The opportunities of exchange of classical and contemporary musicians from around the world are among the most interesting aspects of the 21st century’s globalisation. It's a little bit sad that our BG colleagues often forget that this is an exchange in both directions. Since 2018 the opera’s and philharmonic orchestras in Bulgaria welcome musicians from around Europe and Americas. An inspiring process that leads to new acquaintanceship, ideas and influences. And most important - it's raising the professional level of our nowadays orchestras. The first 2024 Brass Stories foreign guest is a trombone player who chose to gain experience in the Vratsa Symphony orchestra. I met him first in November 2022 during the Brass Perspectives Masterclass of Remko de Jager in Sofia. 12 months later the editorial team decided that Jorge Nieto can be a valuable interlocutor for our Brass Stories project. And here we are …
Thank you for accepting this invitation, Jorge. Please introduce yourself to our audience tempted by brass music.
Thanks a lot for the invitation to participate in this interview. Jorge Felipe Nieto is a musician and a fitness instructor who is working physically and mentally everyday to be and to give the best of himself.
How did the trombone come into your life?
When I was 7 years old, a friend of my parents who worked at the administration office of the elementary conservatory in Zamora, my hometown, offered them a small tour around the building in order to show me all the instruments there. From the first moment I saw the trombone, I don't know if it was the slide or the shiny colour of the bell, but I pulled the sleeve of my dad's shirt and said to him "This is the one I want to play!"
When did you decide to choose the professional brass career?
I was always encouraged to be a professional musician by the conductor of my hometown's windband, not just me but the whole group of my young colleagues too. He did a great job sharing his passion about music with us and other students' generations as well. Nowadays some of us are playing in professional orchestras like the Orchestra of the Radio of Munich (BDR) in Germany, the Orchestra of Alicante (ADDA) in Spain or me - in Vratsa Symphony Orchestra (VSO) in Bulgaria. 🙂 But if there was a moment in my life that really helped me to decide about the music in my future, it was the International Trombone Festival in 2014 celebrated in Valencia (Spain). There were 3 days full of trombone: masterclasses, group lessons, concerts... I was so happy to meet and to finally listen to my heroes live! Especially the Dutch trombone players of New Trombone Collective and International Trombone Ensemble. I was so impressed by these musicians that after the festival I decided that I wanted to study with them. 12 months later I had gotten an Erasmus grant for the next academic year to study in the Netherlands where I did bachelor's and master's degrees.
Tell us more about your teachers, schools, masterclasses experience?
I started my professional music education in Asturias in the North of Spain. I have nice memories from that time, especially after my final recital exam, where the jury gave me the chance to compete against the rest of the instruments like piano, violin... in "Angel Muñíz Toca” musical contest. This is the final competition just for graduates who have an excellent final recital. That performance marked my life, not just because of the emotional part of the playing, but also because I was the first brass player to be awarded in that competition in its entire history. I could not imagine closing that period in any better way.
My time in the Netherlands was so inspiring. I studied under the guidance of Bart Claessens - principal trombone of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. The opportunity of being in the centre of Europe surrounded by great musicians and an environment filled with classical music was a perfect combination. But my whole musical path as a student was actually very hard for me. I was not a talented child to play music, so when I decided to be a professional musician, I spent a huge amount of hours and hours practising on this "piece of metal" we call trombone. During my whole life as a music student I have always been "the worst" everywhere. As I told you, I had no talent, just a hardworking spirit. Even when I arrived in Maastricht after winning that competition in my country, I was still one of the worst or at least I felt like that. But if you are always the worst, you have no limits, always have a lot of things to learn or to improve, and a lot of colleagues around to be inspired by or to practise with. But only if you are willing to work really hard.
My schedule was not very different everyday. I used to be at the Conservatory at 8AM, the whole day practising and come back home around 8PM. It was a thought period but it gave me a lot of experience too. For example now I know I do not need to spend so many hours of my practice session to get the results I want. For sure I am still giving my best, because if there's something my teacher Bart taught me very well besides his music experience and knowledge, this is to give the best I can whatever I do. Тhis kind of mindset is related to the whole Dutch country, how they do and organise the things ... You can see it especially in the music field, how they think, practice and play; their sound concept or how they fit in their role when they are playing in a group. After 7 years living there, that is the philosophy I use now in my life, and at the same time I am keeping in mind the importance of consistency of daily work and practice.
I suppose you visited a lot of masterclasses during your life in Maastricht including Remko de Jager’s one - his masterclass here was the reason we met.
I have participated in almost every masterclass that was happening in the Netherlands or Belgium during my time there. Remko remembered me from the last one I attended, it was organised in Adams Music Factory in Ittervoort/Thorn (Eindhoven) for the New Trombone Collective in May 2022; but I remember him from the very first masterclass I attended there in 2016, where I crossed the whole country for 10 minutes lesson from him and 10 minutes from Jeffrey Kant - principal trombone of West Deutsche Radio Orchestra, WDR. I love the opportunity that masterclasses represent, and I am not just talking about the individual lessons, but the whole day-activity. Like being there listening to the lessons of other fellows, being inspired by the teacher, listening to his sound, taking new ideas to implement in my routine/technique... and of course learning directly from any top player; it is a perfect environment for learning. I think that if you really want something, you have to go for it especially in music but you can apply this to anything you do in your life. In my opinion it is better to give everything you have 100% and see the results you get. This does not give you any guarantee that you are going to achieve your goal, but for sure you are going to be closer to it, and that "prize" you get back after all the effort, I think, is much more rewarding than if you just go in with 65% of your potential.
The musicians who inspire you?
I have many names of great musicians that really inspire me, some of them that come to my mind now are Liya Petrova, Robert Lakatos, Boris Belkin or Tabea Zimmerman - all string players! In my opinion as brass players we all have a long way to improve, we must take a moment to listen to some great string players. But being more related to the brass family, my favourite brass player is, without any doubt, Katy Woolley - principal horn of the Royal Concertgebouw. I have never met anyone talking about music with that passion! But also her ideas, the way she thinks of the phrases of a piece or an excerpt, her sound concept and her approach to the technique... For me she is amazing, always putting the music first.
Of course there are many top trombone players that really inspire me. If I would have top 5 trombonist list it will be: Bart Claessens (principal RCO), Martin Schippers (tenor/bass RCO), Nitzan Haroz (principal Philadelphia), Achilles Liarmakopoulos (Canadian Brass) and Jesper Sorensen (2nd Berliner Phil). It is not a fixed list and it depends on my mood or the day...
The world is full of many great players. Lately I've been inspired by my own colleagues from the orchestra, with their energy, preparation, posture, with their music. This is the best kind of inspiration because it is going to be always there. It doesn't matter how I feel this day or that day at work, I can always take a look around and feel how my aim rises up being surrounded by all these amazing musicians.
How did your professional career lead you to the Vratsa Symphony orchestra?
After I finished my masters, I started to apply to professional orchestra's auditions because it is what I wanted to do as a job. The reason is simple: to have a chance to play together with your colleagues this wonderful and great music is amazing. But there is something nobody is teaching you during the master or any other musical studies, and this is to prepare yourself to receive a "NO" for answer. Actually that was something I had to learn by myself. I did many auditions and in a few of them I was even able to reach the final round, but I never got the position. I was getting into a negative circle of doubts about my qualities and my level until the moment I received the invitation to go to Vratsa. At that time I was also preparing for the final round for Shanghai Symphony Orchestra - an audition that I cancelled immediately after I passed the trial period in Vratsa. I felt extremely happy not just for the pleasure that is to work in that symphony orchestra or the nice ambience between the colleagues, but because those good news gave me back something I thought I had lost: the confidence in myself during playing and my inner qualities as a musician.
Let’s talk about your music predilections in contemporary and classical music, favourite composers etc ...
I am a huge fan of symphonic concerts, especially with huge repertoire on them, something big like Mahler’s symphonies or pieces like Ein Heldenleben, Also Spacht Zarathustra by Strauss. But I also love the atmosphere created by Ravel or Debussy - I think that is such great music. Also I like a lot of the masterworks from composers like Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff or Borodin. But if I have a special preference for a specific composer, this is Anton Bruckner. His symphonies are a huge sample of a magnificent music architecture.
Regarding contemporary music, I have played some pieces in the past for solo trombone and chamber music groups, and still now in the orchestra we perform music styles especially from Bulgarian composers. I like and enjoy some of these pieces but the ones I like more are those I know some background about them - the story of the piece or the composer. I think this kind of context's explanation about the music is the key to attract more audiences to the contemporary music field.
The Bulgarian music scene through your eyes?
During my first tour with the Vratsa Symphony Orchestra, I was so surprised about the beautifulness of this country. This incredible view of virgin landscapes full of nature everywhere... I have never seen anything like that, not even in my region in Spain that is very similar to the Balkans' geography. Every time we go on tour through the mountains, I am still fascinated by these views. Connecting this with the question you asked me, I have the same point of view about the musicians from here: I see a country with a lot of potential, full of new opportunities and people who have grown within this amazing "folk/popular" music that gives to them new tools to implement to the world of classical music (rhythms, scales etc.). Let me remark how great music culture you all have here in Bulgaria. From the very beginning I started to play with the orchestra I listened to and played its folk/popular music. I fell in love with it, the names of composers like Georgi Andreev will always be with me.
As a comparison to other countries, if you take a look at the Netherlands, everything there is very predictable or already "made". The margin to improve something is very little and it is quite hard to do new things outside of the ones that are already happening there. In my country this situation has both sides together. In the southern-east part (Cataluña, Valencia, Andalucía) everything is quite settled. They have well-known musicians that take most of the art spectrum in concerts, festivals, performances... But in my region the situation is more similar to Bulgaria: A region with potential, where a person (like me) is more than happy to share his knowledge, put people in contact and transmit his experience helping to build something bigger in music.
Your opinion about the 21st century’s digitalisation influence on music?
This is a nice question, because last October 2023 I started an online channel for brass players in my native language (Spanish). The name of it is Brassmeets and it can be found on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. On it, I talk about technical aspects and how to improve them, some interviews with top brass musicians, and technical exercises in play along mode I upload weekly. Coming back to your question, the purpose I started this channel was because I was seeing on social media people just "showing the perfect result", when this is actually a very small percentage of our musician path and it creates a lot of frustration on the target audience always listening to perfect things. The musicians are mostly alone, practising and fighting against our mind and thoughts and this does not appear on social media at all! So that is why I wanted to show the other side of the coin, normalise those kinds of thoughts, help and motivate people who could be in a similar situation as I was years before.
In my opinion the digitalisation has brought a tone of positive things to the musicians' life, especially for the students. When I was a child, I had to record trombone's CD from Christian Lindberg or Joseph Alessi if I wanted to listen to them because there was not any store that sold those CDs around. Nowadays you write on YouTube your favourite musicians' name and some videos are going to pop-up. Or you can name a piece of any composer in Spotify and you could choose from which orchestra's version you wanna listen to and everything has free access! But it is not everything great, we are very dependent on it and this is just a negative aspect that comes to my mind. We spend much more time watching and scrolling screens without any goal, just for fun. So if you know how to use it and what you wanna do, it is a great tool that has changed our lives.
The future of contemporary and classical music?
I think that music in general is facing a complicated social situation. I am trying to learn about economics and international politics because I like these topics. But as more I know about those, I am being less and less positive about the social drift of fast consumption. Furthermore, I believe that the government (in general) is taking the easy option of subsidising the institutions instead of investing part of that in a real education's program that promotes culture and the dissemination of this music among the new generations. This will depend on extra work from the orchestras and conservatories to show themselves more and more in order to engage the audience by giving them the great experience of a concert while listening to our wonderful music.
And at the end my favourite blitz - 7 questions with very short answers:
Your favourite time of the day?
I’m a morning person - always with a cup of coffee!
Favourite children's book character?
Comics "Mortadelo & Filemón", created by Francisco Ibáñez.
For orchestra Daniele Gatti, no doubt.
For windband Txemi Etxebarría with his special energy.
The hall where you would like to play someday?
I had played there already a few times: the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.
The place where you feel you belong to?
After so many years out of my country, I feel like a Central-European person.
The planet you would like to visit?
Saturn. I’m still fascinated by its rings.
The best feature of humans in one word?
Thank you for this fascinating interview, Jorge!
Thanks a lot to you, Kristina, to professor Karafezliev and the Brass Perspectives Association for the invitation. It was such a pleasure for me, I hope this shows a bit more of myself and it might inspire someone to always give their best! Looking forward to future collaborations!
The BRASS STORIES Project is supported by the
National Culture Fund of Republic of Bulgaria
4 December, 2023