Alban's Blog

Bach in unconventional venues

Bach im Musiksalon Leipzigerstrasse Berlin

As I wrote in a previous blog, end of July I was playing all the six Bach Suites in the Radialsystem, an alternative venue for the arts in Berlin. A friend of mine attended the concert together with a gentleman who had never listened to classical music in concert before and who was so taken by the beauty of Bach’s music that he didn’t mind at all sitting relatively still for almost three hours. This came as a surprise for me because I thought the Bachsuites were a bit too complex and not exciting enough for an “untrained” listener, but maybe because of the rather informal and different approach on stage was more drawn into the music than he might have been in a “normal” concert hall.

After a bit of brainstorming with this friend about how to bring Bach and cello to audiences who might normally not believe that this is also “their” music, she mentioned a rather unusual concept MTV had applied in the 90ies with some pop groups in Germany; they arrived in the mornings at the local radio station and announced on air that they were willing to perform a concert this same evening in that specific city, and listeners should call in with suggestions where the performance should take place. We thought why not trying this with just one cellist, only Bach – much easier to set up, no space limitations, a free concert possibly in somebody’s living room. Would classical music attract curious and brave listeners to organize within few hours a concert for Bach?

First stop in RostockWell, I did it last week, a little spontaneous radio-tour with Bach in Northern Germany! First stop was in Rostock on Monday at the small local radio station “lohro” . No alliance with classical music at all, and the radio host was a bit nervous while playing a movement of the 5th Bachsuite from one of my cd’s – first classical music played on that station. Well, the outcome wasn’t too impressive, very few people wrote some e-mails with suggestions, but at the end one enthusiastic non-classical-music-lover came up with a wonderful venue (the cellar of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung), filled it with a good dozen of his friends, served them some wine and I played three suites for these very attentive listeners. Bach in Rostock

They asked for more but I still had to drive to Hamburg for a visit at Lüneburg’s university radio station “Zusa” the next morning. Filling in at last second and not airing it until the late afternoon only two requests came up. The sudent-housing-party pulled out shortly after, and the request of the activists who are trying to block the transport of nuclear waste somehwere in the middle of nowhere between Hamburg and Hannover was not forwarded to me until later that evening as the radio host believed this was too dangerous – which meant I had a free evening on that improvised rather unusual free tour.

On Wednesday I drove early to the capital of Schleswig-Holstein, Kiel, where I announced my wish to perform some Bach that same evening at the public radio’s (NDR) pop station, playing some Bach as background music for the news and playing along two pop songs by Coldplay and Mr.Petri. Within half an hour we had so many requests that it became quite a task to choose the right ones: from the 70th birthday of someone’s mother and a diashow in some local pub until some small hall in a castle I had the full bandwith of more or less unusual concert ideas. At the end I picked two which I found most intriguing: In the afternoon I played for a new-born baby, its parents, the doctor who delivered it and a bunch of nurses at the maternity ward in Hamburg, and in the evening I drove to the school where the Young Orchestra Hamburg had just finished their rehearsal and played for them two suites followed by a rather intense question and answer session.Bach in maternity ward

To play for a sleeping new-born baby has been a first for me, didn’t even cross my mind to do it for my son eleven years ago, and it was quite an experience. I was touched to tears not by my own performance but by the situation while being forced to play everything within the softest dynamical range not to wake up the baby – and I never had as many memory slips in the first Bachsuite as during that performance. Playing everything at a completely different dynamical level while trying to express exactly the same emotions as usually proved a rather difficult and unexpected task. The young parents had no idea this was happening to them, the aunt of the new-born had convinced me by e-mail from her car right after she was listening to the morning show to play for her sister.

Bach in the gymOn Thursday I drove two hours to Oldenburg, north of Bremen, interviewed again at a non-classical radiostation, receiving a smaller variety but still very interesting requests of which I valued two: at 6 pm I opened the rehearsal session of the local musical theatre company in front of a dozen teenage girls, at 7 pm I performed two Suites (d minor and E Flat Major) in my debut at a gym (a physical therapist had invited all her neighbours, clients and tons of kids to her fitness studio, quite a sight!), after which I followed my political inclination and drove almost three hours on smallish country roads to the anti-nuclear-waste activists to wake them up with some Bach. I only played half an hour, even though by every movement my audience grew from a dozen elderly folks who were still sitting in the pub which serves as their headquarter (I arrived 90 minutes later than expected) to at least forty nuclear-waste fighters who had gone to bed already and who were woken up by the magic of the 6th Suite. Bach for Musical Stage Oldenburg

Would have loved to share a bottle of wine with these rather different people, but I still had to drive almost three hours back to Berlin, where I arrived without being stopped by the police at about 3 am (quite an achievement considering the fact that I was speeding…). Had to do it, because the next day, last Friday, I did my last radio-stop, this time at Berlin’s public station RBB, and it was a classical music show, yet I received requests out of the ordinary; I picked two: the first one in an alternative coffee-house in Kreuzberg (where the cool people live), the second one in a music salon of a Cuban cellist whom I hoped this kind of radio publicity might help to a larger audience for his other activities. Both audiences were wonderful, very apreciative and silent, except one small girl running back and fourth without disturbing anybody.

An idea which came up in discussions how we could continue to bring classical music to people instead of waiting that they come to us had not only brought me to places where I never expected to be playing but also reminded me of the almost lost quality and beauty of “Hausmusik” which is such an essential part of German tradition. The intimacy of solo cello or chambermusic for that matter can only be experienced at its best in small venues such as living rooms, small cafés or maternity wards. The power of music is so much stronger when experienced within couple of inches away from the artist and not separated by a stage and meters of distance. For the performer it is maybe less comfortable, more intense, and by playing every night at least three Bachsuites for people whom I felt I had to convince that this is the ultimate music, I was definitely more nervous than for normal concerts. If it wasn’t for any other benefit it at least served me to get even closer to these suites, and I am not talking about “routine” of playing it as often as possible, but playing it for people you have to convince and who didn’t buy tickets, made me understand this heavenly music even better.

In times when people tend to be attracted to hyped-up big events, paying big bucks, it was nice to see the interest and the ability of people to come up with their own venues, their own audience and organize a concert with only a few hours of notice.

I was so excited about all these benefits that I spontaneously suggested this idea only a few days ago to the Cleveland Orchestra with whom I will perform in two days the Pintscher Concerto, and they jumped on it right away which means tommorrow morning at 8 am I will be looking for a venue to play at in Cleveland that same night (as if the Pintscher wasn’t enough work for me…) 🙂


  • Leviacarmina

    What a wonderful experience it must have been !
    I really admire your ability to find ways different from what is usually expected from classical players to make it appreciated by the public. And the experience is new and special for both sides : the artist and the public.
    I hope you will have occasions for many more experiences of this type…and also, to have myself, an opportunity to hear you playing the Bachsuites. 🙂

  • kerstin

    well, alban, what exactly does “rather differet people” mean? we thouht that was you! in one thing we really agree: it would have been great to have a good bottle of wine together and we should catch up with that. hugs from free republic of wendland, kerstin

  • Oksana

    I’ve stopped by Dave’s Market yesterday to see Alban’s OFF STAGE perfomance and it was AMAZING!!! The music is still playing in my ears! Great experience! I hope he’ll have many more alike perfomances. Thanks so much for coming to Cleveland and God bless you! DANKE DANKE DANKE

  • George

    Wonderful Alban…Especially playing for newborn and the family…I am fortunate to have shared the marvelous feelings and insights that occur when we make music in non-traditional locations.

  • shaul

    So inspiring to hear you taking initiative into integrating classical music into the lives of people who normally don’t listen or never were properly exposed to the beauty and richness of it. Please come to Isreal soon!

  • E. Bosse

    Alban, I was at sala sao paulo / brazil, november 20th for Barber Concerto with the Minas Gerais Phil Orchestra. I had a wonderful time and touching experience to hear you. It drove me to google your personal website. You are really an artist when you break the walls and straight rules that keep musicians out of the ordinary world we are all living in ! I hope you´ve enjoyed the place and people from sao paulo (very noisy city ) although you played for a selected audience. Please come back soon !

  • Rhonda Broenicke

    Dear Alban and fans, Thanks for replying via your blog. Great to read about the concert you played on 20 November (my 50th!). Please tell more! Just how warm was it in the hall? I was reading recently about Walton Concerto, do you play that too? That Piatigorsky has a special interpretation, it having been written for him. Did you study that piece? Do you play it? Was Barber written for GorbuBTW, the parties were GREAT this past weekend! See Facebook for those entries! Also got a reply from S.I., thank you for the update. It’s great to get “back in the boat” socially with the cello if not yet recitally! Safe travels for you and your cello, God bless and goodnight, RCB


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