Alban's Blog

Prokofiev Sinfonia Concertante in Utah

Just got back to the hotel after playing a run-out performance with the Utah Symphony in Ogden, 32 miles from Salt Lake City.

I had to play one of my favourite concerti, the Sinfonia Concertante by Prokofiev, a piece which works really well if one takes the markings of the composer seriously – shaves off about 10 minutes from performances. Actually rather simple: just don’t drop to half speed whenever there is a slow tune to milk. Think long lines, think like a singer, and immediately the piece grows and becomes much more effective.

Keith Lockhart is the chief conductor of this really good orchestra – they enjoy playing, and we had two very efficient rehearsals, two performances in Salt Lake City will follow on Friday and Saturday, but today we had to play at this weird hall in Ogden. For me these run-out concerts present the biggest challenge, because one leaves the hotel in the afternoon, drives for quite a while, gets there an hour before the concert, completely tired and uninspired, and often the halls neither the audience are of the greatest quality.

Today was no difference: very dry hall, and the audience was sitting rather far away, besides the fact that it was not very full (bad weather, and a cellist playing Prokofiev, who wants to hear that?!), which made it difficult to feel this for me so essential connection with the audience during a performance. Somebody explained to me once that memorable concerts don’t happen through a perfect performance, but they can happen when the aura of the artist mixes with the ones of the audience; everybody feels suddenly connected and drawn into something deeper, not really understanding what it is. The hall plays a major role in that – if it has cold vibes and not the warmest acoustic, it might prove impossible to get to this state of connection artist-audience.

In order to still give a good performance it really takes a lot of energy out of me, and that’s why I am rather empty and exhausted now, ready to go to bed, especially since I am being picked up at 8:15 am to go – SKIING! Yeah, finally some fun again. Yes, I know, have a concert that same evening, but it helps the inspiration to ski in one of the most beautiful resorts in the world ๐Ÿ™‚


  • Kevin Kennedy

    Hello Alban,

    Hope the skiing was great! They say it’s truly awesome here. (I am new to Utah and I haven’t been, so I am a little jealous! : ) )

    Just found your website/blog (it’s very cool) after you visited the violin making school on Wed., where I am a student. Thank you. I really enjoyed your visit. It was fascinating to hear your thoughts on instruments and playing/performing. Furthermore, it was simply inspiring to see and hear you play. You should know that my colleagues are still talking about your visit. We were very impressed and grateful.

    Question: Do you know where I could purchase the Bach, Brahms & Schubert disc with Markus Groh? It’s not marked “out of print” and a quick search did not yield positive results… Thanks.

    All the best,


  • Alban

    Hi Kevin,

    oh, skiing yesterday was unbelievably beautiful, great weather, for me good enough snow, and not too many people around – heaven! You have to go – why don’t you join us this morning?
    I almost overslept yesterday the concert though, since I was sooooooo dead after skiing, oops…

    I had a great time also visiting your school, such a cool place, great people there, very inspiring to meet all of you!

    The Bach/Brahms/Schubert is not out of print, but it’s kind of private. I know the guy who has them, so I could have him send you one – it’s not a bad recording, so just tell me what to do ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Michael Wakoff

    Hi Alban,

    I heard you play the Haydn C Major Concerto while listening to my local NPR station. Very thrilling. I got to my house and kept the car running so I could find out who this amazing cellist was! (I’m in my 50s and started cello lessons 5 years ago, so I’m in awe of cello virtuosos.) I’d love to see you in performance. Is there some place where you list tour dates-I don’t see it on your website. I live in Ithaca, NY (home of Cornell University in upstate NY) but will travel to east coast cities to see great performers. Will you be nearby anytime soon?



  • kyungji

    Hi Mr Wakoff,
    although i’m not Mr Gerhardt, the tour schedule is listed under “schedule” on the left side. i have to ask, as late fan of cello i want to learn once i’m out of my college. How do you find learning cello? i would ask you Mr Gerhardt, but i don’t think it is exactly samething as learning it as an adult?

  • Michael Wakoff

    Hi Kyungji,

    Thanks- needed to resize my window to see the schedule near the bottom of the left pane! I think I’ll try to get to the Toronto performance.

    I love learning to play the cello. I went to a music shop 5 years ago and tried out a violin and a cello. I knew from the first bow stroke that I wanted to learn the cello. Try it and yourself and see what it feels like when that low C string is vibrating!

    I’m sure there are differences between adult and kid learners. I take lessons from a teacher who uses Suzuki method but supplements my repertoire with pieces that are musically more satisfying. I didn’t find the group classes with kids who were 9-11 years old very supportive so I stopped that after 4 years. I find it harder to memorize pieces than do the kids and the agililty of my left hand seems less–it takes me longer to learn fast passages. But it’s easy to produce a satisfying tone fairly early in the process and noticeable improvements in tone are very satisfying when achieved. I’ve been able to play some movements of the simpler Mozart quartets with a group of novice adults and that’s great also. So I say definitely try it!

    I’d love to hear what Alban has to say about adults learning to play the cello- advice, encouragement, success stories…



  • Alban

    Dear Michael, dear Kyungji,

    thanks for sorting out the schedule site search – I was busy with – again – skiing, this time with wife and son in Austria ๐Ÿ™‚ I know, lazy soloists, but I will get back to work very soon, as a matter of fact tomorrow, after skiing, will have to start learning the last two Reger Sonatas.

    If you come to Toronto, Michael, stop by and say Hi, I might be signing cd’s in intermission, easy to find somewhere in the lobby…

    Learning as an adult? Oh yes, I know some success stories of for example the former principal cellist of the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, who picked up the cello at the age of 20, after he saw it in an antique store and fell in love with the shape. Obviously young kids learn much faster, but you have for your advantage that you really want to learn it, and that you are intellectually much more developped, that means you will manage to solve problems on your own and don’t depend as much on a teacher as a young child.

    Definitely the cello is the one string instrument which is the easiest to learn, since, as Michael said, it immediately makes a much nicer sound than the violin or the viola. Besides this the cello chambermusic repertoire and also orchestra parts are much easier than the ones of violin or viola. That means you will be able to enjoy your cello skills much sooner than the poor fiddle players. Most important obviously is a good teacher, who gives you regular lessons. And you should know, and this is not for adults, but for anybody, that rather practice 20 minutes every day than one day 2 hours, the next day nothing etc.

    And daily exercises as mentioned in another blog are crucial. If you have only 15 minutes per day, just do some open strings and some finger exercises, never jump immediately to your pieces, as much fun as they might be, but you have to give your fingers and arms a chance to readjust with the cello. Please don’t hesitate to ask me more stuff, I am always happy to help people pick up an instrument – it’s kind of my vocation to help “spread the word” that playing music really helps your soul ๐Ÿ™‚

  • kyungji

    Thanks Mr Gerhardt(or Alban, whichever more appropriate :))
    I can’t wait til I can manage to have some time to learn cello! Your tour date & CD signing is VERY attempting, seeing as it is during my summer break and I do have previous invite from a friend who will provide me lodging!

  • Kim

    Greeting from Nashville. I’ve been visiting your website since last summer, ever since I heard you at Cleveland last July, under the beautiful sky – and my kids and I are enjoying reading your blog.
    We are so excited to see you next week in Nashville.
    We have a new symphony hall now and I hope you like it. Although we don’t have snow here, you might be able to find some nice hiking/biking route in the parks for fun!

  • Alban

    oh yes, that was a beautiful evening in Cleveland, I remember it with great fondness, what orchestra, what venue! And then this greatest concerto of all, the Dvorak – how lucky can one get as a cellist ๐Ÿ™‚

    I am looking forward to coming to Nashville, even though this time I won’t have any time for some fun, have to practice like a maniac, since I have been very, very lazy the past few days, skiing in Austria since I got back from Utah, until Saturday, then back to Berlin, where we celebrate our sons 8th birthday, Monday I’ll work my “behind” off, and then off to Nashville. Hurray!
    Best wishes from Schwarzenberg, see you maybe in intermission (cd signing in the lobby)?



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