Jörgen van Rijen (Principal Trombone) spoke with Dale and Jamie from The Eighth Position in advance of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s Australian tour in November 2013
What was the musical journey you took before winning your current position with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO)?
I started to play as a young kid in my local wind band when I was about 8 years old. I was lucky to get a great teacher from the very beginning (Bas Dekker, principal of the Rotterdam Philharmonic) who encouraged my enthusiasm for music and the trombone. When I was 14 years old I took a test lesson with George Wiegel at the Rotterdam Conservatory and from that moment studied with him in the preparation class and later for what would now would be called Bachelor and Master degrees. I also went to study with Michel Becquet in France as an exchange student, and when I was 21 won the position of principal trombone with the Rotterdam Philharmonic. After half a year, I moved to the same position in the RCO.
The RCO was recently crowned the world’s greatest orchestra by Gramophone magazine. What is life like as a permanent member of the RCO?
There are many great orchestras in the world and it is very difficult to say which one is the greatest. In my opinion it is not possible to judge that, but it is our task to play as beautifully as possible every day, and of course it is great to get recognition for that from the public and press like Gramophone. To answer the question, life is actually great as a member of the RCO! It is fantastic to have the opportunity to play in a great section and orchestra, with some of the best conductors and soloists in the world in the beautiful Concertgebouw and other great halls in the world. There is not much more to wish for as an orchestral musician. The atmosphere in the orchestra is great and very social, so personally I feel very much at home in this orchestra.
What are your impressions of the Concertgebouw as a concert venue, and how does it differ from other concert halls that you’ve played in around the world?
The hall sounds beautiful and is considered to be one of the best in the world, especially for classical and late romantic repertoire, because the orchestra blends into a very nice warm and full sound. To be honest it is not always the easiest hall to play in. You don’t hear each other very well on stage, so you have to be very active and open on stage to have enough contact with the others. In drier halls it is mostly easier to play together and to hear each other, but despite the difficulties the final result in the Concertgebouw sounds very nice. The great thing is that it feels like the hall helps you to play beautifully. In many halls you sort of fight to make a nice sound – if that takes most of your energy, there isn’t much left for taking risks and doing something extra with the music. Because it is easy to make a round and warm sound in our hall, you are constantly invited to do something extra with it.
How do you see your own role within the trombone section, and what do you look for from the other members of the section?
In my opinion the trombone section is typically a section that only flourishes as a team. I play the first trombone part, but there are not many solos in the repertoire. The nicest moments for the trombones in most symphonies are chorales and chords, which only work if every part is equally good and important with good intonation. So for me all parts are equally important and together you should try to blend well and react to each other so the final result is the section sounding like one instrument.