Øystein Baadsvik is the only tuba player to have carved out a career exclusively as a soloist, rather than becoming a member of an orchestra or accepting a teaching post. His multi-faceted musical career as a soloist, chamber musician and recording artist has taken him all over the world. He studied under the celebrated tuba player Harvey Phillips, and with the legendary Arnold Jacobs.
(This interview was conducted in November 2010)
You started playing tuba at a late age, and have risen to become one of the world’s most renowned tuba soloists. Do you consider your success to be mostly based on talent, hard work, or sheer luck?
My attitude is that the harder you work, the luckier you become.
You play on the Miraphone EEb-383B “Starlight”. Could you tell us about the different tubas you have played over the years and why you have finally settled with this brand and model?
I started of on a Schenkenlars e-flat. I have no idea where it came from but it was a bad, beaten up horn provided by the small wind band I started in. Very soon after that I bought my own Yamaha YEB 321, a great little four valve e-flat.
I outgrew that one pretty soon and got a Hirsbrunner five valve E-flat. A very good horn that I made my two first CD’s on.
In 2001 I was approached by the Miraphone factory to help them design a new E-flat. After five years and six prototypes, the longest development process in the company’s history, we landed on two models – The Norwegian Star and the slightly slimmer Starlight that I play on right now.
The reason I play this horn is that it very, very well. They are obviously made to accommodate my sound and playing preferences. A clear and extremely consistent sound in the different registers, good intonation and a steady, easy to play low range.
Because Miraphone is one of the very few tuba makers that actually makes all parts in-house, they are able to maintain full control over their production as well as being able to make quick changes if necessary. They also have a consistent quality in the manufacturing, making it possible for me to pick up any of their stock instrument and play it like my own. As a matter of fact, sometimes when playing promotion concerts for Miraphone I don’t bring my own horn but simply play on the local exhibition horn.’
Tuba players in Singapore typically prefer CC tubas when purchasing an instrument and typically view BBb tubas as being inferior. What are your views on this?
This comes down to traditions. For instance, you would have a hard time getting a job in German, Swiss and Austrian orchestra if you used a C tuba. They prefer B-flats. My personal view on this is that if you put a good tuba player behind a screen and had him play excerpts on a selection of random C- and Bb – tubas, even the most experienced tuba players in the world would have a very hard time telling the difference. It is the same with similar shaped F and E-flat tubas.
Or to put it this way: It is a lot bigger difference between a good C tuba and bad C tuba than there is between a good C tuba and a good B-flat.
Tell us about your daily practice routine. Are there any particular exercises that you advocate for low brass players?
My most important advice is this: Don’t forget to maintain your breathing muscles. Full control over the abdominal muscles and the diaphragm is far more important to me than lip-control. Practice dynamics, accents, breath attacks and support. Far too many focus entirely on their lips and forget about the agility and power of the breathing apparatus. It is like a violin player ignoring the importance of right hand control. I have addressed this issue in my booklet “Daily exercises”.
Who do you consider to have been your main musical influences throughout your life?
Hard to point out a separate occasion or person since I always have been picking influences from all kinds of sources. I am listening to jazz, contemporary music, romantic, classical, baroque, pop and metal. You name it.
Are there any tuba recordings or CDs that you feel are a must-listen for young tuba players?
I believe that all tuba players should know about their heritage. Listen to the pioneers like the late Harvey Philips recordings. Roger Bobo, John Fletcher and Michael Lind also made milestones recordings. I also hope that I have contributed to the repertoire with my eight solo CD’s.
Most importantly, listen to different versions of the same work. That helps you realise how differently music can be interpreted and still work.
As the tuba is a very unconventional solo instrument, do you think that enough has been done to steer the public’s perception away from the tuba being solely an “oom-pah oom-pah” instrument compared to, say, 20 years ago?
Personally I have given up being a missionaire on behalf of the tuba. I play because I have a story to tell. Look at one of the latest worldwide Nike-ads: “If your son son starts playing the tuba, nobody wins!”. If a Hollywood movie maker wants to illustrate a fat, goofy and a bit of a slow guy they make him a tuba player. How many good concerts do we have to play to weigh up for such stereotypes? It is a losing battle.
When it comes to the tubas reputation in the classical music world there is more that can be done. First of all: play really good! Every time the public hear a good tuba solo concert, the general reputation of the tuba goes up. And vice versa. Every tuba player on the planet is representing every other tuba player.
You are probably most famous for your ground-breaking composition “Fnugg”, which was made famous on YouTube. Do you think that solo repertoire for tuba has become more accepted over the years?
Definitely. Personally I am constantly asked to do solo concerts with orchestras all over the world. They actually DO want to program tuba concertos like the Vaughan Williams, John Williams and newer material such as the Aho concerto and even more contemporary concertos . The key is that the tuba has a unique soloistic quality that no other instrument has. “Fnugg” is actually a good example. No other instrument can actually do that. I find that being unique is one of the keys to success in this business.
Speaking of YouTube, how much has technology, particularly the Internet, been a tool in developing your musical career?
The internet and Youtube is a very important tool in promoting music. Before internet, the communication was one to many. Big corporations distributing music and entertainment to many. Now, the communication is many to many. Everyone is free to broadcast to everyone.
This is a revolution for “niche” activities where you actually have a huge audience, read tuba players, but they are spread out all over the planet and not very dense. No broadcasting cooperation would go for this before internet, because the audience density was to low and the costs of distribution would have been to high compared to the possible outcome. With the internet this has all changed.
You have visited Singapore in the past to record a CD with the SSO. Can you tell us about your experience?
SSO was a very good orchestra to work with, with a lot of energy. I also liked the hall, the Esplanade. The CD that we made, the 20th Century Tuba concertos, was extremely well received amongst international reviewers.
On a personal note, the chili crab I had in Singapore was really delicious!
Any plans to visit Singapore again soon?
Not at the moment, but I would love to be back any time!
Any last words before we sign off this interview?
For the students that read this, make sure that you practice real hard and be disciplined, but also set aside time for a bit of fun each day. It could be playing pieces just for your own pleasure, fooling around with new playing techniques or maybe just improvising a bit.