Florian Hatzelmann

A Tubist Embracing Classical, Brass Music, and Hip Hop


Florian Hatzelmann excels as a tuba player across various musical styles: in the orchestra at the Zurich Opera House, with Ernst Hutter & Die Egerländer, and in the hip-hop dance band Fättes Blech. Discover how he manages this crossover and even finds success on social media as @_tubaflo in our interview.


Florian Hatzelmann |

Florian Hatzelmann (* 1988) began his musical journey in his local music association and gained recognition as a soloist at the age of 14. After completing his studies at the School of Music under the guidance of Peter Seitz, he pursued further education from 2011 to 2016 at the Zurich University of the Arts with Professor Anne Jelle Visser. In 2013 and 2014, he served as a tubist in the orchestra of the internationally renowned Schleswig Holstein Music Festival. In 2013, Florian Hatzelmann interned with the Bern Symphony Orchestra and won an academy position in the Herbert von Karajan Foundation with the Berlin Philharmonic in the same year.

In addition to his orchestral roles, he works as a substitute in renowned orchestras such as the Munich Philharmonic, the Gstaad Festival Orchestra, and the Aachen Symphony Orchestra. He is also active in various genres and groups, including Alpenblech, Ernst Hutter & Die Egerländer, and Fättes Blech. Florian Hatzelmann became the principal tubist at the "Lower Saxony State Orchestra Braunschweig" in 2016 and transferred to the same position at the Zurich Opera House in 2018.

Florian, how has your taste in music evolved, and have you always liked various styles such as classical, folk music, and pop/hip-hop?

I come from a small village in the Allgäu region, and every morning we used to listen to the radio, Bayern 1, playing Schlager, oldies, and brass music. There was Ernst Mosch, Czech brass bands, but no classical or hip-hop. My dad had a classical CD by Canadian Brass, which I listened to quite often, and I found the sound amazing. For instance, in one piece, the tuba played a bassoon solo in Mozart, and it included classical "hits" from Mozart's "Magic Flute" to Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons'. That was the only classical component I was exposed to. Later on, I discovered current pop music through MTV.

How did you get into opera, and did you immediately like classical music?

When I considered studying the tuba, I started to truly get to know classical music. I practiced from the orchestral studies for auditions. Before that, I actually had no idea what it all was.

In the beginning, it was driven by sporting ambition. My professor advised me to practice everything until it was flawless, with the goal of securing an orchestral position. I didn't have tuba lessons until I was 20 years old. Before that, I copied a lot: I watched how others played and mimicked them until it sounded the way I wanted it to, similar to what others were doing.

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Do you feel more at home in a particular style? Do you consider certain performances just a job, or do you enjoy all your musical activities?

I'm very happy to have the opportunity to do so many things. It's challenging to rank them because that changes over time. Ten years ago, I really wanted an orchestral position. Now that I've been playing in an orchestra for a few years, that goal may have taken a back seat to the type of music where I can truly express myself and identify with it.

In an orchestra, you have to play what's on the sheet, and play it very well. Playing those five notes at the moment when 2,000 people are listening, and everything is silent, always remains a challenge. I derive incredible enjoyment from traditional brass music. Playing with Die Egerländer is a childhood dream come true. Two or three years ago, I reached a point where I thought I couldn't squeeze in another sixteenth run anywhere; I had exhausted all possibilities. That's when Fättes Blech came along, offering the chance to explore hip-hop. It suited me very well.

I really immersed myself in it: How does the sousaphonist Peter Laib of Moop Mama do it? How do jazz bassists play these things? What's important, what tonal culture, how long should these tones be?

I enjoy taking on new challenges, but that doesn't mean I like the other less. When the initial pressure is gone from one thing, I can enjoy it more. That was the case with classical music too: there was this intense phase where I practiced the tuba for five to six hours every day, aiming to compete for a good position against 100 others. Even though I don't practice any less now, I can enjoy it more because the pressure has reduced a bit.

Do some elements you learn help you in other styles? Do you play differently after performing the Walkürenritt, exploring hip-hop, and gaining experience with the Egerländer musicians?

I try to let one thing inform the other. I studied classical tuba and developed a certain tonal culture over 15 years, focusing on playing long notes. Naturally, this benefits me when I have to play like a keyboard bass in Fättes Blech.

Conversely, I can take away from Egerländer music how to phrase simple melodies with heart and make them sound beautiful in a confined space.

In Prokofiev's 'Romeo and Juliet', for example, there are lines with the double basses that are actual melodies. I play the notes rhythmically and intonationally as instructed, but I still give them my own touch. I find that valuable quite often.

Above all, the tonal culture is paramount, regardless of what you're playing: It must be a good tone. The sound removes the stereotype associated with the tuba, which can sometimes be seen as "dumb." The tuba is far from "dumb" or "meme-able" when someone produces a beautiful, soft sound reminiscent of a cello.

What are the biggest differences when playing classical music compared to folk music or even hip-hop?

With classical training, you can play anything. Someone who hasn't trained classically for years can certainly capture the feeling of Egerländer music as well as a classical tubist, but perhaps they don't possess the craftsmanship to make every note sound equally good.

Do you have to concentrate particularly hard to avoid applying the "wrong" stylistic elements after exploring another style, or is that not an issue?

It's clear to me what I'm doing at any given moment. I adjust my playing accordingly. When I play with Die Egerländer, I usually use a F-tuba. I'm in the middle range a lot, playing very short and precise notes, almost never sustaining, and I do a lot of articulation exercises. If I warm up like that and then play something like Wagner's Götterdämmerung, it wouldn't work well; I'd have to warm up differently.

With Fättes Blech, on the other hand, the challenge is the soloist aspect, lots of "circus," high notes, lip trills, and fast techno beats. So, I know in advance what the requirements are and how to prepare for them.

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Have there been people who criticized your forays into different styles, given that you are a classically employed musician who also plays with Fättes Blech and the Egerländer musicians?

The only one stressing about it is me. Sometimes I think something must be wrong, at least half of it must be faked, because some people focus on just one thing, and I do everything.

From a singer's perspective, I can reassure you. In singing, there are examples like Thomas Quasthoff, who sings classical and jazz at the highest level. You just have to be aware of the style you're in.

I hope that's the case! At the end of the day, it's imitation. You listen to things from a style and try to replicate them. Simply listen and do it. I've never received instruction in different styles. Tuba studies are purely classical, and you can't study Egerländer or hip-hop tuba; it's pure imitation or self-creation.

How did you actually get into playing the tuba? Who or what inspired you?

In our 500-resident village in the Allgäu, there were two options: join the music or football club. I initially wanted to play football, but I was a bit chubby and slow. It wasn't fun. Eventually, my dad brought a tenor horn home from a music practice and encouraged me to join. I just tinkered around, and it somehow quickly progressed to where I could imitate melodies.

In the local brass band, it was decided after a month, "The old tubist is going to the Bundeswehr (German army), we need a new one. Let's buy a tuba for the little Hatzelmann, and he can do it." There wasn't much discussion; it just happened. I was six or seven years old.

And did no one give you much guidance; you just tried things on your own?

My bold theory is that you can't learn Egerländer music because you can't explain it; it all comes from imitation. It's like saying you can't learn the rhythm of the Viennese waltz; you have to grow up with it.

I think it's the same with brass music. This specific way of playing eighth notes in a run, not entirely straight but not triplets either, something in between that you can't rhythmically calculate or write down; you can only hear it and imitate it well.

Regarding practice: how often do you practice, and what are your favorite exercises and tips?

I try to get my hours in every day. When I have a lot to do, the warm-up serves as my practice. That takes about one and a half to two hours. The best things are the absolute basics, where you notice the most significant difference. Playing long tones. Sit down, coffee in hand, metronome at 50, and play chromatically over four octaves. Scales, mouthpiece exercises, breathing exercises. Occasionally, more challenging things to wake up, something I can't do well.

My tip would be: record yourself, listen to which notes aren't good, and always keep it simple.

Recommendations by Florian Hatzelmann

You are successful on Instagram as @_tubaflo. How did your social media journey start, and what motivated you?

I had no involvement with social media until a few years ago. Then, the infamous "C" came along, and I was at home in the Allgäu for the first few weeks and months, practicing relentlessly. But there were no performances or anything else, and motivation was lacking. That's when I noticed that I was getting a lot of questions on my Instagram profile: "Don't you have a few practice tips?" I had received such inquiries earlier, but I never took them seriously because I preferred to focus on my own practice, and I didn't feel ready to share.

Eventually, the inquiries increased, and I thought, instead of replying to everyone, I should make a video. The first video I made was about practicing with a metronome. I shot it at my brother's place and uploaded it. After that, I went for a walk, and in the evening, it already had 60,000 views. It quickly started working. I had the ambition, and it provided an outlet for me. It was a classic win-win situation: my follower count increased, and I could practice and maintain my level during the pandemic.

Over time, I developed a certain routine. When you know that it works and you begin to enjoy it, like exchanging ideas with an American tuba student about which mouthpiece is good. I often sit around practicing a lot alone, and this is my medium to communicate with the outside world and serve as an outlet. At some point, I introduced the "silly" videos. It's important to me not to take oneself too seriously, convey information, and share certain exercises.

I find it amazing when someone from the USA writes to me, "Thanks for the tips, I made it through the first round of a competition because of them." But it can also be overwhelming.

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You work in the opera, play a lot on the side, and are very active on social media. How do you manage your work-life balance?

It's already a lot. I don't make any money from social media, and I don't want to. That way, I can do what I want, and if I don't do anything for five days, I just won't post anything. If I feel like it, I'll do it, and if not, then not.

Do you use digital sheet music yourself, and in what proportion? Do you use a specific app for it?

Yes, I try to have everything digitized on the iPad. When I buy music, it's all online with downloads. Who wants to wait two weeks for a book nowadays? We all have no time anymore...

What would you tell children and adults who want to learn to play the tuba, regardless of the style they choose?

If someone wants to, whether it's a hobby or for a music association, buy a moderately good B-flat tuba, find a good teacher, and play the basics from C major to E-flat major. Also, be aware: How do you want to sound, who is your role model?

What are your next goals?

The next direction is to play solo with an orchestra from the classical repertoire and record a CD. If something stays in my head for longer than a month and doesn't go away, I have to do it, or else I'll go crazy, so I'll probably do it soon.

Thank you very much, Florian, for the interesting conversation!

Editor: Florian Boberski

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