Principal Trumpet with Sinfonieorchester Basel since 2009 having previously held the same post at La Scala, Immanuel Richter has built a reputation for both versatility and virtuosity. He talks to me here about all things trumpet!…
What got you started playing the trumpet?
In my little village in the east of Switzerland, there was a trumpet teacher who formed a trumpet ensemble, consisting of at least 20 trumpet players of all levels. They performed sometimes in the church or at some local concerts – I wanted to be part of it. So my Mum contacted the trumpet teacher and I got my first trumpet lessons with him and was a member of his trumpet ensemble quite soon. I started at the age of 7 and took lessons with him for ten years in a row. My early musical influences were for sure the LP’s of my father. He was no musician, nor my mother, but my father was very fond of classical music. So he had some old recordings of Beethoven Violin concerto (with Wolfgang Schneiderhahn), all the Tschaikowsky Symphonies with Karajan and Berlin Phil and some more, not very much, but very precious. And he always said, that if I want to listen to them, I have to sit on the sofa, keep quite and listen carefully. It was like a holy act to put the record on, and than we both listened to the whole piece in silence. It was a very special moment I remember very well. On the trumpet I was very much attracted by Maurice André, I had almost all his recordings (still have them!) and was a real fan of him. When he played in Zurich or somewhere else in Switzerland, I was in the public.
What styles and genres of music were you into as a child?
At the beginning I listened to almost nothing else other than classical music. From Baroque to Tomasi and Jolivet, but I was not attracted very much by the music that most of my classmates were listening to. Growing up I enjoyed – beside the classical music – also very much some pop-legends like Elton John, Joe Cocker, Rod Steward, Barbara Streisand etc. and I still do… My interest for Jazz music has never been very big, but in the last 15 years, due to my dear friend and colleague in the Basel Symphony Orchestra Marc Ullrich (a outstanding trumpet player both in jazz and classical music), my interest in Jazz increased step by step.
And now? Who are your biggest influences?
Today I take my inspiration mostly not from brass players, but from my “spiritual mentors“ like Andras Schiff, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Claudio Abbado etc. I listen to a lot of youtube-masterclasses (almost every day…), also violin-masterclasses for example with Augustin Hadelich, and I get so many good ideas out of it, ideas, that are very useful to my trumpet playing and my music-making in general. I often think like a violin-player when I play the trumpet. On the violin, all the technical aspects are so visible, which helps to adapt it on the trumpet, whereas most of the technical aspects of trumpet playing are internal (breathing, tongue, throat etc.). And Andras Schiff is just a big source of inspiration, and his huge and profound knowledge about so many different styles (Bach, Schubert, Schumann, Bartok etc.) is just incredible and so fascinating. I adore him.
When did you realise that you wanted to play the trumpet for a career?
I think it was during grammar school, so maybe between 13 and 17. I always played the piano and the trumpet, but in this period I discovered that my potential for the trumpet was bigger and that playing in a big orchestra would be my dream-job.
Do you have set, regular practice routines that work for you? Do these play a big part when you are teaching too?
This is a large topic. But shortly: my warm-ups are almost the same, every day. And always on the same trumpet. Then, the days can be very different, depending on what the schedule is. In general I try to work always with a good plan, so that I know precisely, what I’m going to to and also why. I divide my working day in 4 parts: first part is always like a concert. Playing through some pieces without interrupting, in order to work on the “concert mode“. Second part are the corrections of the first part. 3rd part is devoted to the new pieces I have/want to learn and on the 4th part, I focus on basic technique but I do these “technical drills“ like scales, arpeggios etc. always in relation to the pieces I have to play. So I invent my own exercises for the pieces. I do not play proper Clarke or proper Arban any more, but I take their ideas and adapt them to the music I have to play. And as I got some good results with this working plan for myself I share these ideas also with my students.
What advice can you offer to aspiring young players, just hopefully starting out on a professional career?
Keep working, be honest to others and especially to yourself and always try to enjoy what you are doing.
Can you talk a little about the your relationship with Frate Precision and the process of selecting your mouthpieces?
I met Dario first time in Italy during a masterclass I gave at the Milan conservatory. It was actually my dear friend Massimo Longhi (principal trumpet in Verona) who introduced me to him. I tried some of his mouthpieces in Milan and the first feeling was so good that instantly I took one mouthpiece of his big selection at home. Later on I invited Dario to Lucerne to make a little seminar about mouthpieces with my trumpet class at the Musikhochschule in Luzern. And as usually I tried other types and finally I have now quite a number of Frate mouthpieces where I really feel comfortable with. I think the mouthpiece is the most personal part of the material (much more important than the trumpet itself). So what is good for me can be very bad for an other player and vice versa. I choose a mouthpiece according to different aspects, but the most important for me are: response, sound, intonation, range. I play different types of mouthpieces, not only Frate, but for example my last CD with music for piccolo trumpet (“at the peak“, you find it on Spotify) I played all the pieces with the same Frate mouthpiece. I never was so comfortable on Piccolo before I discovered this mouthpiece. Thanks Dario!!!
How has the COVID lockdown affected you and your work? Have there been any positives that you can take at all from this?
Well, I must confess that I really enjoyed this time. For sure it’s hard, that there were no concerts at all, no public etc. But I’m already 46 years old, I played a lot of concerts, so for me this time was much more like a gift. It was a sabbatical, where I could enjoy my big familiy. It was so great to stay with my wife and the 4 children, to have time to spend together, to do things we could not do before etc. The same is true for my trumpet playing. I had so much time that I could focus much more on the music, on the trumpet. And at the end, I decided to record some of the music I was practicing during lockdown for youtube. In June, I recorded 14 different pieces, in 11 hours on 3 days, all played from memory. It was like to run a marathon on the trumpet and I wanted to find out if I can do it. Now I’m quite happy with the result and you can find it on YouTube on my personal channel, if you are interested.
What are your plans and ambitions for the future?
I’m always driven to become a better trumpet player, a better musician, a better teacher. I hope that this internal energy will never end. The more I learn the more I have the feeling there’s even more to learn. And I hope this experience will last for ever because it keeps me alive, young and fresh, despite of all the inconveniences live may bring to me in the future.
You may also be interested to read this article about Frate Precision orchestral mouthpieces
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