Belgian trumpet soloist Jeroen Berwaerts combines immense technical prowess with beautiful sensitivity across a huge range of styles. His CV is extraordinary, boasting solo appearances with orchestras across the globe, teaching commitments in Hannover and London, as well as a really interesting relationship with Yamaha.
What first drew you to the trumpet? Who or what were your early musical influences?
My father was the key. He played euphonium in the hometown band and brought a trumpet home. He did teach me the first notes. About half a year later I had my first real teacher at a music school, he was a Horn player , very much focused on a nice round and warm sound, that sound idea never left me. I also switched to the cornet at the beginning years because that trumpet was too heavy for me.
You had significant success as a young soloist – at what point did you know that you wanted a career as a trumpet player?
I cannot remember that I ever wanted to become anything else in my life. After hearing and seeing a concert of the Philip Jones brass ensemble in Kerkrade (Holland) I told my father on the way home , that’s what I wanna do. I must have been around 9 or 10 years old.
Your early competition successes must have helped to open some doors for you? How did this success influence the pattern of your current working life?
I realize now that these competitions at young age, as well as concerts or performance situations, are the best base to have for security on stage later on. Due to the fact that I have always performed or competed, the stage as well as the challenge to conquer pieces feel very much like home for me.
You have received critical acclaim for your interpretations of many different musical styles – do you find it difficult to ’switch gear’ between them?
With the right equipment and the correct mindset it’s not really a problem. I find ‘variety’ one of the most beautiful sides of being a trumpet player.We can compare it with being a Decathlon athlete. It’s very challenging to switch between styles, instruments, including many different colors and moods, but it’s never boring 🙂
Do you have any regular practise routines that you use?
Oh yes, I have my favorites like Charles Colin lip flexibilities and vincent cichowicz. But also Caruso, Arban….. some of them are always around and some come and go 🙂 I like the balance between a secure feeling (what we now) and new challenges (the unknown). But most important for me, when I practice I probably sing about 50% of the time and play 50%. I see the trumpet as my own voice-extension.
Do these routines change a lot depending on what repertoire you are working on?
When I am working on a big program or physically demanding works (so practically all the time :-)), I try to never neglect the “sports” aspect of the job.The actual work I am doing is a combination between high-performance sports and musicianship. And yes, there are great routines to support different issues that come up depending on the works we play.
To what extent does your equipment need to change depending on what you are working on?
I have never been too much into trying out thousands of mouthpieces and trumpets, I need equipment that I trust, that’s it. The mouthpiece I play is a 30 year old 1,5c Bach. It’s so old that my friends at Yamaha have to change the head of the lead pipe when I am trying out there newest babies.
What key advice do you have for today’s young and aspiring trumpet players?
Practise, practise, practise ! And read the “ten rules for students and teachers” from John Cage.
Can you please talk a little about your relationship with Yamaha and how you have worked to develop the right instrument and mouthpiece combinations for you?
The most important thing for me, working with Thomas, Timo and Eddy is that they understand my language. Talking about sound is mostly very abstract and at that point you need a good understanding, that works great. Like I wrote before, I was never so much into changing material but last year, we worked on a Bflat and I have never played an instrument that good. It speaks as if I can just sing in it.
What are you currently working towards? Do you have any up and coming projects that you would like to talk about?
My personal challenges are a program in April where I will play Michael Haydn C-Major concerto in combination with a very demanding work by Viennese composer HK Gruber. And in May another challenging program together with Reinhold Friedrich where I will perform rather modern works by Hindemith, M.B.Watkins, Ligeti and Hosokawa.Before these events I’ll have the pleasure to be working with the brass sections of several nice orchestras in Germany, mostly in a “lead/play” function.
We will be performing (mostly streaming for now) original works for brass by Tomasi, Grieg, Britten, Henze and many other composers. Between these soloistic pleasures there is the red wire of education. As much as I love to perform and be on stage, it is always the greatest pleasure to work with my students in Hannover or to come to London to the RAM and work with our students there. I find education such a wonderful field, it’s demanding at one side but you are also able to learn so much yourself continuously. Maybe THE most meaningful profession.
We are living through difficult times in the midst of COVID-19 lockdowns across the globe. How has this affected your preparations and projects?
Of course there was a period where most concerts where cancelled but I tried to re-orientate immediately and see where the possibilities are. I am very grateful and lucky to not needing so much to be motivated. Trying to motivate others is actually the best motivation for me.
And of course being on the road so much it was a new and fantastic feeling to be home and in one place for such a long time, I forgot how that felt.