Interview with Matthias Höfs

Trumpet & Arranger at German Brass. Professor of Trumpet at University of Music and Theatre Hamburg (Germany).

«The total time one studies is not important. The important thing is always studying with efficiency»

2019-01-29

When the German Brass became known world-wide, brass musicians were not only amazed by the incredible sound and the clean technique of the group, but trumpet players were struck by the impressive solo piccolo playing and perfect articulation. We eventually learned that the name of that piccolo player was Matthias Höfs — a former student of Konradin Groth, who became a soloist of the Hamburg State Philharmonic Orchestra at the age of 18, and has since been a member of the German Brass as well as an arranger for the group. Since 2000, he also teaches at the University of Hamburg. He is an authentic beast of the German trumpet. Today we are lucky to interview him here in Trumpetland (and he also shares an exercise with us to improve our tonguing!). Thanks, Matthias!

Up close and personal
  • Age: 53.
  • City of birth: Lübeck, Schleswig-Holstein (Germany).
  • A hobby: Sports.
  • A food: Japanese.
  • A drink: Red wine.
  • A book: Doktor Erich Kästners Lyrische Hausapotheke (Erich Kästner).
  • A film: Diva (Jean-Jacques Beineix).
  • A place: Sylt (an island in northern Germany).

Professional career

What first drew you to the trumpet and when did you realize that trumpet playing was what you wanted to do professionally?

At the age of six, I started to play in a wind band, and being there, I soon became aware that I wanted to become a professional trumpet player.

Where have you studied and who were your teachers?

I studied at the Hamburg University of Music and Theater with professor Peter Kallensee, and at the Karajan Academy in Berlin, I studied with professor Konradin Groth, who was the principal trumpet of the Berlin Philharmonic.

What was your first full time professional job as a trumpet player and how did you get it?

I won my first position in 1984 as second trumpet with the Hamburg State Opera Orchestra. A month later, I won the principal chair with the same orchestra. I won both through an audition process.

Which musicians, teachers, conductors or trumpet players have influenced and taught you the most?

Maurice André and the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble are the ones that have had a major influence on me, since forever. Apart from them, all my colleagues and directors have inspired me, and continue to do so, from which I have had the honor to work with throughout my long career.

Daily work

What is your daily practice routine?

I don’t have a set daily routine. Each day is a new day for me, I approach each day in a distinct manner and play new exercises or at least play through older exercises, but with a new perspective.

You spend a lot of time on the road performing and teaching. What do you do to stay in shape?

In reality, the total time one studies is not important. The important thing is always studying with efficiency and at the same time, trying to enjoy it.

How important do you consider a rest or break when you are practicing?

For me, it’s important to notice the sensation of tension that I have in my throat and throughout my body. Based on that, I may need a slight break or even a longer rest period.

How do you approach a new piece?

Before we study a new piece of music with our instrument in hand, we should reflect on the difficulties that the work contains, phrase by phrase, isolating the difficulties and trying to find a solution for each, individually. Afterwards, we must begin to learn the music, understand it, and get it in our ears. If you can’t hear it in your head, you can’t play it with your instrument.

Education

What is your approach to teaching your students?

I try to convey to my students that the trumpet is not a sport, but a wonderful means of expression that allows them to tell stories. And, if we take the human voice as a model — with all its richness of timbres — this can help us a lot with our instrument.

Do you consider it important to combine more than one genre in your studies such as jazz and natural trumpet?

The trumpet is such a versatile instrument, that it is very interesting — and important — to explore all its facets. And, in today's teaching, this is more necessary than ever.

What criteria do you follow when you are choosing a mouthpiece and trumpet?

From my point of view, the edge of the rim should feel good. Then, with both in the mouthpiece and the trumpet, we have to listen for projection, sound and flexibility. They must adapt to the music or work in the manner we want to play.

What advice do you have for young students and for teachers?

You have to try to always play with the greatest control and with the greatest possible ease. If you do this, you will have a better sound, and as a result, you will develop confidence in yourself. For this reason, I believe that we must adapt the repertoire to each student (this is, for me, the biggest issue, and where I believe that the most common mistakes are made).

Performance anxiety

Have you ever had a bad experience on stage?

All musicians go through all kinds of experiences during their career. When you are not well and still have to play, you need good control over your nerves and a great attitude.

How should one take criticism?

It is very important to understand criticism in the correct way, and to know how to classify it yourself. Criticism is what helps us improve.

They say that everybody has a little bit of performance anxiety and the important thing is controlling it. What do you do to control it?

The more confidence you have in your music and the more you master your instrument, the less nervous you will be. The best possible preparation, good physical condition and a positive attitude, associated with the pleasure of making music, are very useful tools.

Any advice on preparing for auditions?

Exams, contests and auditions are not situations of the creation of music that have anything to do with making people happy or moving your listeners. If you manage to forget the idea of a competition and try to imagine that you are playing a nice concert, you may also succeed by seeing these situations as positive.

Musical preferences

What kind of music do you listen to?

I like all types of music that is good.

With what musician or style of music do you identify with the most?

Although I love jazz, I am a classical musician. That's why I can express myself better in the classic style and I feel at home.

Who is your favorite trumpet player?

Since the trumpet is so versatile and I don’t know any trumpeter who can do it all, I have a huge list of favorite trumpet players in each of the styles, from jazz to classical. I could not possibly list them all…

What is your favorite piece for trumpet?

I always try to make the work I have on my stand, at any given moment, my favorite work.

Sharing exercises with Trumpetland

Do you have any exercise you would like to share with the Premium members of Trumpetland?

This exercise I share here can be practiced in different ways: all slurred, double tongued, triple tongued, in other keys… The next step would be to change the accents. You always have to play it with stable rhythm, focusing on sound, ease, stomach accents…

Free download:

Exercise by Matthias Höfs (PDF 55,95 KB) [Only Premium members]