT: Even before I decided to study music I wanted to go to college in Berlin. At that time I was advanced enough on the tuba and an audition for the orchestral department of the Berlin “Hochschule der Kuenste” seemed to be no problem. I never applied for any other school and so I ended up in Berlin as I had wished. Later, I was accepted by the orchestral academy of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and at the same time started to study conducting with Sergiu Celibidaché in Munich, Mainz, and Paris.
AF: Who would you say were your most influential teachers for playing? What did they highlight for you that you try to carry on to others?
MT: John Fletcher was the most influential for my tuba playing. For music in general and conducting in particular, this influence came from Maestro Sergiu Celibidaché. Especially the latter taught me about my own perception of phenomena and the substantial, direct, and non-interpretable impact of sound on the free and spontaneous human consciousness. This is one of the fundamental conditions for making music and communicating musically with others. Both teachers and unforgettable musicians passed away a long time ago, and I feel an incredible urge to pass on to others what I had learned from them.
AF: I know you primarily perform on tuba, but I also know you play the German-style oval baritone. Tell us how these are used in the Germanic countries and a little of their history.
MT: The oval baritone is the euphonium of the German-style band. Most bands in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Czech Republic exclusively use these instruments, although there is a tendency nowadays to replace the traditional oval baritone with the more internationally known upright piston euphonium. The history of this particular instrument goes back a long ways. Village bands, small folk music ensembles, and military bands used them extensively for more than 150 years. Although army bands in Austria and Germany had preferred the straight rotary baritone for quite a while before they came back to the oval style in the second half of the twentieth century.
Adam Frey and Markus Theinert reading chamber music in the exhibits at ITEC 2006
AF: What style of music is written for the oval baritone?
MT: All kinds of band music, of course, but also numerous little solo pieces in polka or waltz style for smaller groups, like little 5 or 10-piece community bands. Basically all the literature written for the piston euphonium can be performed on an oval baritone. The lighter, slightly brighter sound of the baritone even may help the lyrical sections of a solo piece to become more elegant and sweet in expression.
AF: I know we will feature a number of these pieces during the IEI week as well as a short history class on this instrument. I also look forward to playing a few duets with you both on the oval baritones…don’t worry we are not going to wear any lederhosen when we perform…unless you bring your outfit with you of course!
MT: My first and only pair of lederhosen I ever owned was a gift from Grandpa when I was five years old. They definitely won’t fit any more!
AF: After college, you did a lot of orchestral and solo playing and started your relationship with Miraphone. Tell us a little about those early career times.
MT: Although my parents had supported me the best they could I still had to pay for myself for most of my college years. Playing gigs in all kind of groups helped me, of course, to make the required amount of money for living and rent. Friday and Saturday nights I played the trombone in a jazz band, but the rest of the time I tried to get orchestral gigs as much as possible. At first these were mostly gigs on double bass in smaller symphony and chamber orchestras. As a tuba player I have worked with all the major symphony orchestras in Berlin and thus learned most of the concert and opera repertoire. Ulrich Wittke (Deutsche Oper Berlin) and Paul Huempel (Berlin Philharmonic) were great teachers for style and orchestral playing. When I started college in Berlin I only owned a piston EE-flat tuba. German orchestras require rotary F and BB-flat tubas. So I didn’t have much time to find two new instruments. Miraphone was very helpful by providing two excellent instruments to a young music student, and they even allowed me to have some input in research and design! So this relationship goes back more than twenty years now.
AF: What would you say were some highlights for you?
MT: It is always hard to determine which of your past experiences should be considered highlights. We are all shaped by almost everything we did and learnt. But our memory becomes increasingly more selective as we grow older, so I guess in a few years I will be able to point out some “highlights.” The two most important things in my young life certainly are, that God has blessed me with a wonderful family and a talent for music.
AF: You also moved into conducting and regularly work with some groups. Why the transition to this from playing and who really inspired you towards conducting? I know you studied with Sergiu Celibidaché, and he was a prominent conductor with the Munich Philharmonic for many years. What was it like working with him and what inspired you about him?
MT: In 1987 and 1988, I had worked with Maestro Celibidaché in the Schleswig Holstein Festival Orchestra in North Germany. It was during a three week rehearsal period on Brahms, Bruckner, Shostakovich, and Ravel, when he asked me to attend the daily conducting classes he held every morning for his students. After the summer camp and an extensive European concert tour had ended, Celibidaché finally invited me to come to his conducting seminars and courses in Mainz and Munich. I was so deeply touched by the way this “musically obsessed” genius had shaped a group of 86 internationally recruited college students into a uniquely homogeneous orchestra within such a short amount of time, that I wanted to know more, and I didn’t hesitate a second to follow his call. During the nine years I had the privilege to learn from this true master of conducting, he opened my eyes for the real conditions that one has to provide in order to make music happen (and NOT to make music, as we usually say). He repeatedly encouraged me to pursue a conducting career, and I started to make my own experiences when I was chosen to be the musical director of the Brandenburg Chamber Orchestra Berlin, a group I conducted for 5 years between 1991 and 1996. During that period I would still work as an orchestral musician myself and, of course, still did some solo playing and chamber music besides. When Sergiu Celibidaché passed away in August 1996, shortly after I had attended his very last conducting seminar in Paris, France, I felt it was time to make a personal decision, and I took a step of faith: I stopped being an orchestral tuba player and went to Munich to become a full-time conductor. The inspiration that he had given me over the years is still very present in my musical activities today, and the magical moments that I had the privilege to share with him as a musician, teacher, and fatherly friend will always be an unforgettable memory and motivation.
AF: A few years ago, you made another transition and moved into “the corner office” as President of Miraphone. I know that I love variety in career and find it helps keep me creative and inspired, and I see this trend in your career as well. What appealed to you about this?
MT: When the Board of the Miraphone Cooperative approached me in 2001 with the offer to be their new president, I naturally hesitated, because I had more than enough work on my agenda at that time. Nevertheless by then I had already been involved with Miraphone for more than 16 years, and I thought that I could have a much greater impact on the research and design department as well as on the marketing activities of such a renowned global company if I was their CEO rather than just a “freelance” consultant for them. I still wouldn’t consider my designation in April 2001 as a “transition.” I remained to be a conductor and at the same time intensified my close relationship with one of the world’s finest manufacturers of quality brass instruments. To be elected to this position is an honor for me, and I am proud to represent Miraphone in my home country Germany but also all over the world.
AF: I know Miraphone has been very proactive in designing new instruments, and I congratulate the company on 60 successful years!! Tell us a little about the new instruments and also about the special 60 th Anniversary Baritone that I for one look forward to playing.
MT: Within the last five years Miraphone has designed and released more than ten new models! The BB-flat tubas 282 and 289 are improved versions of former models, the 184 CC and BB-flat tubas have been resumed after they had been discontinued for almost 20 years. The 1291 BB-flat “Big Babe,” the 1291 CC and the new 1292 CC “New Yorker,” as well as the 281 F tuba “Firebird” and the 283 EE-flat “Norwegian Star” are brand new models next to a new piston “Ambassador” line with five new models: M3000 B-flat piston trumpet, M5000 compensating euphonium, M7000 compensating EE-flat tuba and M9000 compensating BB-flat tuba. All the listed models have been successfully introduced into the market. You can tell it would be too much to talk about or describe all these instruments with due respect to the patience of your readers ( J ). The 60 th anniversary baritone was especially designed for the German Central Armed Forces Band. It is a very versatile “symphonic” baritone with five rotary valves, main tuning slide trigger, and a re-designed leadpipe. In this particular configuration the instrument will be silver and gold plated.
AF: In the Germanic countries, what is the ratio of baritone players to euphonium players? Do you see the euphonium moving into the Germanic countries where the baritone is currently used? I sometimes think it is very nice to have the differing sounds and styles that make it unique. They also use these oval style instruments in Italy and Spain. Are these good markets for Miraphone?
MT: I would still say that the majority of euphonium players in Germany, Austria, Spain, and Czech Republic perform on rotary baritones rather than on piston euphoniums. But the number of piston euphonium players has considerably increased over the past ten years. This is probably due to the fact that the compensating system plus the larger bore of the British-style euphoniums have provided an increased flexibility, a bigger range, and a darker sound. Miraphone’s biggest market for rotary baritones still is Germany and Austria.”
AF: As a teacher, can you provide a few concepts, exercises, or samples of exercises or routines that you follow that help you achieve your level of skill and musicianship, especially when you have so many administrative and business tasks to accomplish?
MT: As a musician I very much dislike the term “routine” since it establishes a very un-spontaneous and unmusical attitude. But for the technical skills that are involved in playing an instrument we have to establish a certain routine to keep those skills available when we need them. Therefore I strongly recommend a consistent “workout” with your instrument, always emphasizing music rather than technique. I consider a practice session that only focuses on technical skills without the player being musically “involved” as a waste of time.
So, if you need to work on scales, then look for scales in literature, orchestral excerpts or solo pieces, there are enough challenging examples of “musical” scales in the numerous compositions for euphonium that we have nowadays. Just working your routine way through an exercise book will kill your own musical instincts in the long run. Being on the road or not finding daily time for consistent practice due to other activities is a compromise, and there is no recommendation to turn this into an ideal practice environment.
I find it very helpful (as many, many other players do) to have my mouthpiece with me when I am on the road to do some buzzing. Again, don’t just buzz your mindless exercises and scales, buzz and musically work on the pieces you’re studying. It is so much more effective.
AF: Lastly, we look forward to a short class during the IEI about instrument manufacturing and the changes you work on to help improve an instrument. Yet, when these changes improve one aspect, they may alter other things as well.
MT: This is very true and seems to be a persistent problem in instrumental design. There is no such thing as a perfect instrument. Developing new designs always means to “balance” the various qualities of a horn. Gaining sound may cause loosing intonation, getting a better response may result in loosing projection, and so forth. You have to set your priorities and try to find an appropriate balance between all features.
AF: You will be a featured International Artist at the 2007 International Euphonium Institute next June 10-17 in Atlanta, Georgia (information at www.euphonium.com). I know you will be able to demonstrate your range of talents and skills that week, and thank you SO MUCH for your time away from your busy career and family.
MT: I am looking forward to spending a great week with the students in Atlanta next summer. Thank you for initiating and organizing this event!
For more information about Markus or the IEI visit: Markus Theinert and Miraphone at www.miraphone.de & www.markus-theinert.de and Adam Frey and the International Euphonium Institute Website at www.euphonium.com.