Remko de Jager is among the most influential Dutch musicians in European classical and contemporary brass music. He has studied the trombone with George Wiegel at the Rotterdam's Conservatorium. Since 1997, Remko has been a member of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra - tenor and bass trombone. He plays trombones by Adams Brass. Between 2000 and 2011 he was a teacher at the Codarts Conservatorium. Since 2011 he works at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, where he teaches tenor and bass trombone and methodic for brass. Remko de Jager is a member of the New Trombone Collective - the famous group has organised many Slide Factory Trombone Festivals. We are happy to start the second year of our Brass Stories online project with this special interview.
Mr de Jager, thank you for accepting our invitation. Please introduce yourself to our audience tempted by brass music.
My name is Remko de Jager and I'm 51 years old. I’m from the small village Heeg in Friesland (the north part of the Netherlands). I have a family: a wife and three daughters. I play in the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and I'm a teacher of trombone and methodology for brass at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam.
How did you choose the low brass for your professional career?
Actually, I was playing the trombone from 11 years old and after some years I realised that I had some talent for it and people started asking me to play with orchestras and ensembles. I liked so much the idea of studying the trombone at the conservatory and meeting people as crazy as myself about playing. At that time I did not yet think about a career, but just to do what I love.
When and why did you choose the trombone? As you know our NGO is deeply involved with this instrument.
Actually, the trombone chose me. I first played the euphonium, and joined the wind band of my town. The conductor asked me to play the trombone, because there were not enough players. My father encouraged me to try it. So I did. And never stopped anymore.
Tell us more about your education, the teachers that inspired you etc.
In the music school I had a few teachers who inspired and stimulated me: Tseard Verbeek and Jilt Jansma. Mr. Jansma encouraged me to study at the conservatory in Rotterdam, because there was a very good teacher: George Wiegel. I was accepted and got lessons from him. It was a great time, because Pierre Volders also started his studies at exactly the same moment. He was (as I hoped) as crazy as me about playing and studying. We became friends and we practiced a lot together and learned a lot from each other. Also some other students joined the class: Jörgen van Rijen, Alexander Verbeek, Nico Schippers and more good players. We had a great class. During the conservatory time we also had masterclasses from Bart van Lier (one of my big heroes). And we had some masterclasses from professor Victor Sumerkin (St. Petersburg) and Michel Becquet (in this period I got a lot of inspiration during an exchange with our trombone class with his class from Lyon.)
Let’s talk about the different aspects of your professional career as a chamber musician, low brass group member of Rotterdam Symphony orchestra and teacher at Amsterdam Conservatorium. Tell us more about the chamber ensembles you were playing in during your career till now.
Yes, I loved playing in chamber ensembles from when I was young. In the conservatory together with Pierre Volders we founded the Rotterdam Trombone Quartet. We were very serious and practiced a lot together and even recorded a CD which is still on Spotify. I also played in a brass quintet, which was an ambitious and inspiring group. When I joined the orchestra, there were some ensembles with my colleagues, like the Doelen Ensemble (contemporary music) and Domestica Rotterdam (different chamber music). And of course I’m in the New Trombone Collective, a group with friends who I met in the conservatory, like Jörgen van Rijen, Brandt Attema, Alexander Verbeek, Pierre Volders, Mark Boonstra, Nico Schippers.
“Trombonists, they're special people. Тhe trombone is an instrument you have to work hard on, and work on together.” I saw these words on the website of New Trombone Collective intro. Please share your experience as a member of this glorious ensemble.
That’s a long story ... When all of the classmates from the Conservatory got jobs in orchestras and ensembles in The Netherlands, we realised that we could not play together anymore as we were used to in the study time. We missed it so much that we decided to form the New Trombone Collective with the purpose of doing special projects. We recorded some CD’s and did a lot of special concerts, but the biggest project was Slide Factory, an international trombone festival we organised in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019. Through the years we had many, many great guests from all over the world. Playing in the NTC for me is always the most special feeling. When you play with friends, all with great playing skills, is the best feeling! Unfortunately time management is very difficult, especially with people with solo careers, teaching jobs, families etc. There are still a lot of ideas and plans but time is an issue ...
The Rotterdam Philharmonic is among the best in the world. Please share your experience as a member of the low brass group of this orchestra.
I came in the orchestra in 1997 and have had many nice experiences, conductors, tours, all over the world. Our trombone/tuba group has been together for 22 years with the same players: Pierre Volders/Alexander Verbeek, solo trombone, Remko de Jager, 2nd/bass trombone, Ben van Dijk Bass/contrabass trombone and Hendrik-Jan Renes, tuba. A great section of good colleagues/friends. Playing with this group was always great. We did not need a lot of talking to be able to play together. Everybody brought his own skills and flexibility. I now see a pattern throughout my career, also with this group, being serious about the quality of performing but also having a lot of fun together with the people I’m on stage with! Apart from the orchestra we have also played a lot of chamber music with this group. We had some programs such as: To the movies. To the musical, and more themes. We played in many small halls, embassies, etc around the world, sometimes on behalf of the orchestra. The best compliment we got always, is that the audience told us that it looked like we were having fun together. Since last year Ben van Dijk has retired and we have a new young colleague on bass trombone Rommert Groenhof, also an excellent player! With him joining us we can build again on a great new section.
How would you describe the most important features of the character of a classical / contemporary music performing artist nowadays?
I think it is important that you are open and interested in the ideas of the composers of the pieces you have to play. Whether they are 16th, 19th century or contemporary. Be open and interested in the ideas of the conductors and for your fellow musicians. All of this will inspire you and you can inspire them the same way. Always look for ways to make concerts more special. Using electronics/computers, lights etc. Also social media will get more important and maybe online concert variations.
Tell us more about your teacher’s career. When you decide to start it and why?
At first I thought I was not going to be a teacher, but as I always tell my students now: when you are good at something, people start asking you how you do it, and then you get the question to teach other people. I think teaching is something which you only learn by doing it, and getting more experienced. I started teaching with some wind-bands. Later Pierre and Jorgen van Rijen asked me to join them in Codarts Conservatorium in 2000. We had a great system with the three of us doing something we call “team teaching”, which means our students have their regular lesson times, but the teachers are changing. This way the students work towards their goals, but with slightly different approaches or ideas from every teacher. And they have more coaching/contact moments during the week than one teacher could give. So we are stronger as a team than alone. We think it's a great system and the results of our students tell us that it works. In 2011 we moved our class and now are working in the Conservatorium van Amsterdam.
Today's education in classical music especially in brass is a very specific subject - even more after the COVID lockdown years. What are your observations, what the young musicians need to achieve in the first place?
I don't think many things have changed concerning being able to perform at a high level. Many things have changed, but music and quality are still the same. Basic principles of playing, intonation, sound, rhythm, understanding of styles, cultures are as important as they used to be.
What I see is that musicians who are doing some specific things right, are successful with (youth) orchestras, ensembles, auditions, competitions etc. Especially for brass, I think that it's quite important to be an easy going person, because most of your work is in a small community/group, with a lot of the same people. And don’t sit down at home waiting for somebody to call you to play somewhere, but make sure you organise things yourself. Start a trombone quartet, or brass ensemble. Make arrangements for it, call churches or concert halls to ask if you can play a lunch concert. And go to as many as possible cultural events.
How would you describe the brass music teacher today?
This is an easy question, but the answer I could write a book about. I think it is important that brass teachers are focused on music. Know the styles of the music you are playing. My goal is always to make people forget that I’m playing a brass instrument. We should strive to master the instrument, so that music comes out without stereotypical brass habits. Of course, we need to teach the students everything we know about all the technical aspects of playing. They should know, but more important, know how to use the technique to make the music sound logical and musical.
At the beginning of November 2022 you were our guest teacher at the International Master class for trombone and brass ensembles we held in Sofia. Please share your observations and impressions of this visit - both the educational process and the final concert.
First of all I was honoured to have the invitation to do this very well organised master class! It was a good experience for me, and as from every experience you have some confirmations and learnings. With Emil-George Atanassov we prepared a nice program for the ensembles to play in the final concert. We wanted to play a duet together and I would play a small soloistic part. And we would invite some participants of the masterclass to perform their piece in the concert.
First I heard all the students individually, there were many different levels and with each student we have worked on the most obvious problem. After those lessons we worked very hard with the group of students toward the concert. During the process everybody had learned a lot of my priority basic principles: playing together, listening to your colleagues, watching the conductor, blending your sounds, playing in balance ,etc. I was very happy with the major result in the final concert. Everybody showed responsibility and gave all they had!
The future of trombone and brass music in the next 10 - 20 years? What is your opinion?
I think the future of trombone and brass is connected with how important governments think about culture and (classical) music in general. I also believe in quality: if you show quality, this will attract and inspire. From my point of view: I teach in Amsterdam. We have a great trombone class where young ambitious players from all over the world come to learn and make a career. We are quite successful and I know there are quite a few similar hotspots in Europe (Hannover, Bern, Oslo, Berlin) and the world (Juilliard). Some of the students go back to their countries and start a trombone class as an example of what they have experienced. I have already noticed what happens when people are passionate about something. If you work hard and you have fun, it is inspiring for others in any field. Work hard and follow your path, some of us are fantastic at organising, some are very creative: join forces and go!
The BRASS STORIES Project is supported by the
National Fund of Culture of Republic of Bulgaria
4 December, 2023
3 September, 2023