Chamber Music Corner: The Melton Tuba Quartet
Mike Forbes, Associate Editor
based on an interview conducted by Juliane Bally with Hartmut Müller
The Melton Tuba Quartet has been around for some time and has many CDs to their credit. The quartet therefore seemed like an obvious choice to feature in the Chamber Music Corner. I have learned from the musicians in the group that the first impulse to form the Melton Tuba Quartet was during a 1987 orchestral audition in the Bonn Beethovenhalle. One can imagine the awkwardness at a final round of an audition, but these gentleman seemed to get along very well right from the start in lieu of the uncomfortable competitive atmosphere. As it turned out, the finalists of this particular audition: Ulrich Haas, Heiko Triebener, Henrik Tietz, and Hartmut Müller became the members of the Melton Quartet. Evidently, it took some time while the orchestral audition committee decided which tubist they wanted to hire. “We were all waiting very nervously near the door,” remembers Hartmut Müller. “Nobody begrudged the other tubists for the position in the orchestra–we all thought that each of us would have filled the position nicely. Also, since we knew each other from earlier auditions we started to talk.” The decision must have been a hard one for the audition committee, but in the end Heiko Triebener got the position.
Regardless of who would get the job, the four musicians agreed to meet again and play some music together. At this time, Hartmut Müller tells me that there were no professional tuba quartets in Germany. “I had collected several works for a tuba quartet, and the far majority of the material was from the United States,” states Hartmut. “Tuba quartets were, for the most part, unknown in Europe. Later that year we met again, as promised, and had a lot of fun playing together.” Each member of the Melton Quartet stated that this new ensemble formation was absolutely new ground for each of them. Programming immediately became an issue so they looked to the Canadian Brass as an example to create a concert program that would be high on musical entertainment. They also decided that since each tubist in the quartet played on a Melton instrument, it seemed obvious to name the quartet after this coincidence. They consulted with Gerhard Meinl about this name, and he agreed on it. Still today, Gerhard has been a great friend and patron to the quartet.
The first time the Melton Tuba Quartet appeared in public was during a street festival in a town named Remscheid (North- Rhine/Westphalia). The quartet played a set of three pieces on this occasion. In January 1988, they gave their first fulllength concert in a monastery church called Lennep (also in North-Rhine/ Westphalia). The concert began with the Washington Post March, played by memory while entering the church. Even today the quartet has kept up this traditional opening to their concerts. Originally, the quartet had most of their concerts in the Rhineland. Heiko Triebener had moved from Tübingen to Bonn, Henrik Tietz and Hartmut Mｸller were from Remscheid, and Ulrich Haas lived in Burscheid near Cologne.
The members of the Melton Tuba Quartet each have their own distinct background. Ulrich Haas studied with Paul Heims and Professor Hans Gehlhar. After his first engagement as tubist at the State Opera in Kassel, he joined the Duisburg Symphony Orchestra. He is also a member of the Rhein Brass Quintet and teaches tuba at the Folkwang School in Essen. Henrik Tietz studied with Professor Gehlhar as well. According to Hartmut, the Melton Tuba Quartet almost founded a “dynasty of tubists” in Germany. “In fact,” he adds, “he was one of the most important music teachers to develop tuba playing in Germany.” After taking his exams, Henrik Tietz played with the Saarland State Orchestra, the Hamburg State Opera Orchestra and the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra. Hartmut played trumpet before he began to play tuba. He studied in Wuppertal and Aachen where he passed his concert exam as a student of Professor Walter Hilgers. Since 1988, Hartmut has been tubist of the Wuppertal Symphonic Orchestra. He also plays a great deal of chamber music and regularly gives solo recitals. Heiko Triebener studied with Robert Tucci in Munich and attended several master classes abroad. At the conclusion of his engagement in Bonn he started to play with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra in 1993. After the sudden death of Henrik Tietz, young tubist Markus Hötzel joined the ensemble. Hötzel studied with Ulrich Haas and Roger Bobo, and, between 1996 and 2000, H釦zel was a member of the Staatskapelle Dresden. After this engagement he changed to the Hamburg Radio Symphony Orchestra.
In terms of programming, the quartet approaches their audiences and concerts in what they perceive as unconventional. They moderate between conventional works and more “show-style” elements in a way to keep the entertainment value high–this is a distinctive feature of the quartet’s presentation. At first, the quartet played mainly transcriptions because most of the original compositions of that time were pieces of experimental, contemporary music, which would not fit into the “show-style” concert the quartet was trying to program. They wanted to perform music that the audience and they themselves could enjoy. They wanted to show what a tuba is capable of and did not want to play only their orchestral repertoire or works that would not display the tuba in the best light. The rare exception to original literature for tuba quartet came from the United States. John Stevens was one of the pioneers of contemporary, demanding tuba music that also was pleasing to audiences and players alike. Shortly after the foundation of the quartet its members began to edit, transcribe, and arrange their own collection of music for tuba quartet. So far almost 20 pieces have been edited. As a result of their efforts, more literature for tuba quartet can now be found in Germany.
Ultimately, different orchestra engagements all over Germany separated the quartet members. It was difficult to find a time and place to play together, but despite the spatial distances the ensemble continued to exist. Like so many chamber music groups that have been featured in this column, there is a general interest among the members of the Melton Quartet to pursue their ensemble because they each enjoy the other members of the group musically and socially. This serves as a strong cooperative bond that cannot be broken by spatial distance. Unlike other chamber music ensembles, however, the musicians of the Melton Quartet do not play identically. Everyone has his individual tonal and stylistic accent of playing; consequently, versatility and other facets of variety are the trademarks of the ensemble’s philosophy.
In 1993, the Melton Quartet released its first recording, Premiere. The musicians wanted to show in this recording exactly what they do during a live concert. The repertoire consists of classical, jazz, and contemporary music. After this first album was released, it was much easier for the musicians to find composers who were interested in writing music for the ensemble. “The quality of original compositions for tuba quartet has a much higher level nowadays. In the earlier times we were happy to have any piece, regardless of how well it was written or arranged. As the readership of this Journal probably knows, it is quite hard to arrange and compose for a tuba quartet,” says Hartmut. “Transposing a partition for male voices or trombones one octave lower does not do the job, for the low frequencies require a special treatment. We have found that it can be helpful, as artists, to stay in contact with the composer to help focus his attention on the idiomatic features of the tuba.”
The special thing about the Melton Quartet is that it is comprised of four tubists; however, most of the time they play with a BB-flat tuba, two F tubas, and one euphonium. Ulrich Haas plays euphonium and tuba, which gives the ensemble the opportunity to play pieces for four tubas as well as more traditional tuba quartets written specifically for two euphoniums and two tubas. During a concert program the instruments are often changed to portray a greater number of timbre possibilities for musicians and audience alike. “Most concert organizers are skeptical when hearing about a ‘tuba quartet’,” explains Hartmut. “When they do not know what the combined sounds of these instruments can produce, they cannot imagine that the musicians can play a two-hour-long concert program and that the audience still calls for an encore. In Germany especially, the formation of a “tuba quartet” has no clearly defined predecessor. The tuba is so often related to the music for brass bands, where the instrument plays the typical accompaniment subrhythms. Therefore it is very important for the members of the Melton Quartet to show that tuba is a chamber music instrument of the highest value.”
The quartet mentions that in the last 20 years much has changed musically in Germany and the level of tuba playing has risen. “Nowadays there are more talented students at the conservatories and that brass chamber music has greatly helped to raise expectations to what a tubist can do with his instrument. Quintets and other ensembles that play at a high level are also in need of tubists with high ability levels. Many Germans cannot imagine a virtuoso sounding tuba–they think of it as neither sensitive nor flexible,” remarks Hartmut. “To combat this stereotype, the Melton Quartet performs The Flight of the Bumble Bee or The Carnival in Venice with breathtaking tempi, then they interpret a warm and sonorous sounding chorale by J. S. Bach as well. Today, the quartet finds that there are no borders or limitations to what tubists can do.”
Several tours in the past have led the ensemble to the United States, Italy, France, and Austria. This upcoming year, the quartet will record a new CD and will follow an invitation to the U.S. Army Band Conference in Washington, D.C. while performing several concerts in different university towns along the way. Hartmut tells me that the hardest thing about doing one of these tours is not the lack of demand, but rather the difficulty in getting free from their “day job” in the symphony orchestra. While many other sections have multiple players and assistants, the tubist is usually only one to play sole part in the orchestra. This makes for difficult scheduling for a quartet made up of four professional orchestral tubists. Likewise, it is not easy to find a substitute for a quartet concert since so much of the music is memorized and since the show is really geared toward the four players that make up the quartet.
As for venues, some of their concerts and clinics take place in cooperation with music stores. The ensemble offers master classes and events where interested tubists can learn more about their instrument and its repertoire. They are proud that these workshops help to raise the motivation for playing to the highest level, and it is great fun for the quartet members to give clinics to young players. They like to express how motivation is the key for disciplined practice and how playing musically is one of the most important qualities that the tubists of the Melton Quartet want to impart.
“A concert given to an audience of professional musicians is an extra special challenge for the Melton Tuba Quartet,” states Hartmut. “It is different, if I can impress someone with ‘a thirty-secondnote- sprint’ in The Flight of the Bumble Bee or if someone who knows these techniques very well recognizes that we are doing our job well and can create a good atmosphere. That is really a great compliment for us.” The quartet’s performances at the Passau Music Competition in 1992 (where they won the 2nd prize) the Riva del Garda, Italy ITEC in 1997, and the 39th Markneukirchen Music Competition in 2004 rate as highly enjoyable experiences for the tubists of the quartet. They also tell me that the small town of Markneukirchen (“City of Instrument Makers”) in the south of Germany, is a very attractive venue for the tubists because its solo competition is one of the most renowned. Markus H釦zel and Heiko Triebener, incidently, have both won first prizes at those competitions.
Compact Discs Premiere, Melton Tuba Quartet, Diavolo Records DR-D-93-C-001 (1993) Lazy Elephants, Melton Tuba Quartet, Diavolo Records DR-D-95-C-003 (1995) Power, Melton Tuba Quartet, Diavolo Records Telos Studios MT 299 (1999) More information Management Melton Tuba Quartet Hartmut Mｸller Kremenholl 36 D – 42857 Remscheid Tel. +49-2191-7811820, Fax +49-2191- 781816 http://www.meinl-weston.com; http://www.melton-tuba-quartett.de Also, additional information found at http://www.triebener.de.