Mobius Trio Reports from Darmstadt: Tales of Hoppstock, Apfelwein, and Castle Frankenstein

Robert, Tilman, Matt, and Mason at Castle Frankenstein



by Matthew Linder, Robert Nance, and Mason Fish

Hello and greetings from Mobius Trio! We are three guitarists in our late (but not too late) 20s, and our goal is to put the guitar trio on the map as a viable ensemble. When we formed as masters students at the San Francisco Conservatory in 2009/2010, with the goal of putting together a full concert program based around a new commission for guitar trio, we discovered that the repertoire for guitar trio was . . . sparse. Disturbingly, puzzlingly sparse. There were some high quality original works (Rak, Hindemith, Smith-Brindle, et al.), but they were very few, and the rest of the repertoire consisted of the usual arrangements: Boccherini, etc.

We were surprised since, as good little guitar students, we were necessarily familiar with all of the great repertoire for guitar duo and quartet. Why no love for the trio? We put together a program, padded out with solos, and, for some completely inexplicable reason, decided to dedicate the rest of our lives to remedying the woeful state of guitar trio repertoire.

Since that time, we’ve commissioned somewhere between two- and three-dozen new pieces for guitar trio, released an album (our next, Bon Voyage, is due out in late 2015), toured nationally and internationally, and, as of June 2014, put on a successful and well-attended concert at the Guitar Foundation of America (GFA) festival, a shared lifelong dream of ours.

It’s there, at GFA 2014, that our German story begins. We were feeling over the moon just to have the opportunity to play a concert there, so it was even more incomprehensible to us when, after we played the show and received a standing ovation, such luminaries as Steve Goss and Tilman Hoppstock came up to us with extremely kind words and advice. We were lucky enough to hang out with some of those gentlemen that evening, and, somehow, struck up lasting friendships with these two men whom we consider idols. We were lucky enough to keep these conversations going, and later that summer, Tilman emailed and asked us if we would come play at a new music festival he was helping run in Darmstadt, Germany, in February 2015.


Of course, we typed “yes!” as fast as guitar fingers can possibly move (like, tremolo-speed), and got ready to embark on our first-ever international tour as Mobius Trio. In addition to the concert and lectures/master classes in Darmstadt, we were also able to secure similar activities in Frankfurt, legitimizing the use of the word “tour.” Two of us (Rob and Matt) had been to Germany before, but Mason had never been, so we were excited not only to play for the famously friendly and new-music-loving German audiences, but also to sample all the food, drink, and sights that Darmstadt and Frankfurt had to offer.

Upon arriving, it became clear that visiting Frankfurt and Darmstadt in early February was not exactly a tourist activity (unless one is an ardent follower of snow and grey skies), but we managed to thoroughly enjoy ourselves despite the weather. In Frankfurt, we made haste to the nearest “authentic” Frankfurt restaurant, a great little neighborhood spot that served grune sosse and apfelwein, the local delicacies.

Herr Hoppstock was a tremendously gracious host, chauffeuring us to and from the airport and having us as dinner guests in his home on our first night in Darmstadt. Tilman is a tremendous wine enthusiast (from what I heard, he and Paul O’Dette throw the best parties), and he shared with us some incredible vintages, of which we were completely unworthy. The food and conversation were tremendous—Tilman is a person worthy of his playing, which is truly world-class art.

After three days of convalescing and packing on the pounds, it was finally time for us to play our Darmstadt concert at the Akadmie für Tonkunst. It was Matt’s first full concert using an iPad and footswitch instead of printed sheet music, so he was mildly terrified, but the concert went swimmingly. The audience responded with the enthusiasm for which German crowds are renowned, and everyone was startlingly grateful after the show. They even gifted us with some beautiful French wine. Tilman and his students took us for (very German) Greek food after the concert, and we discovered that the students at the Akademie take after their teacher—lovely people who can play the bejeezus out of a guitar.

The day after our concert, we had the pleasure of giving Tilman’s students a lecture on our music and life: the commissioning process, extended techniques on the guitar, and the ins and outs of surviving as a professional guitarist. After lunch, we convinced Herr Hoppstock to drive us up to Castle Frankenstein. Actually, it was his idea, and yes—Castle (or Burg) Frankenstein. It seems pretty debatable as to whether this really is the castle that inspired Mary Shelley to write the landmark horror novel, but nonetheless, it was still a mind-blowing experience for three young San Franciscans to visit an 800-plus-year-old castle. The experience was lovely but frigid, though it did inspire us to take some pretty cool rock-band-esque press photos.

The next day was back to Frankfurt, where we worked with the lovely students of the great new-music guitarist Christopher Brandt. They were a bright and motivated group, and Christopher was a wonderful host. This was the last scheduled event of the trip, and afterwards, Mason headed off on his own journey to Heidelberg, a gorgeous place full of castles, scenic vistas, and brain-melting doppelbock [beers]. Rob and Matt remained in Frankfurt for another night of far too much ebbelwoi, bier, und whisky before heading their own separate ways—Rob to spend time in beautiful, snowy Salzburg, and Matt to finish getting to know Frankfurt.

We returned home happy, slightly heavier, and eternally grateful to our wonderful German hosts and audience.

‘Til next time. Tschuss!

This article was originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of Classical Guitar magazine.

The issue also features Jason Vieaux, Joaquin Rodrigo, female flamenco guitarists, a special focus on contemporary luthiers, and much more. Click here for more information on the issue.