6 Pieces of advice for horn players from Radovan Vlatkovic

Nov 04, 2015

Some days ago we posted on our Facebook page a funny photo with different things that are going on in a horn player’s brain. Our horn community (which, to be honest had been a bit silent lately), got fired up and shared their comments with us. So, we thought that we should support all the horn players, with a blog post about the experience and advice from one of today's  greatest horn players and teachers - Radovan Vlatkovic. Radovan has an impressive experience playing the horn and he is regarded probably as the greatest living horn soloist. He has tried it all: playing 4th and principal horn in an orchestra, playing loads of chamber music being a soloist and also a sought after teacher. You can find the full FREE interview here.


1.How do you deal with stress while playing in an orchestra?

Well I started playing rather young, and what I found difficult was to concentrate through this long program because 90 minutes of music is more than the typical short recital program that you would have done before your exam or so ...That was one thing I found difficult in the first year or two. The other thing was to maintain the level. Some concerts that I was happy about, I would try to prepare the  program as early as possible, but I would get very frustrated when I was let down by myself….maybe lack of concentration or something that I didn’t understand and that was unsettling...  

2.Tell us a bit about all these different roles you have had in you musical career.

When I look back at my training and when I visit some of the schools I have been invited to, I see that the education was pretty much solo oriented...so me and my teacher didn’t spend too much time on orchestral studies, so when I got into the orchestra, I knew my orchestral studies more or less, but there were things that I had to learn there, whereas chamber music I have probably done more and it felt more natural slipping into that world and for the solo stuff….the opportunities started coming up and I gained  more experience playing Mozart and Strauss concertos…. But I found it difficult when I was leaving the orchestra and jumping from one role to another, simply because of the way of playing, the style, hours and hours of rehearsals and then going into a more elegant role as a soloist in a Mozart concerto. I am not saying that the orchestra is more difficult, it’s just different in styles of playing.  

3. On what kind of instrument are you playing?

At the beginning I had this funny mellophone, then I played a Czech instrument and I spent 5 years playing on that. After that, my teacher told me that in Slovenia they were selling  selmer instruments and this was a compensating double horn, a french instrument you don’t see very much around, but it was a beautiful instrument. It was easy to play  legato on it and high range because of the shape of the mouth piece. Then, when I got to Germany, my professor thought it was interesting and he didn’t change immediately, but when I got to Berlin to play my first concert, my colleague told me I don’t have that much of a chance if I don’t change the equipment, so I started to play a full double horn and he lent me his paxman double horn.  When I started playing in the orchestra I did buy a double horn from London and I have been with it ever since for almost 30 years.  But, I think I need to change it and I have already started experimenting to find a new favorite horn.  

4. What about your mouthpiece?

It’s also from the early 80s, so it’s also pretty old. One thing is that in Yugoslavia we didn’t have a big choice, you had to play on what you had. But, when I bought the English horn, my old mouth piece didn’t fit, so I was in search for a new one for a while….  After one year of playing in the orchestra I think  I got a little bit more strength and I was able to work with a bit more air and this one suited me to have a more open mouthpiece.  It is not terribly easy to play loud, but I like the sound of it so I got stuck to it, I didn’t experiment, maybe I should have. I do change the mouthpiece sometimes when there is extremely high stuff to play. It’s a shallow cup mouthpiece that comes closer to a trumpet mouthpiece. Basically, I don’t change my equipment very much, maybe I would be interested in looking into single horn and maybe b flat horn. Usually, I advise my students to make the best out of the equipment they already have and when you absolutely feel that you have reached the limit, then  this is something that needs to be judged together with your teacher or colleagues to discover what fits and what doesn’t.  


5. What is your opinion on sound?

I think that it’s about relaxation and also your sound changes with age and probably with your weight as well. So, as a young man to try and imitate the sound of somebody who has been working in an orchestra for 20 or 30 years  it’s probably not a right thing, it’s like a young base trying to color his voice to appear bigger or older or more mature. I think it’s a natural process so I try to tell my students just to stick to their sound and make the most of it. You can imitate what you like, but you should accept your sound, with articulation with stylish playing and so on  and finding eventually your personal style. It’s something that comes with time and you have to be very patient and basically this search never ends.  

6. Can you give some advice to the students who don’t have access to great teachers?

Getting as much information is always a good start. I think there are programs in our school in Madrid, we also have a program with scholarships, so actually I have had some students from abroad and there are also foundations which help young musicians. But, if you persevere and if it’s something that you are passionate about then I think you should keep on going. I think it’s about making the best of your surroundings and being open. I think there is talent all over the place as long as you stay in touch and believe in your dream.  

Remember, if you have any other questions for Radovan Vlatkovic, leave us  a comment and  we can get in contact with him.


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