Alban's Blog

Category: Cello

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.


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 […]

Concerto Marathon

Sitting in a train, dashing back from my last concert in order to spend a bit of late-night-time with my son, always gives me the opportunity to get some work done. Answering e-mails, returning calls, or, as rather sedlomly recently, writing my little diary here. I know, I should just translate the monthly blog I am writing for this music magazin “Fonoforum” in German, but this would take much more time than writing something new – at the same time it’s kind of boring writing twice about what happened in the past few weeks which is the reason I have almost stopped posting something here. 

Skiing in Switzerland…

I am not trying to justify myself, but I will just give you another (weak) reason for my laziness in writing here: thanks to a chief editor of a classical magazin in Germany, the “Fonoforum”, who somehow thought that my way of writing rather honestly and directly about whatever happens to a travelling musician could be of interest for his readers, I am writing every month a “thing” for his publication. And somehow, this “thing” which I am normally writing within an hour or so, takes even more drive away from writing onto my own homepage. And while writing here is without guidelines and not too many readers (or at least I don’t know them), at the Fonoforum I mustn’t write more than 3500 letters which I haven’t managed yet, and the poor man is pretty upset about my unability to just state the most important things – I just wrote the new “blog”, and I am already at 3935, which is almost 15% above.

Self-Discipline and Death

I had promised myself to start writing more often again but couldn’t keep my own promise. Also I wanted to loose weight and learn Bulgarian which I haven’t managed. Self-discipline, the highest virtue for me because I have so little of it, and the happier I am the more difficult it seems to “stick to the plan”. What to do? Be unhappy and self-disciplined? Not raise the bar up too high? Or just take little steps and do one thing at the time? Yes, this is what I am doing right now; instead of practicing for next week’s duo-concerts with my fiancée in Cologne and Hamburg I start writing this blog entry in my hotel room in the city of Portland!

Nine Days in the UK

The last nine days brought me back to the UK, old and new collaborations were waiting for me: After playing the Schumann Concerto in Swansea with the BBC Wales and their conductor Thierry Fischer and a recital the day after in Cardiff with Bach-Suites and the Ligeti-Solosonata I drove with my little rental car to Liverpool to play my “debut” with the Royal Liverpool Phiharmonic Orchestra under Vasily Petrenko, Don Quixotte was on the program. A quick train-journey later I was granted by really spectacular Vladimir Jurowski the longest Dvorak rehearsal ever, in London with his London Philharmonic: 2 hours and twenty minutes for a piece everybody knows, every orchestra plays it every other year.

Divorce between concerts

Nobody taught us how to make any kind of relationship work, not with a partner, not with children, not even with friends; I learnt languages, science, music, mathematics and sports in school, but not how to interact with other human beings. Since I was never religiously inclined I didn’t attend the the voluntary religious classes where they might have told us something. And at least in my generation we didn’t manage to see nor learn much from our parents as they weren’t sharing any of their troubles. How to pick the right partner? But even if you find the right partner, how to keep the relationship fresh and alive, how to avoid any kind of routine, taking-for-granted attitudes or the change of slowly (or quickly) changing from lovers to a well-functioning team to raise children – nope, didn’t hear a word about that before it was actually too late…

Earplugs not only in London and Winnipeg

While sitting at another airport lounge, this time in Berlin, waiting to pick up my pianist Cecile Licad for our rehearsals for the Fauré recording coming up next week, I decided to do a little write-up about my reasons to always play with earplugs. A musician from the orchestra in Winnipeg had posed the question as a comment to my last blog entry, and as I am being asked rather frequently why I put them in, I explain it here again, even though I must have written it already at some point but can’t find this entry anymore…

Hommage to Casals

My first idol was the great Spanish cellist Pablo Cellist. I bought every single LP I could get my hands on and for the longest time his way of soundproduction was how I wanted to sound myself. I loved the intensity, the articulation, the “interpretative” intonation (playing the minor thirds very low, leading notes very high etc.) and even the grunting were part of the package. My teacher Boris Pergamenschikow spent most of the three years I studied with him (1989-92) trying to teach me the more modern and generous way of playing the cello, but still in 1990, when I played for Norbert Brainin (1st violinist of the Amadeus Stringquartet) Beethoven’s C-Major-Sonata, he told me after waking up from his little nab he took during this 12 minute performance, that I reminded him of Emanuel Feuermann. I still have that comment on tape somewhere, and although I obviously couldn’t and still can’t play like Feuermann (maybe in my dreams), he was referring to my rather old-fashioned way of playing in general, not one particular cellist.

Milan, Vienna, Prague, London, Zürich…

What a lovely month – visiting all these beautiful cities within three weeks, how much better does it get? Every day I am aware again how fortunate I am to have a profession in which I can make a living while travelling around the world and playing a bit of cello. What makes this month even nicer is that I have to play only three different pieces: Dvorak in Milan, Prague and London, Prokofiev in Vienna, and Don Quixotte in Zürich. Right now I am sitting in the hotel in Prague instead of practicing, but I was postponing to write something here since a while, and before it all becomes old news, I use the fact that I know the Dvorak Concerto more or less backwards and that there are still 4 hours until the dress rehearsal at the Rudolfinum this afternoon to write about the wonderful sensation of spending time in two of the most important musical cities of the 19th century, Prague and Vienna.