The busiest one and a half months in a long time with seven concerti, almost complete Beethoven Sonatas and Bach Suites were topped by my very first artist-in-residency with an orchestra. In between concert in Sevilla (Dvorak), Amsterdam (Frank Martin), Oslo (Chin), London (Schumann), Barcelona, Madrid and Valladolid (Lalo), Berlin (4 Beethoven Sonatas), Fort Worth (another Schumann) and now Hangzhou (Elgar), I flew to Portland (no, unfortunately not connected with the set of concerts in Fort Worth with the wonderful Fort Worth Symphony and a great conducting musician, Josep Caballé Domenech) to play three times the Rococo Variations plus Silent Woods by Dvorak, starting the first week of a three-year residency in this lovely city. While other orchestras have their “artist-in-residence” come several times within one year to play different pieces with the orchestra and maybe also give a recital, the idea of the Oregon Symphony and its chief conductor Carlos Kalmar was rather unique:
After they had invited me already in 2011 (with Prokofiev Symphony Concerto), by 2014 I will have come and performed with the orchestra at four different occasions, each time staying for a week and doing a wide array of activities besides performing different concerti with the orchestra in their concert hall, the Arlene Schnitzer Auditorium. As I had to rush back to Europe to rehearse the Lalo Concerto in Barcelona with Pablo Gonzalez (another excellent Spanish conductor) we had to cut my week short by a day, but I made up for it by being willing to “work as a donkey”, as the artistic administrator Charles Calmer put it. Their plan was to make a connection with the community as well as with donors by using my German lack of tact (some people think it’s charming, how very strange!) and work ethics, and funny enough, it seemed to work 🙂
After my arrival in Portland in the evening (nine hours time difference) I was driven straight to a rehearsal with the concert master from the orchestra and a local pianist for a donor’s concert the next day at a private home, playing Mendelssohn’s d-minor Pianotrio. In the following days I spoke at another donors luncheon (gosh, I mentioned the O…. word in front of big-time donors who were rather Romney supporters…), played a couple of movements at a sponsoring bank (Umpqua, what a cool name for a bank, and they have these inspirational meetings in the morning, quite unique!) played three Bachsuites in a Mall (not amplified, but somehow the acoustics were so good that people gathered around me, especially some kids which stayed for the entire 65 minutes of unaccompanied cello-playing!), another three suites at two schools, more Bach at three locations at a huge childrens hospital, spontaneously in a cable-car connecting two sections of that hospital, teaching a masterclass for students of the Youth orchestra, another masterclass for the Oregon Cello Society (they had planned for me to also play some Bach, but I didn’t bring my cello, thus I performed on a student’s instrument…) and on my last day I went together with the associate principal cellist to a homeless shelter and played cello duos for one hour, maybe the most gratifying and fun of all the experiences. And yes, I gave three concerts with the Oregon Symphony as well, which was the topping on the cake (at least for me :)).
A publicity stunt? Hardly, as there was no press around to get publicity from, and this was not my intention anyway. The older I get and the more “normal” concerts I have played in my life, the more I feel the responsability to prove that classical music and especially Bach works in any surroundings, for any age group of any social background, for people who might never ever have heard a piece of classical music in their life before. No, I am not getting paid for it, and as I am not especially religious I am not counting for an easy entrance into heaven either, but I feel that we musicians share a certain obligation, earning money with the most beautiful thing on earth, making music, to give back to the public, and not only the part in concert halls, but in schools, hospitals, shelters, wherever there are people gathering and willing to listen, or not even willing – just trying to share the passion we musicians have burning in us. Did I work like a donkey? Well, reading what I did it looks like it, but the more I did the more energized I became, as maybe I am one of these watches which you have to move up and down in order to work. Seriously, although I am far from being a workoholic, I get so much out of these different outreach-activities that I don’t seem to get tired from them.
Following these busy six days I flew via Frankfurt to Barcelona, unfortunately without a cello ticket (what was I thinking!) and with no time for changing flights in mighty Frankfurt. My incoming flight was delayed which left me 15 minutes to get from arrival to departure gate – I made the flight, but neither did my suitcase nor my cello. As I had a rehearsal right upon my arrival I borrowed the cello of the associate principal cellist. When the cello arrived at night I had to realize that for the first time in 22 years of constant air travel (80% of times I was checking my cello with the bags) my cello was broken. The neck was loose and it had to be fixed, but November 2nd was “All-Saints”, so how to find a luthier which was open on a holiday? On Facebook I had posted my misfortune and within hours the great Spanish cellist Lluis Claret offered me his cello just in case. Jose, the artistic coordinator from the orchestra, found Merce Sole, a lovely luthier who gave me hope that she could fix the cello until the first concert which was televised on top of all things, but offered me an unkown Italian cello for the dress rehearsal which I gratefully accepted.
Hours before the concert she told me that the glue hadn’t dried, so the third “run” of the Lalo, this time in front of National TV, I was forced to play on the third different cello, the Lupot of Lluis Claret. My beautiful wife had come to Barcelona to reunite with her family which came down from Madrid, and she claimed that she never had heard me better, but I think it was mainly because she was so relieved that I didn’t completely screw up on this totally different cello… For the second concert my cello was back, and I must admit, as much as I enjoyed its rich, warm sound, it was sooo much harder to play on it; it is oversize which does result in a very big, dark sound, but it also means that the measurements of the fingerboard are bigger than at any other cello. More stretching between notes, bigger distances for any given interval which means more room for error. Also the hand tires down much quicker, which is the greatest danger in the Lalo Concerto: the cellist has to play more or less continuously in the middle register, and in order to be heard he has to articulate extremely well and work rather intensely with the bow hand. I survived the six performances (three in Barcelona, one in Madrid and two in Valladolid), but I was glad when it was over although I absolutely loved my time with Pablo and his band very much.
Directly after my last performance I was driven from Valladolid to Madrid airport where I caught a plane in the next morning to Berlin (via Munich) where I had just enough time to rehearse a couple of hours with my pianist and friend Markus Becker before playing at 6 and 9 pm two sets of the early and late Beethoven Sonatas at the Konzerthaus in a Beethoven Marathon. No time to relax before the concert, just a quick shower, and because of heavy traffic we arrived exactly one minute (!) before the first concert started. I have no idea how it went, but I think I have hardly ever been that tired in my life before. The Beethoven Sonatas might not present the hardest cello part, but musically it is so demanding and tiring that I almost collapsed at the end of Sonatas Nos. 2 and 5. My father who never compliments me on my playing, warned me to watch my intonation because he claimed that I was playing everything sharp, “and you know how allergic I am against people playing sharp” – sweet, but I didn’t really care, was just happy that I was half-way through this tough first day “at home” since almost three weeks. Second set went much better, I watched for my intonation and played everything flat instead, which balanced out the sharp notes before, so I came out even 🙂
Sitting at the lounge at Frankfurt Airport I am killing time; China Airlines had not informed me about their flight cancellation, so instead of continuing at 2:20 pm in order to get to Hangzhou for my first rehearsal with the orchestra there, I have to wait until 7:15 pm and will miss this first chance to negotiate a different interpretation for this piece which everybody knows how it goes, since Jacqueline Du Pré played it so impressively gorgeous. But as you might know my stands on “imitation” you can imagine that I am not too fond of trying to fill her footsteps which are larger than life to start with. I have my own modest view about this piece, and since I know the conductor (Yang Yang) I am quite optimistic that we will bring it across on even only one single rehearsal!
In between I had been to Fort Worth. Yes, I know, this is an ecologically criminal act, and I am very sorry for it – at least in Fort Worth I was playing three performances, whilst in China it is a “one off”. Back home on Sunday, and then it’s home for a while – Gooooood!