Alban's Blog

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Contemporary Cello Concertos in the standard repertoire?

Sitting on the train that will bring me to my first performance of the beautiful cello concerto by Unsuk Chin this year in Hamburg I started thinking about contemporary cello concertos and the fact that none has really made it into the standard repertoire (and I am not talking 20 or 30 performances, but hundreds). Commuting back and fourth between Berlin and Hamburg between the rehearsals and now the concert – my oldest son had all his wisdom teeth removed at once, and I didn’t want him to be alone at home with that challenge – it gives me some time to not only read the „Zeit“ and take care of old e-mails but also write a bit after more than a year of abstinence.

Sharing thoughts or just describing concerts?

A German journalist reminded me the other day of my diary which is called “blog”, asking how much my audience has to know about me. I told him that as long as it wasn’t embarrassing they could know everything, and since there is very little I am embarrassed about it would leave far too much material which obviously I am not sharing here as I hardly ever post anything. And do I really share my deepest thoughts about music, life, feelings, ideas on these pages here? While I have never received a proper shitstorm I have been misunderstood and misquoted before, I have harmed myself by sometimes being too opinionated and by giving out judgements where it might not be my place to judge as I am too involved in the musical world.

Last “Artist-in-Residency” in Portland

I almost continued the Mahler-blog which would have become a text far too long, stopped myself just in time to give my last appearance in Portland as artist in residence extra space, especially as I had some rather moving experiences… A small week of holidays in Sardinia gave me back enough strength for a 15-day-trip to the US, playing a trio concert with my wife and Justin Brown in Birmingham Alabama, Haydn C Major in Portland and Rococo in San Diego. Most importantly, after a 17-hour-trip from Alabama to Portland, I finished off my artist-in-residency with the Oregon Symphony, and this third year was maybe the most meaningful of them all, as I not only met friends I had made the past trips but I played for a big variety of audiences during my well-filled week.

Mahler on the Westcoast

In the passed week I had the pleasure and unique experience to perform two different Mahler symphonies in the second halves of my concerts in Portland, Oregon, and San Diego. Somehow Mahler has always been one of my favorite composers whom I didn’t have much chance performing because he didn’t write much for cello solo and his symphonies are hardly ever connected with a cello concerto in the first half because of their sheer length. But last week I got lucky, Carlos Kalmar in Portland connected “my” Haydn C-Major Concerto with Mahlers 5th symphony, and Jahja Ling Mahler No. 7 with the Rococo Variations with his San Diego Symphony. Already as a child I have always been drawn to Mahler’s music, played on the piano many of his songs and the Kindertotenlieder with my mother, a singer, heard most of the symphonies numerous times with Berlin Phil and various conductors and until today his tender, slightly depressed yet optimist moments of bliss bring tear to my eyes. Yes, the big symphonic moments are impressive, great fun to play and listen, but what gives me goosebumps are the parts of deepest sadness combined with a slice of happiness.

Winter in Australia

How I was dreading these past three weeks, being “forced” to leave my beloved family in the middle of the summer holidays behind to go once around the globe into the Australian winter, but as it sometimes happens, my fears were all postively disappointed and I had the most wonderful time while my big son is surfing in Puerto Rico (staying at his grandmother) and my wife having a blast in Bulgaria, her parents taking care of the little one.

Dvorak Concerto

I know, I am getting incredibly irresponsible with this blog thingy here, but there are many good reasons for it: too many concerts to play and if not that, too much fun with the little one. And if that wasn’t enough, there is the daily stuff to take care of, booking travel, answering e-mails, doing interviews – at least one of the interviews I had to write about the Dvorak Concerto, and I thought, lazy as I am, I just post this here.

Not without my son…

After not really having been much of a father the first time around 15 years ago for my first son I am making up for it the second time. When my first son Janos was born I was living with my first wife in New York, mainly performing in Europe which meant I was travelling back and fourth sometimes for just one single concert, and still I didn’t really manage to participate in his first two years, neither do I remember much of it, sadly. As I was the sole generator of income it was the deal that I would continue my career while Janos’ mother took care of him while studying part-time. Entering the third year of my second (and last!) marriage I am happy to realize that I learnt from my mistakes.

Parent time (Elternzeit)

For four weeks I have not touched the cello, and I didn‘t miss it at all. I don‘t remember the last time I had such a long time off, but I most certainly enjoyed myself, spending lots of quality time with the little baby, went skiing with my big boy for a week, back home doing the household, cooking and keeping work off my wife who had fought so hard since giving birth that she deserved to not having to worry for anything in the house. Why didn‘t I write in the past six months especially as I had kept the autumn rather free for me experiencing this time the first few months of my sons life which I missed with my first son? When he was born I lived with his mother in New York and concertized mainly in Europe and I really only remember very few things about his first months. This time around it is completely different although I have been away more than I would have liked to.

Fitzenhagen and the Rococo Variations

Wilhelm Fitzenhagen was a young German cellist and composer who had taken lessons with the famous professor Friedrich Grützmacher in Dresden, and after performing at a Beethoven festival in Weimar, Franz Liszt offered him the job of principal cellist there. Simultanously Nikolai Rubinstein had tried to lure the talented Fitzenhagen to Moscow to become the cello professor at the conservatory there and in what I’d consider a very brave move, Fitzenhagen accepted the Russian offer over staying in Germany. In Moscow he became good friends with Peter I.Tchaikovsky and convinced him to write a piece for cello, the Rococo Variations. Fitzenhagen never performed them in their original version but arranged them differently, maybe to the dislike of Tchaikovsky, but for me he did such a good job in “improving” Tchaikovsky that I jumped onto the possibility to record some of Fitzenhagen’s own music when Stefan Lang from Deutschlandradio suggested it a couple of years ago. My label Hyperion loved the idea which is the reason why instead of taking the month of August completely off I had to prepare for one of the hardest recording sessions in my life with the Deutsche Sinfonieorchester under Stefan Blunier.

Vieuxtemps Concertos first edit

Flying to Australia is always a welcome excuse to catch up on films, getting acquainted with the newest TV shows (just watched “Dexter” for the first time), answering e-mails and writing for my so-called “blog”. The first two legs from Berlin to Copenhagen and from Copenhagen to Singapore I brought already behind me, sitting comfortably in my chair on Singapore Airlines flight 213, sipping on a tomato juice, the cello right next to me. Yes, after the accident with my bow I stopped checking my instrument into the cargo, can’t take the risk and the stress anymore – getting wiser with age or just lazier?