Alban's Blog

Bach at Train Stations

In Hannover

In Hannover

It is just such a gorgeous day in Berlin, not too hot, lovely breeze on our terrace, looking into the green of the trees, my wife taking a nab after our intense Brahms Double rehearsal, which gives me time to fulfill my promise and write about the rather unusual little tour I did May 21 and 22.I arrived from San Francisco on May 20th, just in time to celebrate my wife’s birthday – the preparation for the Bach Suites I did during my five-day stint in San Francisco together with re-learning the Unsuk Chin Concerto; quite a pity considering the fact what fun I could have had in San Francisco instead of practicing for six hours every day…

Composers and Performers

Instead of looking at a nice cello in LA I did the roller coaster at Santa Monica's Pier

Instead of looking at a nice cello in LA I did the roller coaster at Santa Monica

I honestly can’t believe that almost five months have passed since the mishap with my bow (at Washington airport some security person broke it while examining it) and my last “blog” entry. I shouldn’t call it blog anymore, as I have never really been a blogger – much rather a public-diary-writer. The other day I read somewhere that I was even a passionate blogger, and since I absolutely hate being praised for something I am not, I felt at least I should write something within this half-year of silence, although it doesn’t make me passionate whatsoever.

Oh, I am passionate about a lot of things, probably first for my family, then music, then sports (haven’t played tennis in an eternity though, due to a sore right arm from having played ice hockey in February!), reading (books, papers, news) and cooking – but blogging is definitely not part of it. I think in order to be a passionate blogger I would have to take myself much more important, which is hard when you are fully aware of your own unimportance.

Broken Bow – Broken Cello?

On February 6 a careless TSA officer at Washington DC’s international Dulles airport destroyed not only my bow, as I found out yesterday only hours before my live-radio-broadcasted concert with the National Symphony of Ireland in Dublin, but also pushed the sound-post of my Goffriller cello so strongly, that on the back of the cello one can see a brutal crack at the place where the sound-post stands inside the corpus. What had happened? Why did I only realize this two and a half weeks after the incident? And how do I dare complain about all of this as I took the risk of damaging my cello by checking it with ordinary bags? Comments indicated that some people seem to believe I deserve such an accident.

Broken Bow

I am travelling internationally since almost 25 years, hopping back and fourth between continents, and as I am a rather trusting person in possession of a very strong cello case (Alan Stevenson), I am one of the few cellists who travels without an extra seat for the cello – I check my poor Goffriller with the suitcases. Twice my cello got damaged, and that was when I had a second ticket: the case fell under my supervision; nothing major, little crack which was easily be glued, but absolutely my fault. The baggage handlers never did any harm to it.

Artist in Residence

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: 

Kurt Masur

Part of my top prize at the International ARD Competition in 1990 was my Japanese debut in April 1991. I got to play a recital at Suntory Hall and the Dvorak Concerto with an orchestra in Tokyo which probably doesn’t even exist anymore (Shinsei Symphony). During my 10-day stay I had the unique chance to join a private celebration at the house of Kurt Masur’s in-laws. The director of the Goethe-Institut had invited me along, and after having met the Maestro already officially but very briefly at the price-ceremony of the other competition, I had won in 1990, the German Music Council Competition in Bonn, this time I had the rare opportunity to actually get to know this man, who had played such a crucial role in the peaceful transition not even two years earlier which resulted into the German re-unification.

German article about “Cello” in a classical music magazin

Zunächst muss ich gestehen, dass ich kein besonders großer Cellofan bin. Weder habe ich viele Cello-CD’s noch spreche ich gerne übers Cello an sich. Für mich ist es vielmehr Mittel zum Zweck, und dieser heiligt bekanntermaßen die Mittel. Der Zweck? Musikmachen, und zwar so oft, impulsiv, intensiv wie nur möglich. Wenn ich jetzt über die Gründe der Cellobegeisterung spreche, sehe ich mich also in gewisser Weise als Außenstehender, da ich mich außer beim Üben wenig mit dem Instrument beschäftige.

Lazy as never before!

This might have been the laziest summer I have had in my entire life, and it felt sooo good! Directly after my two-week-stint in Colorady with my son János I did a bit of teaching in the beautiful city of Weimar. My first Meisterkurs ever, five days of giving lessons to the same people, quite a challenge: normally I gave little masterclasses of three hours, where I could spread my “wisdom” to a couple of youngsters and then take off. This time I was forced to see the lovely cellists every day and check if what I had told them made any sense and had any impact. It was rewarding but also frightening as at some point I started doubting everything I wanted to tell them. When I perform I am very sure of what I want to say with the music, but in teaching I don’t want the students to say what I am saying, I want them to develop their own voice, but it is easier said than done…


Today I felt the pain of separation in its full strength since quite a while. The profession of a travelling musician makes you get used to being separated from your loved ones and since I have been doing this since more than two decades one should hope I wouldn’t feel the pain as doctors are said to not feel the suffering of their patients nor their deaths. Well, today was different.

The last thirteen days I have spent together with my son János, more or less every of the more than a million seconds, making an already good father-son relationship even stronger. Unlike last summer it was only one concert which brought me over to the US, but again it was a trip to paradise. My good (not so old) friend Anne-Marie McDermott, whom I was incredibly close to during my seven-year stint in New York (1994-2001) and whose musicianship inspired me very much during these years, had invited me to play the Elgar Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Stéphane Denève at Vail’s “Bravo Colorado” Festival of which has recently been appointed artistic “boss” (administrator sounds so administrative, which she is not at all – hands on musician as she has always been).

Although this invitation was for Friday, the 13th of July, on top of it during a stretch which I had hoped to keep free after playing a recital with Steven Osborne at the Rheingau-Musikfestival, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to perform with one of the best orchestras in the world, with a conductor about whom I had heard nothing but wonderful things, and last but not least I would have the chance to spend some time with an old friend. Unfortunately we couldn’t get the direct flight Frankfurt-Denver due to the late booking. We had to travel Last year I had taken Janos for three weeks with me while having to perform altogether six concerts in three different States (Oregon, Tennessee and New York, including the six Bachsuites, all three Britten Suites and the Saint-Saens Concerto) and he had loved it almost as much as me. When I offered him the possibility to join me this summer for a shorter trip but much less work for me, he was excited, and on rather short notice I booked our flights not even a month ago without having planned anything “fun” in advance. But fun we had plenty of!

Berlin-Frankfurt-Philadelphia-Denver, got there in the evening, rented a car and drove the hundred miles to Vail, arriving past midnight. I hadn’t slept all flight, watching movies and chatting with Janos, who at least slept during the car ride. The high altitude didn’t stop us to jump into holiday mode instantly though; after enjoying an a capella men’s choir in the morning, we drove an hour for some zip-lining adventure, racing back and fourth over one of these rough canyons we only know from Wild West movies. Although I have been travelling now for such a long time I can’t […]

Pfitzner and Blackouts

A long season is coming slowly towards an end, playing a recital at one of Germany’s nicest summer festivals, the Rheingau-Musikfestival. Last night was my my fourth concert in 12 years at Schloss Johannisberg, a chateau on top of one of many hilly vineyards with a grand view over the area and a gorgeous concert hall. My good friend Steven Osborne and me met for this one concert the day before in Frankfurt to rehearse a program we had never played in that combination, though each piece was familiar to both of us. Starting with the intense and tiring Schnittke Sonata we went straight into the Brahms e-minor without stopping in between, no chance for the discplined audience to clap which meant the first half was over at 8:55 pm after uninterrupted 50 minutes of music.