Alban's Blog

Elgar With The Hall̩ Orchestra РRun-Out Concerts

Last time I played the Elgar it was two months ago in the concert which I used as a personal requiem for my mother who had passed away that same day, and in doing that I kind of discovered another intimacy and inwardness in that so often-played piece which made me fall in love with it even more. For me it is now a rather fragile piece, obviously highly emotional, but in a very personal way, not too obvious and “juicy”.I just had the fourth performance with it in the city of Nottingham (which I only new through Robin Hood before) together with the rather wonderfully playing Hallé Orchestra under the very talented young Rory McDonald. The last two nights we played at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, few days before that a first little run-out concert to Kendal in a very well-sounding gymnasium, and now in the almost sold-out Royal Theatre in Nottingham. While being driven back to Manchester (about 100 miles) I am reflecting on this “job” of mine, on the challenge and the beauty of having to play one of the most well-known concertos five times in a row without another rehearsal in between.

The associate principal cellist Simon and me did a little pre-concert-talk, and he mentioned to the audience that until now I had always surprised the orchestra with slight changes within my interpretation. He wanted to know if I planned what I was going to do differently, and my answer was a bit non-chalant, stating that I was too lazy to figure these things out before I went on stage. But there is a certain truth to it. I do practise the piece I have to play at night, even though it is for the fifth time, just to secure the fact that I am in total charge of it, because that way I can indeed try to say the same phrases in different ways.

After this talk we had on stage for about 20 minutes (I had completely forgotten about it;  was sitting in my dressing-room with the face smeared full of Hummus from a Falafel sandwich I had just bought when I heard through the intercom that they were ready for me for the pre-concert-talk…) I tried to make it clear to myself how it was possible to be even more spontaneous together with an orchestra. I feel it my responsability to take them with me – I can’t just do some funny antics, some crazy rubatos just for the sake of it without the orchestra even having the slightest chance of being with me. At the same time I don’t want to be limited in sticking to the same game-plan every night just in order to be “together”.

I guess, it’s body-language, it’s the contact with the conductor as well as the concertmaster which helps me convey my (hopefully) musical intentions. It is obviously rather risky, but this way I sincerely enjoyed tonight’s performance because it didn’t feel like performance No.4 after having travelled all afternoon in a completely crowded little train, but it felt “real”. At least for me… I guess the audience fell asleep because it was so incredibly boring, but hey, as long as I am happy, who cares!? 🙂

Sounds pretty arrogant, doesn’t it? Attitude is an important while highly dangerous tool: we have to have a certain “positive arrogance” to actually “do” something “special” or just personal with a piece, but as soon as we become too arrogant, we stop being self-critical, become self-content and stop developing and searching. It’s a very tight rope we are walking on, a very fine balance which has to be kept, but that makes life so much more exciting than “being safe” or “playing it safe”, not only the life of a musician.

I am trying to keep my huge ego and this enormous attitude at bay by staying at really crappy little hotels, not taking taxis everywhere but instead walking or taking the tram. Here in Manchester everything else was either booked or so expensive that it would have eaten up half my fees (they had the Championsleague Quarterfinale here on Wednesday, and now the Swimming World Championships, so the city is full), which is why I am staying at a very modest three-star hotel – keeps me grounded and actually, and, on a more serious note, I really like the charme of these older English hotels. If you stay in one of these 5-star hotels you could be anywhere in the world: they look all the same, never mind if you are in Tokyo, Johannisburg or Rome – same standard, no local charme. And this room I have here in the “Britannia” could be nowhere else but in the UK.

Tomorrow I’ll have a much appreciated free day – relaxation? Not really, will have to practise a lot, the Haydn and “original” Rococos for Malaysia and Japan (oh God, I am so much looking forward to the food there!), because during the 30 hours I’ll spend in Berlin in between concerts I’ll have to start preparing my apartment for the big move later that month. So much to think of, and sometimes it feels like I am leading two lives, almost schizophrenic at times: focusing on the music, and then suddenly switching to a life as a father, husband and “house-man”. Oh yes, I love preparing my nest, I long to be more at home, but as soon as I am more at home, I become restless and want to perform. Probably this is typical male – because we can’t give birth we are driven until the end of our lives. We can’t ever feel the sensation of true productivity and that’s why we are so obsessed with being creative or having a career even though this is so meaningless compared to the true reason why we are here: to reproduce…


  • Sue Ellis

    I was in the audience at Nottingham yesterday evening and I can promise we were definitely not bored. The performance of the Elgar was one of the most moving and thrilling I have ever heard. On behalf of everyone there, thank you a million times over!

  • Ian Parlett

    Hey Mr. Gerhardt!

    Just finished reading your blog – fascinating to read your thoughts after experiencing your performance first hand in the stalls at the Nottingham Concert Hall…I hope you know more about us “Nottinghamians” than JUST Robin Hood now!!! 🙂

    I wanted to thank you for a wonderful concert last evening. I had never seen a live cellist before, and what an experience it was! I have been listening to the Du Pre version of this work for over a week prior to this concert (I like to do my homework!). However to hear a piece live is such a contrast, and the emotion (not to mention significant technique) from you was very clear to see. I too, found the performance very “real” – you had me truly transfixed throughout. Now when I listen to recordings I hear so much more…the real life experience seems to aid my listening.

    I wanted to comment particularly on your bond with the Halle Orchestra, as it seems so strong – I could really sense the link between yourself and the Mr MacDonald the Conductor, and the Orchestra at large, during the performance of the piece. The whole thing felt very organic, like you were one and the same, the dialogue between you and the orchestra felt very genuine and truly heartfelt.

    I took a friend with me who had never heard the Elgar before and was new to classical music – your approach really engaged him and gave him a passion for classical music that I hope he will develop.

    From two young men in Nottingham, thanks again for a gripping performance…I’ll be keeping in contact with your website from now on to see what you’re up to!

    I hope you’ll come back to Nottingham soon!

    Very best regards,


  • Kate Whitfield

    Hi Alban,

    Very interesting to hear about your stay in the UK and also how you approach pieces over and over. It’s someting i’ve always wondered about and with me i find it’s more an unconscious thingand difficult to describe so good to hear from someone else!! Hope that Manchester was fun – am looking forward to going there in a few weeks!!

    Enjoy the Japanese food – although i hope you’re better with chopsticks than me! Used to work in a Japanese school in London and it was embarrassing when a 2 year old could eat tidier than myself!!! And living in China has not helped that!

    Keep going with the blog – it’s interesting to read.


  • Bill Hyde& co

    We went to the Sunday concert in Manchester as part of our bookings for the opus 1 series of concerts. We all were very impressed with Alban’s interpretation of the Elgar- which of course we are very familiar with.
    We look forward to seeing you again in Manchester!! Best of Luck, Bill Hyde

  • Alban

    Sorry for being soooo late in replying, but thank you very much for the nice words – glad you liked my Elgar, was nice to hear that since I got a bit selfconscious about what to do with it towards the end…
    And I am very happy that I didn’t disappoint the first-time-concert-goer 🙂


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