Alban's Blog

“Jumping-in” in Holland

After playing the cello professionally since more than twenty years, it was not until now that for the first time ever I was called within 10 days to replace two different cellists in two different cities in the Netherlands: wonderful Dutch cellist Quirine Viersen felt too weak two weeks after giving birth to play Shostakovich’s First Concerto at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam so I had the pleasure in replacing her with the really excellent Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra under Michael Schonwandt – a truly inspirational experience, especially in this gorgeous hall of Amsterdam. Two days after I returned from that trip I received another urgent call, another great cellist, Jean-Guiyen Queyras, had fallen ill (flu) and had to pull out of playing a solo recital all Britten Suites at the Gergiev Festival in Rotterdam.

Both these replacement calls came in a period which I had actually kept free for holidays, but since the five-day break after the Asian Youth Orchestra tour together with János in Phuket had completely refreshed me, and as school had started anyway, I accepted both requests after slight hesitations. Especially the one in Rotterdam I felt was a bit too much and I hoped that the festival would not accept my change of program. Because I had never played the Britten Suites No. 2 and 3, I suggested to play the 1st Suite which I had recorded a couple of years ago (but not played since), Bach 6th Suite and Kodály Solosonata, one of my all-time favorites. Why did I hesitate? Well, it’s easy: I am really lazy and was looking forward to some calm time at home, playing a bit of tennis, reading books, meeting friends, going to concerts etc. Yet the temptation of playing a really challenging solo recital took over, and when the festival agreed, I looked for my Britten music and started practising.

Luckily enough it all came back rather quickly into my brain so I still had some time to play tennis and relax between practising frantically. The great thing about jumping in is that everybody is grateful, everybody knows you didn’t have much time to practise which means less pressure to deal with, and everybody listens differently, more forgiving in a way. I always enjoyed the replacement calls I received, money you didn’t count on and often proving to yourself that you can do the unthinkable; well, this time it was not last-second which is always so much more exciting, when there is actually no time to think, just run, run, run. The one I am proudest of is definitely the Lalo Concerto in Cologne, but I am sure I told that story a billion times and probably wrote already a blog about it. The great danger of these experiences is that one easily starts relying on the last-second learning abilities, and this is very wrong: you can do it once or twice, but if you make it a rule, the quality will slowly leave you; in order to grow as a musician or an artist it is crucial to work pieces thoroughly, not merely getting the notes back into your fingers, but doubting an existing interpretation over and over again, not being happy with the once-approved musical idea, but forcing yourself to be creative and inventiv.

In a last-second replacement there is no time for soul-searching, you just have to get the pieces into your fingers and brains as quickly as possible, with sometimes highly interesting results, maybe even better than after having practised for days and weeks – the spontaneity will give a refreshing touch of surprise and renewal to the pieces you are playing that it might even be healthy to do it once in a while. But musicians who rely on their capability of superquick learning tend to become predictable and boring after a while, just because doubting and searching is such an important part of growing into a true artist – and if you stop it you might be succesful, but not really interesting. Gosh, that doesn’t make much sense easily, does it, but even after reading it, I do understand it, so I hope you do as well.

Besides the unexpected extra income I more importantly met a very nice and excellent colleague of mine, Tim Hugh, who not only came to my recital in the early evening, but played a big concert himself two hours later, the Tchishenko Concerto with the Rotterdam Philharmonic under Valeri Gergiev. Very difficult piece, and he played it sensationally – and such a nice guy, we hung out afterwards at the post-concert-party as well as the hotel bar until 3 in the morning, even though his flight was leaving at 7 am. His chief conductor Gergiev (Tim is also principal cellist of the LSO) joined us for the the last two hours, or rather he waved across the room that we should join him, and even though I don’t remember at all what we talked about, I really enjoyed my time with these two men, charismatic and very likeable, something I really didn’t expect from a “Maestro” like Gergiev. Well, the wine wasn’t bad either, but it was mainly the company which made me stay longer than I intended (my train also left at 8 in the morning, and I had a full day ahead of me travelling to Berlin and doing some soul-searching with my physiotherapist who fixes my body by also releaving some pressure off the mind…).

Now I am on my way to Seoul again, for some Rococo Variations with the Seoul Philharmonic and Jesus-Lopez Cobos, whom I know since such a long time (not personally), because he was the chief-conductor of the Opera house in West-Berlin which I frequented as a boy, and as I am sure that I wrote this already before, I am always thrilled to see him again, not only because he is a lovely man but also because it reminds me of my childhood and all these wonderful operatic performances I used to see. Shame that I am too lazy to shlep myself more often to opera and theatre – Berlin is such a perfect place to do that, and I am just such a homy person that I LOVE my evenings at home 🙁

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