1988/89 I spent studying in Cincinnati, OH. My cello teacher turned out to be rather lame, so I focused a bit on playing quartet and taking lessons with the quartets in residence there, the LaSalle- and the Tokyo-Quartet. I had the time of my life, living together with two German guys in a one-bedroom flat, getting up every morning at 6 am to the sounds of either the beginning of Tosca or Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, (the part, where the violins go crazy – God, I am so bad with names, I even forgot what that part is called) in order to start practicing at the practice floor of the Conservatory at 7 am.Why am I writing about this right now? Well, after one of the lesser succesfull quartet recitals of our quartet, Henry Mayer, the second violinist of the LaSalle-Quartet, an Auschwitz survivor with the driest sense of humour, didn’t congratulate us, he only said: “Go home and take a shower!” This was so wonderfully prosaic that we used this saying at many occasions, describing a bit the indifference one tends to feel after having finished or accomplished something, and afterwards, when there wasn’t much else to do, you could just go home and pour some water over yourself, forgetting about the success or the lack of success one just had – it all passes anyway.
Well, it’s a bit the feeling I am having right now, sitting at another airport lounge, this time Dubai, on my trip back home, after having done this little tour with the New Zealand Symphony with the last two concerts having taken place in the beautiful townhall of Auckland. Besides the fact that I was completely exhausted after the last concert (too much practicing other stuff at the side…) I had enjoyed myself very much and had to realize, that my energy is not infinite. Oh, almost forgot: I also did some teaching. They had arranged for a masterclass with four young students (not bad at all), then the principal bass player and cellist of the orchestra wished to play for me (that had never happened before, I was rather nervous because they are colleagues, no students), and after the last concert a 13-year-old boy played some Paganini and Saint-Saens for me, putting me in the awkward position having to deal with a technically highly developped player with not much sense for music.
If the technical talent surpasses the musicality it is very difficult to develop the musical side, because technically it all comes so easy, that they don’t really have to work the other, more important aspects of playing the cello. Talent can be a curse, since many people are so easily impressed by sheer acrobatic efforts – one of the reason why I stopped playing Paganini caprices about 10 years ago 🙂 I am mentioning all that because after my concert in Hamilton where I had previously given the masterclass, I had a very interesting discussion with the students in front of my dressing room; we talked about interpretations and me being annoyed with realizing that most young players don’t manage to come up with anything on their own but just being far too heavily influenced by the known recordings. At some point I dared to trash one specific recording of one of the greatest cellists ever, just because I felt what he did there had nothing to do with what the piece was actually about. One of the students then said the truth: “You are so opinionated” – yes, I am probably far too opinionated, but as I went on reflecting on that, I thought that might almost be a good thing being a musician, because you have to musically believe in something, otherwise it is not really worth going out there and repeating the same old story over and over again.
And yes, I have very strong opinions about music – not really how to play things, but rather how not to play them 🙂 I react very sensitively if I feel that players are using patterns and tricks instead of having ideas on their own, what it is they want to do with the piece and then subsequently listen to what they play and if these ideas are actually coming out and make any sense…
Another comment also made me think: I told them that I don’t listen to recordings at all anymore, and very rarely to other cellists, just because I don’t have much chance to hear them – yes, I love going to concerts, but very rarely I have the chance to hear a fellow cellist. And one student asked me if I thought that I wasn’t being a bit closed-minded. She believed I should listen to other cellists to know what is going on, to maybe get inspired, new ideas etc. She had a very good point, I thought, and actually whenever I heard somebody, I took something from it, either how to do or how not to do it. But at the end of the day you can learn that from any performer, and for a cellist I think it is m ore inspiring to listen to singers, or, at the end of the day, just a great musician, never mind the instrument. And to listen to the great musician not to copy what he is doing, but to understand what and why he is doing it – which I find easier with music I am not playing.
Cello is the most beautiful instrument indeed, but I don’t think it is the most important instrument – it is just what it is, an instrument, an instrument to make music, not to “do cello”. Maybe that’s the reason I don’t want to teach on a regular basis; I would find it too tiring having to explain to the students that in a Dvorak Concerto there is so much more than just our cello line, and that by doing the antics cellists love to do, we really, really harm this most beautiful of all concertos. On the other hand it is important for a young player to master his instrument in order to make music. But one never must loose the perspective of what the goal is: To make music with the help of your instrument which happens to be a cello, and not to use the music to show what brilliant cellist you are 🙂
Good, finally my flight is being called, so I won’t bore you with more of that cellist-stuff – just had to relieve my poor opinionated, small-minded conscience, and yes, I will start to listen to more cellists now. I am able to learn as well, I hope…