Interview with Philippe Litzler

Principal Trumpet at Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich. Professor at Lucerne School of Music (Switzerland).

«My teacher, Pierre Thibaud, told us all the time — ‘you should know your trumpet concerti at 150% to be able to play it at 90% during an audition or exam.’»

2018-04-10

Today we have the pleasure of interviewing Philippe Litzler, principal of the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich and professor at the Lucerne School of Music (Switzerland), a European exponent (student of Thibaud in Paris) who also wanted to share a basic practice routine that he designed for his students with the Premium members of Trumpetland. Thanks, Philippe!

Up close and personal
  • Age: 48.
  • City of birth: Mulhouse, Grand Est (France).
  • A hobby: Spirituality.
  • A food: Aioli.
  • A drink: La Tour Bicheau (red wine).
  • A book: The Sum of All Fears (Tom Clancy).
  • A film: Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg).
  • A place: A small, stand alone island in the French Polynesia, far away from civilization.

Professional career

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

I started to play trumpet at the age of six. My father conducted the City of Saint-Louis (France) Firemen Band, from my home town. I realized very early on, at the age of ten, that I wanted to be a professional trumpet player.

Where have you studied and who were your teachers?

I first studied in Saint-Louis, at the school of music. After winning my first competition, I began taking private lessons with Marc Ullrich, before studying at the École Normale de Musique in Paris with André Daire from 1986 to 1988 and, of course, at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse with Pierre Thibaud from 1988 to 1991.

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

I won my first full time professional job in 1991, at the age of 21. It was the position of principal trumpet at the National Orchestra of France in Paris.

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

There were two main teachers who influenced me a lot. At first, Pierre Thibaud. He was able to advance my overall all trumpet and music making level. He gave me a love of learning new things — to be curious. He made me ready for my professional life. André Daire was also a very good teacher, who found good solutions for cleaning-up all my bad habits on the trumpet.

In my orchestral career, there have been a few great conductors like Kurt Masur, Seiji Ozawa, Riccardo Muti, Bernard Haitink, Herbert Blomstedt, Pierre Boulez, Franz Welser-Möst, David Zinman, Daniele Gatti, Philippe Jordan, Armin Jordan, and Sir John Eliot Gardiner. With all these people, I learned a lot about music. Stuff that’s so important when you’re a musician.

My favorite composers Johann Sebastian Bach, Gustav Mahler, Maurice Ravel, Richard Strauss, Claude Debussy, Anton Bruckner, and Giacomo Puccini.

Of course, I cannot forget trumpet players like Maurice André, Håkan Hardenberger, Wynton Marsalis, Maynard Ferguson, and Arturo Sandoval.

Daily work

What is your daily practice routine?

I’m sorry to say it, but I do not have a daily practice routine! I listen to my body and I work on what I feel I need at the moment.

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

I’m a very organized guy! Everything I do during a season is scheduled, so I do not have any surprises. And it works!

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

Resting is very important when I’m practicing. I split my work between 15 minutes of playing and 15 minutes of rest. So, it’s possible for me to work throughout the entire day, from 09:00 am to 07:00 pm, for example.

How do you approach a new piece?

Great question! I only try to play new pieces in which I have fun with. The first time I’m running through a piece, I usually have a general idea of what I want. After that, I’m working on the difficult sections first. I’m also listening to recordings of the piece, while looking at the score. Learning a new piece is quite simple for in regards to scheduling: it takes four weeks. After that, I adjust my goals and technical aspects of playing in order to obtain what I’m trying to do.

Education

What is your approach to teaching your students?

My approach is very simplistic. We all meet once a month to work on all the basics like Arban and Clarke, for example. The rest of the time, the students have to work on etudes and solos. My goal is to awaken the curiosity of my students, by researching new music for our instrument. I’ll help them to obtain more confidence in their personality, to feed their own musicality, without forgetting the musical tradition (the French School) from which we come from.

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

I’m from the “old” school. I never learned jazz, but I think it would be very interesting for all students to have an approach to jazz music. It’s a great way to learn a new musical language. In regards to the natural trumpet, they have the opportunity to learn it at the high school level.

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

I have a clear idea about what I’m looking for. I need a mouthpiece that gives me good sound projection, with clear articulation all the way to the rear of a concert hall. I must feel comfortable on it. Flexibility and good intonation (not too sharp) are also the most important things when I’m choosing a mouthpiece.

For choosing a trumpet, I’m going to say the same. I don’t have any preference about the model. If I have a good feeling on it, I will purchase it. The instrument should be easy to play and should have very good intonation. In regards to the sound… that’s my job!

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

Be curious. Try new things all the time. Don’t just listen to trumpet music.

Performance anxiety

Have you ever had a bad experience on stage?

Of course! It’s happened a couple of time.

How should one take criticism?

I just take care in regards to positive criticism.

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?

My teacher, Pierre Thibaud, told us all the time — “you should know your trumpet concerti at 150% to be able to play it at 90% during an audition or exam.” A little bit of anxiety, I feel, is a good thing. To control it, I focus on my breathing and always staying positive.

Any advice on preparing for auditions?

Work hard! Try to play in a proper way (avoiding mistakes). Improve your concentration like an athlete would, especially during a competition. Try to visualize your performances. Don’t be afraid of using meditation or relaxation techniques. Try to work out at least three times a week. It’s good for your mind and body.

Musical preferences

What kind of music do you listen to?

I just listen to music when I’m driving my car, but never classical music! I listen to jazz, rhythm and blues, hard rock, heavy metal, and soul…

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

The music of Gustav Mahler.

Who is your favorite trumpet player?

Maurice André, of course!

What is your favorite piece for trumpet?

Bach’s Mass in B minor.

Sharing exercises with Trumpetland

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

Well, I would like share my “fitness” program I made for my students. There is nothing spectacular or new here, though. For this routine, I wanted to give priority on accuracy of the first attack, tonguing, phrasing, sound, flexibility, and stamina. It would be good to start this work on Monday and work on it until Friday. The weekend should be used as a rest or for playing some nice and short melodies.

  • Always work with a metronome.
  • Don’t try to play too loudly.
  • Keep a nice sound.
  • Avoid any mistakes. In the case mistakes are made, start again from the top of the exercise.
  • Take care about working with time and rests.
  • Use a timer.
    • Caruso: 6 notes @A@ (2’)
    • Rest (2’)
    • Exercises for the chops @B@ (5’) (Take the mouthpiece away from lips during rest! The first three exercises are without tongue!)
    • Rest (5’)
    • Single Tonguing @C@ (2’)
    • Rest (2’)
    • Double Tonguing @D@ (2’)
    • Rest (2’)
    • Triple Tonguing (2’)
    • Rest (2’)
    • Intervals @E@ (5’)
    • Rest (2’)
    • Flexibility @F@ (5’)
    • Rest (2’)
    • Scales @G@ (5’)
    • Rest (2’)
    • Stamina @H@ (5’)

If it’s too boring, you’ll have the possibility to change some exercises around — like chops, intervals, and flexibility. You can take some exercises from the Franquin book (chops), Arban (intervals), and Bai Lin, Irons or Colin (flexibility). Then, take one hour or more to rest! You’ll then be ready to do your work on studies, concertos, et al.

Free download:

Exercise by Philippe Litzler (PDF 139,8 KB) [Only Premium members]