'You don't take your teacher's position in the orchestra just like that'

  • Graduate stories
Tubaisten Ane Travaille en Matthijs Leffers

Ane Travaille has been a tuba teacher at the Prince Claus Conservatoire (PCC) since 1987, a position he combined with a permanent position as a tubaist in the North Netherlands Orchestra (NNO). His successor? Former student and PCC graduate Matthijs Leffers.

Ane, what was Matthijs like as a student?
‘He started studying with me in 2013 and from day one he was very dedicated and passionate. A fellow teacher once moored his boat at a campsite in Friesland and he heard someone playing the tuba. That was Matthijs. When he started he was playing with the idea to do DJ-like stuff or composition. But soon he chose to dedicate is life to the tuba.'

Matthijs, what was Ane like as a teacher?
'Ane was very strict in the beginning: sit up straight, start every tone with attention. Later he also turned out to be a very inspiring teacher. I have studied with several teachers in Europe, but for me Ane is definitely one of the best. I got lucky because I had chosen to study in Groningen at the Prince Claus Conservatoire; I felt comfortable there and Ane was the teacher. I thought I'd still be able to look further and study with other teachers later in life. During my bachelor Ane recommended to do an Erasmus exchange programme with Jens Bjørn-Larsen in Hanover. That was really motivating and I obtained my master's degree in Hanover in 2020.'

Ane: 'I have been a tuba teacher since 1987. Two years earlier I started paying with the Northern Philharmonic Orchestra (the forerunner of the NNO). Being the main subject teacher for an instrument like the tuba is a small job, it takes about one day a week. My orchestra job at the NNO was much larger, but I really enjoyed the combination of being an orchestra member and a teacher. Students confront you with unexpected comments. That keeps you on your toes, they hold up a mirror and that benefits your playing in the orchestra. And as a tubaist, you don't play all the time during a performance. I was able to listen to a lot of good musicians and always tried to analyse why people were that good. After I turned sixty, I started thinking about quitting the NNO. I have seen colleagues who had a hard time at one point. It is still top sport and your flexibility decreases, your muscle tissue changes. Two years ago I decided: I'm still playing fine, this is my last season.'

Matthijs: 'At that time I had a job at the Royal Military Band Johan Willem Friso and I  sometimes substituted in the NNO. I remember Ane and I playing together in Richard Strauss's Eine Alpensynfonie and I thought: if I can still play like this at 63, I'll sign for it. There is very little room for tubaists, so you keep an eye on what's going on in the world. That's how I knew Ane was going to say goodbye. A job with a symphony orchestra is very much in demand. It's not like you take your teacher’s place. There are a lot of applicants for the job, they come from all over the world. One of them was a Finnish student, I studied with him in Hanover. He was a very strong competitor in my opinion. A total of forty tubaists applied, twenty of whom were allowed to audition. The first round is played in front of a trial playing committee of fifteen orchestra members who listen blindly.
I kind of see an audition as a match. I carefully plan in advance what I am going to do. After the first round, I went for a walk, that was part of my programme. A bird flying by dropped an unexpected present on my smart suit. When I called my mom, she said that would probably bring good luck and indeed: I got through the first round. I was totally euphoric, but I still had to face three strong competitors in the second round.'

Ane: 'You have to stand out from the other candidates, your playing has to do something. All fifteen committee members thought Matthijs was suitable for the position. They were unanimous in their opinion. That is exceptional, usually at getting 70% of the votes at an audition is outstanding.’

Matthijs: 'I really enjoyed my first year at the NNO. Living from rehearsal to rehearsal and from concert to concert. Of course, we perform in the North but in recent years we have also increasingly performed in the Randstad, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht. I am also substituting in other orchestras like the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, but I am extremely proud of my permanent place in the NNO. The NNO should be even more on people's radar, in The Netherlands and abroad. I would like to see that happen in the future.'

Ane:  'Last year Matthijs played in Mahler's Tenth, with many passages in which the tuba has a starring role. I regretted my departure from the NNO for a moment, I have never played that symphony myself. But I knew Matthijs would enjoy it as much as I would have.'

Matthijs, if you would succeed Ane as a teacher, the circle would be complete.
'I think teaching would be fun. I would definitely consider applying for Ane's teaching job at PCC if it would come to that. But I also realise that it entails a lot of responsibility.'

Ane: 'You only see a student for one hour a week. Everything depends on that hour. When you're young, you want to share all your knowledge and skills as soon as possible. A young teacher brings dynamics and energy. When you are bit older, you make more thorough choices based on your routine, you reflect more on what the student needs.’

This interview has been published in PL.Hanze, the magazine for staff members of Hanze UAS.
Text & photo by Luuk Steemers.