Alban's Blog

Beautiful Mexico

After not touching my cello for 18 days after the last concert of the season (the Chin premier in London) I started practising again on August 31 for my concerts in Mexico with the Orquesta Nacional under Carlos Miguel Prieto. The break definitely had a cleansing effect – after a couple of hours of warm-up I felt very comfortable with both the Schumann and the Haydn D major Concerto and was looking forward to go on tour again. Two days had to be enough before I started my first trip of the new season to the country of my brother-in-law, Mexico. Long flight, but, and maybe that’s a sign of good luck for this season, Lufthansa upgraded me (as a frequent traveller) without even telling me – I just ended up in Business class which for a 12-hour flight is heaven! (and takes care of jet-lag)

It was my third time in Mexico, but somehow it was the first time I really fell in love with this country. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I hated the traffic – spending 4 hours per day to get back and fourth to rehearsals and concerts ain’t fun, but the musical experience, the warmth of the people, the food and the beauty of certain areas of Mexico City made up for it. A friend showed me the beautiful quarter of Coyoacan with all it’s palaces of Cortés and his commanders, the old market hall where I bought most delicious fruits and the gorgeous church of the quarter – all of this presented the past of Mexico, which is rich, fascinating and at the same time tragic. The explosion of the city respectively the population in the past 50 years turned this gem into a moloch without loosing its charme.

I couldn’t do hardly enough sight-seeing since both concertos belong to the most dangerous ones and I had to spend enough time building up the stamina to play both pieces in the same half. Keeping the focus for two in style and technical demands rather different pieces was my main concern as I had only played two concerti in one concert twice, and each time there was an intermission giving me a much needed break. On top of it we had not too much rehearsal time, but the musicians were so eager to work, and Carlos M.Prieto did a wonderful dress rehearsal in which he worked the orchestra as diligently as I could have wished for. While the first concert felt at the beginning a bit uncomfortable (the audience was sitting extremely close to me in a lecture hall kind of setting) I got used to it quickly and enjoyed playing with this highly attentive group of people with their excellent chief conductor.

I must admit I wouldn’t mind from now on to always play two concerti because mentally it is almost easier to deal with the pressure – the more playing-time one gets the less little short-comings matter. I managed to focus far more on musical expression and sound than when I would play each piece by itself; the Schumann Concerto with its 21 minutes lenght is so short and fragile that it does help to “warm up” with a little Haydn piece before 🙂

The second concert took place one hour away from the big city, in Guernavaca, lovely little place which became even lovelier by the chance of spending half the day and the night at the house of Carlos’ uncle Juan Luis and his family. I grew up in a big family, and I actually crave the noise of little children running and playing around, and here were plenty of them: if I counted right there were 5 beautiful grand children and I felt at once catapulted back to my own childhood, also partly because the Prietos with their warm hospitality made me feel right at home. Seriously, meeting people like that eases the pain of being away from home, and the many conversations we had before and after the concerts were just highly inspiring and enriching.

The next morning which was my last day in Mexico we left at around 10:30 in order to get back to “the city” for our concert at noon, for me the most nerve-racking one since the father of the conductor, Carlos Prieto (yes, same name), who is probably the most important cellist of Middle- and South-America, was going to attend. I had heard so much about him that I didn’t want to let him down. He claims I didn’t and it was wonderful to shake the hands of a man who had met Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Casals, whose neighbour and close friend is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who calls János Starker, Yo-Yo Ma and the late Rostropovich his friends (and they agree with that!) – but most importantly, a cellist who has commissioned and premiered about 70 new pieces (concerti, sonatas and solo pieces) from Mexican and South-American composers thus helping them to become known by bringing them into the limelight, something I admire above everything and which I feel I haven’t done by far enough.

After the concert I was included in an invitation to the Prieto family by a holocaust-surivor to a memorable Hungarian culinaric feast (Ivan was born in what is today Serbia, but of Hungarian-Jewish descent) which his wife Blanca cooked for the 15 guests. And like the day before in Guernavaca I was thrilled by the warmth and the intelligence of the company, not talking about the wonderful charisma and aura of the host himself, upon whom my ancestors have brought such unimaginable pain that even his daughter needed to go through survivors therapy. Time really flew, the hours passed by and at 6:25 pm I felt the need to thank the hosts with a bit of music, even though it was time to leave for the airport. Normally I don’t like to produce myself in such circumstances, but the love for music and the spirits were such that it felt very natural.

When Carlos jr.  and me finally entered the car which drove us to the airport, it was 6:40, plenty of time for his flight at 8:20 pm, more so for mine at 8:55 since the airport was only about 12 km away, and it was a Sunday evening. The sky was grey, the clouds were hanging low and dark, but it was dry until the car started moving. First it was just a dribble, but after a couple of minutes it became clear that we were up for another demonstration of nature’s vast powers; the next 2 hours felt as surreal as anything I have experienced. The sky opened its gates and water flooded the thirsty Mexican soil which unfortuantely was covered by far to much cement and concrete that the valuable liquid couldn’t penetrate and nurture it; instead the puddles on the streets became bigger, and at some point we had to drive through small rivers in the tunnels. Traffic had come to a complete stillstand, many cars broke down, and it took us about two hours and ten minutes to arrive at the airport.

But my lucky streak seemed to last, as I was upgraded again to business class and was asked to wait in the lounge until further notice, since the airport had been closed indefinitely. 5 hours later, at 2:20 am we were told that the Lufthansa aircraft had been diverted to Acapulco and that there was no chance to fly it the same night to Mexico City. Next possible flight time would be 24 (!) hours later. We were in shock – what was the problem? By then the airport was already active again, the rain had stopped and the runways had dried up, but somehow German work regelations forbid the diverted crew to fly this plane to its final destination thus leaving the big jumbo jet sitting in Acapulco.

At 4:30 am I had found myself a hotelroom after long discussions with the ground staff to find out if maybe there was a chance for an earlier flight. After a few hours of rest I woke up at 8:30, quickly called Lufthansa’s Senator service only to be told that my original flight was not supposed to leave until the afternoon of the following day, 40 hours after its scheduled departure. I would have arrived in Berlin just hours before I was scheduled to fly to the Philippines. My good mood created by the wonderful dinners, conversations as well as the spectacular flooding of Mexico City’s highways had evaporated and I started feeling desperate to get home and see my little family.

Once I got through to the Lufthansa City office they immediately sent me to the Mexicana check-in in order to fly an hour later via New York and Frankfurt back to Berlin. Wonderful plan, I would get home “only” 15 hours delayed! Unfortunately the change of ticket took too much time, and when they finally figured out how to do it, the plane had left. To make this far too long story short – I am writing these lines in an aircraft to Los Angeles where after a 8 hour lay-over I will fly via Frankfurt to Berlin, arriving there exactly 24 hours after my scheduled arrival, and obviously my luck of upgrade has disappeared as well, back to the roots in economy class, nicely squashed between a fat cello and something not much skinnier, but human…


  • Francisco F Martin

    Me da mucho gusto que hayas venido a Mexico pero lamento no haberme enterado para saludarte personalmente.
    Tengo mucho tiempo recibiendo Tu Pagina Web y algunas veces Te he enviado e.mails.
    Soy un aficionado practico del Cello y una vez que estuve en Berlin ,tome lecciones con un maestro que se llamaba Tilo Krieger.
    Don Carlos Prieto es un gran cellista muy prestigiado por aca.
    Cuernavaca se le conoce como la ciudad de la eterna Primavera.
    La Orquesta de Mineria realizo una gran temporada 2009
    Recibe un cordial saludo desde Leon Gto MEXICO

  • David Nice

    Well, that Kodaly popping up reminded what a tremendous piece it is, at least as you play it. So I’ve just gone and bought the disc (rather than the downloads) off Amazon. And I don’t have to buy the Prokofiev disc, but of course I would if I had to…

    All the best, looking forward to that amazing-duo Wigmore lunchtime if we don’t go to Jerusalem,



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