Alban's Blog

Conductor – Soloist

The advantage of being a soloist is that we don‘t have be away from home for as long as a conductor for the same amount of concerts. When I did my little Hamburg-Göttingen-commute the other day I was gone from home for five days, in which I had five rehearsals and three concerts with two different orchestras, conductors and pieces. Both of the conductors worked for at least the same time each. Why? Very easy: They have to work with the orchestra more or less from scratch, sometimes three, four days of rehearsals, while I come sometimes just the day before the concert for the first rehearsal, play in the morning of the concert a dress rehearsal, concert at night, and, if it ain‘t too far from home, I might even drive back after the concert.

This has the clear advantage that I would be home more days of the year than a conductor, if he plays the same amount of concerts like me. Sure, I have to do some work at home, prepare and learn the pieces, but so does the conductor. I know so many conductors who are never home while not really doing more concerts than me – and I‘ll be home almost all of December! But there is clearly a negative side to this: we can do much more stressfull things, flying in and out within hours, arriving shortly before a concert (as I did in September, when I arrived from Texas just hours before playing the Rococo Variations with an orchestra near Stuttgart, just rehearsing for 40 minutes right before the concert) and obviously we are able to do have more concerts than the conductors.

The next concert is different: even though there are only two rehearsals, they happen on two separate days before the single concert, and since it took about 7 hours to get to Porto from Berlin I had to arrive a day before in the afternoon, 20 hours before the first rehearsal. While this takes valuable time away from home and my family, it does feel like luxury; I suddenly realized sitting in my hotelroom and practising the awfully hard Sch̦nberg Concerto, that it was nice for a change to stay four nights at a nice hotel РI would be able to finish my two books, practise well, do some sports (they have a nice gym with pool and Turkish bath), eat well and just relax. This back and fourth of the past few weeks has been very exhausting, so now I really enjoy having the time to breathe and take time to play this 15 minute concerto as well as I can, because I think it deserves a good performance since it is an underrated work.

No, it is not very modern at all; Schönberg wrote it for Casals who didn‘t care about modern music at all, so he wanted to make it as „easy-listening“ as possible. He took a cembalo concerto by G.F.Monn as model and „enriched“ it with tons of little inner and side tunes, rather crazy and overloaded, but highly entertaining. As he respected Casals as the greatest cellist alive he made the cellopart ridiculously difficult – at the end Casals never performed it, it was Feuermann who played the world premier.

About ten years ago I practised it a bit (still living in New York), just for the fun of it, when the phone rang and Eva Lehnsten, Feuermann‘s widow, whom I had met through a common friend, wanted to chat a bit. At some point she asked what I was working on these days, and I mentioned the Schönberg. She mentioned that this piece had spoiled her honeymoon, because Feuermann was practising it instead of being romantic with Eva…


  • Florian

    Tell us more about Eva Lehnsten and Mr. Feuermann!
    Do you also record the Schoenberg- I only know of the Yo-Yo Ma CD (b…g).
    Have fun!

  • Alban

    Hi Florian,
    I don’t know much about Mr.Feuermann except that he was probably one of the best cellists who ever lived – at least judging from some of his recordings. Eva Lehnsten was very young when they got married, and he was extremely young when he died, so she outlived him about 60 years, I think. I met her a couple of times while living in NY, as a matter of fact, I did a little concert at her retirement home in upstate New York as a dress rehearsal for my EMI debut disc (this Spanish encore album) which I felt very honoured to do, not only because of her relation to Feuermann but because she was a very special lady. Lots of hardship; she not only outlived Feuermann but also her second husband as well as her daughter. Tragic, but she never complained and wasn’t bitter at all, rather incredibly positive and energetic for her old age. I am very, very sorry and sad that I had lost contact with her towards the end. After I moved back to Germany I didn’t see her anymore, and she died a couple of years ago.
    After my concert in London few weeks ago a critic from the Independent, Annette Morreau, introduced herself. She has written a book about Feuermann which I just ordered on Amazon, and she had told me that Eva Lehnsten whom she had met in the research for the book had told her to “check me out” – very sweet of her, I felt very flattered and guilty when I heard that, guilty because of my inability to stay in touch with a very special person.
    No plans to record the Schoenberg yet, and yes, there is the YoYo ma recording, which doesn’t really do justice to the piece (he was very young, it’s all a bit too agressive for my taste, to hard), and also Heinrich Schiff has recorded it, but I don’t know this one.
    Best wishes from Porto,

  • Bob

    One little anecdote about Feuermann: I heard this from my teacher Mihaly (Misi) Virizlay, another great Hungarian cellist who inherited (at first on loan, later as a gift) Feuermann’s Montagnana cello. If you’ ve seen the video of Feuermann playing the Dvorak Rondo, that’s the one. Evidently, before Feuermann had the Montagnana, he owned a Strad, and he ocassionally would show off his athleticism by suspending the cello by the neck and end-pin between two chairs and jumping over it, naturally while smoking a cigarette. Anyhow, one time he missed and landed right square between the f-holes. But he didn’t get upset at all, just pulled the cigarette out of his mouth, shrugged his shoulders and said “oh well, I will just have to buy another.”


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