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Interview with violinist Tobias Staub

05 juni 2020

Our Swiss Goal in Practice – Masterclasses

The first encounter of the Swiss Friends of the Concertgebouworkest with violinist Tobias Staub was in Lucerne, at the masterclasses of 2018. In 2019, he played again twice for us, at the AGM in Zürich and the 'Checkers & Music' event in Lucerne. On that occasion, we asked if he wanted to contribute to an article for our website. Tobias said yes, and since then, there have been various contacts. 

Why an article about a music student who attended our masterclasses? In the first place because this is part of our goal in Switzerland: support young Swiss talents to participate in masterclasses under the guidance of members of the Concertgebouworkest. On the other hand, who are these young musicians, why did they choose music as a career, what are their primary goals, what fascinates them about the Concertgebouworkest? Here is a young musician who gives us an insight into the development of someone at the start of his musical career. Isn’t it a privilege to contribute to this? 

Tobias Staub received his first violin lessons at the age of five and was admitted to the prestigious youth string orchestra ‘Ministrings Luzern’ at the age of 10. From 2016 to 2019, he was Concertmaster of the Zürich Youth Symphony Orchestra and has participated in various orchestras, including the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonia Salzburg. In the summer of 2019, he completed his BA at the Lucerne School of Music and is currently completing his MA at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. Additionally, Tobias participated early on in solo competitions and chamber music competition. He regularly attends masterclasses and performs on average 60 times a year as a soloist, chamber musician, or in an orchestra. How does he portray himself? Tobias: ‘I am a musician characterized by instinct and expertise for the music of different eras and styles, and thrilled with passion and finesse.’

Patron Mr. Bernard Haitink, Honorary Conductor Concertgebouworkest (foto: Todd Rosenberg)
Source of inspiration for Tobias Staub, our Patron Mr. Bernard Haitink, Honorary COnductor  (Foto: Todd Rosenberg)
Why did you choose music as a career?

‘As a child, we almost exclusively heard classical music at home, which already evoked my enthusiasm in those days. Even as a teenager, I liked classical music a lot, though in my free time I mostly listened to other music like Linkin Park. To this day, the band is indeed one of my greatest inspirations. I did not realize how essential the violin and classical music are until later when I invested more and more time in it. From the first spark of an ‘adult’ love of music and the decision shortly afterward that I wanted to make music into my life, this love has only grown. I realized that this was something in which I wanted to invest everything. Music has the power to do something that hardly anything else can do. Especially in difficult times of controversy and restlessness, it is crucial to me that people are reminded by art, in my case, music, of their humanity. I want to share this with as many people as possible, but I have to deal with it for a long time to get it right. Non-precisely expressed music is like a brilliantly designed novel with grammatical errors or a poor writing style: it would sound powerless and distorted.’

What are your primary goals?

‘Early on, making music in an orchestra took on a significant role for me. I think it represents one of the most appealing challenges as a musician and as a person. To unite as a collective to create something greater is an incomparable experience that helps me going forward in various ways. I want to continue this, in smaller formations as well as in a symphony orchestra. Also, I think orchestral playing at the highest level, thanks to incredible synergy and precision, has striking similarities with the way you find it in chamber music. Not only recognizing this in world-class orchestras but being part of it is ambitious, nevertheless one of my primary goals. Secondly, I have set myself the goal of teaching. It offers the opportunity to pass on incredibly valuable information, to focus on intensively working with different people over the years, and to accompany them on their way. I have already noticed how much self-reflection and critical thinking are needed to teach. Also, that these skills develop even if you spontaneously give tips to a colleague in a room. It requires a lot of subtlety and never becomes monotonous or repetitive if you remain precise and reflective as a teacher. I always want to pursue what is meaningful to me. The two goals mentioned are a big part of it, but I also want to be open to new challenges that meet the same criteria. I believe it always remains our own choice as to whether work becomes boring. Thus, it is of the utmost importance that we continuously keep our eyes open and have a broad interest.’

What fascinates you about the Concergebouworkest?

‘In September 2018, I had the opportunity for the first time to experience the Concertgebouworkest live in the concert hall. It was suited that the orchestra performed one of my favorite symphonies, Mahler's Ninth. It was an impressive example of great finesse and an exceptional understanding of the work. Not least thanks to Maestro Haitink, a red thread has been artfully drawn through a complex work. On the morning of the same day, I also had the unique opportunity to play for four of the orchestra's musicians. They came to the Lucerne Conservatory and listened attentively to my fellow students and me and gave us helpful and above all relevant feedback, from which I still benefit today. They approached us on a musical and personal level, which provided a pleasant but respectful tone, and a friendly atmosphere. For musicians of this caliber, this must by no means taken for granted.’

What are your favorable memories related to music?

‘The majority of my most formative musical memories come from orchestral music, both as a performing musician and as a listener. Many have emerged in my position as a concertmaster. On the one hand, I can act creatively and play an active role, while on the other, I can admire the emergence of something unique amid music. My first real symphony orchestra project with Brahms Fourth is also one of my fondest moments, where I was able to experience for the first time the structure of a symphony orchestra in such a rich symphony. In the audience, I experienced countless moments, hearing a concert for the first is already incredible for me. The fact that I first heard great works such as the C major String Quintet by Schubert or Tchaikovsky's Fourth in a concert hall turned out to be a significant educational gap on my part, but also a great stroke of luck.’

What is the future of classical music in general for you?

‘I would estimate that it will remain at least equally accepted and supported over the next decade. But I also see enormous potential, for example, many people around me who hardly listen to classical music, but have a positive attitude, do not know why they hear so little about it. To get access should be facilitated in several ways, many of which are already being introduced with considerable success. But there are many more options for classical instruments to be used more widely. In my opinion, pop has stagnated strongly in recent years. I do not necessarily mean this in the qualitative sense, but that hardly any development takes place. If a radical change does not occur soon, there will be opportunities to attract part of this audience. Offer them music that adopts elements from both styles. The overwhelming success of Lindsey Stirling is a clear example of this, even though it is technically not very well developed from the perspective of classical musicians. I can hardly imagine that works that have been worshiped for centuries will ever lose their appeal.’

By Tobias Staub, author, and Jaap Verbeek, editor