I’m very happy to write a pedagogical contribution for the IHS newsletter, at the invitation of Prof. Ab Koster. Today I will speak about chamber music and the importance of playing together, as I teach in my lessons.
I’ve just taken over the professorship at the Conservatory in Lübeck and am in the process of building up a new studio. To this end, it is of particular importance to bring together a good mix of very young students just starting with their bachelor’s degrees, alongside somewhat older master’s degree candidates who can also start gathering their first orchestral experience. Everyone can learn from everyone else in this context, improving their own playing and letting themselves be pulled along by those who are further down the road. I experienced this very thing during my studies in Stuttgart and would like to keep this model from the very beginning as the highest priority in my own teaching studio.
To achieve this, I started right off by putting together horn quartets within the class, with whom I can work in ensembles in addition to the private lesson (which of course is and should remain the most important component in the course of study).
Through my many years of experience in the most diverse of chamber music constellations, most of all in these past years through quartet playing with German Hornsound, I know how important mutual music-making, listening to one another, and especially communication in general (also outside of playing and rehearsal) are. Communication with colleagues and other students is something people particularly need to do well in every career, whether one becomes an orchestral horn player, chamber music specialist, or pedagogue. This is why I am diligent about bringing together and uniting various age and ability levels within each quartet. Through the medium of the quartet repertoire, we work on intonation, balance, playing together and in general achieving a common articulation and phrasing. This we do to create a quartet sound that allows each individual to be heard but nevertheless brings the sound quality and uniformity of the ensemble to the fore. Furthermore, I try to get the students to play as much chamber music with string players as possible. The way that string players phrase, differentiate, and communicate should also be goals for us horn players despite the technical difficulties that affect our instrument. We should hold ourselves to and imitate this standard.
In addition to quartet pieces, I also work with the ensembles in playing orchestral excerpts as a section. Aside from the many solo passages for first horn, we have a large number of duos (Beethoven symphonies, Mozart operas…), trios (Eroica, Fidelio, Dvorak Cello Concerto, Weber Clarinet Concerto…), and quartet or unison passages (Bruckner, Mahler, Wagner, Shostakovich, Strauss…), all which work together well and help ensure you stay fully aware of the other parts. Audition excerpts are an important component (as well as the joy and pain) of every student. Everyone has individual strengths and weaknesses, has passages that are harder or easier for them, and they notice that these will be different for each player.
In my experience, playing and working on the excerpts in a group setting, helps enormously, not only for working the notes into your chops for the audition and then after all that, often being nervous anyway, but also for having the feeling of the presence of the others from the group, even when they are not there.
Performing in front of others is another very important point for me. As often as possible, I hold internal practice performances, in which the students mainly play their audition repertoire. I also try to set up a large horn ensemble concert with the quartets once a semester, in which they can collaborate on octets or larger horn choir pieces as well. Aside from the individual problems that every horn player has and solves in private lessons, the vast majority of students also have troubles with stage fright. An important step to combat this is to make one’s performance become routine, thereby transforming the nervousness (the negative kind that makes the knees shake, the mouth feel dry, that makes the breathing shallow and closes off the throat) into positive energy, thus converting itself into the fun and joy of bringing something to the public; in the best case, going even further to create that certain special, magical something, that makes our vocation so wonderful.
Aside from his activities as solo horn of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, Christoph Eß has won several prizes in international competitions. Starting in the winter semester 2017/2018, he has followed his calling to become professor of horn at the Music Conservatory in Lübeck. He studied with Prof. Christian Lampert in Basel and Stuttgart and graduated with honors in June, 2008. The ARD Music Competition (2005), Prague Spring Competition (2007), the Richard-Strauss Competition, as well as the “Concorso per Corno di Sannicandro di Bari” have all awarded him prizes, among others. As a soloist, he has appeared with several leading orchestras in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Czechia. He is also a founding member of the horn quartet, “German Horn Sound.”