Alban's Blog

Category: Personal

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 […]

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.

What do you listen to in the moment?

A concert venue, where I am going to play in January, wanted to know what I am listening to in the moment; somehow I misunderstood and thought it was about popular music, so my quick answer was “Radiohead”, because my fiancée loves it and I thought that they music was different to other bands, that they were “recognizable” for a moron like me (who doesn’t know anything about pop or rock music). Well, the answer wasn’t enough, they wanted a longer statement, and since I am pretty bad in bullshitting, I decided to stick to the truth – here it is:

I don’t listen to music outside of a concert hall. I love going to concerts and listen to all different kind of music (opera, orchestra, chambermusic, jazz, experimental, you name it), but the older I get the less I am intrigued to listening to canned recordings. When listening to music I need to have the live atmosphere, I want to see the creation in process, not some pre-made product. Indeed I live in a very lucky place, Berlin, where we have tons of live music every day, dozens of concerts to choose from, three opera houses, jazz-clubs, other clubs, and I am spoilt by having that chance, I admit. I do own quite many LP’s, mainly piano music, loved Horowitz and Dinu Lipatti while growing up, but I haven’t even replaced the needle on my excellent LP-player when it broke four years ago. Although I own a little ipod, I have no music on it whatsoever, just audio books which I listen to while jogging. I don’t need a constant stream of music draining out the last bit of thoughts I might be having – and I do think better when there is no musical distraction around me, and I love to be alone with my thoughts, don’t need any kind of background noise for it. What I am listening to in the moment? The Silent House by Orhan Pamuk 🙂

Playing for Presidents

While having delicious Japanese food in some hidden bar-like restaurant in Melbourne with my colleague Howard Penny (wonderful guy, professor at ANAM and member of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe), my cellphone rang in the middle of dinner. This fact alone is worth mentioning because my phone very rarely rings, and if, it would be either my fiancée Geri or my son János on the other line – other correspondence I take care of via e-mail. Normally I would ignore a phonecall being in company and especially while eating (not that I am so polite, but I just love food too much to be interrupted), but when I saw that the caller was our pediatrician Dr. Hauber I chose to answer his call, worrying about my son’s health.

As Dr.Hauber is not only a doctor but also a collector of string instruments, which he loans  students more or less for free, as well as a benefit-concert organizer, this call luckily had nothing to do with János but the unusual request of forwarding my cellphone number to the office of the German president  who was looking for a cellist to play at a state dinner honoring the Turkish president. Why him? Well, some doctors have good connections 🙂

Time in Australia (in German)

Sorry, another blog entry in German -  will soon write something in English again 🙂

Mein Vater hat mir als Kind immer wieder gepredigt wie wichtig es ist, nicht nur regelmäßig zu üben, sondern ganz bewußt die “Batterien” wieder aufzuladen. Von Natur aus faul ist mir dies nie schwer gefallen; ohne Gewissensbisse habe ich es auch dieses Jahr wieder geschafft, nach meinem letzten Konzert am 15.Juli in den USA mein Instrument nach meiner Rückkehr in Berlin für vier Wochen nicht anzurühren. Zunächst übergab ich mein 300 Jahre altes Goffriller-Cello meiner Geigenbauerin zur jährlichen Wartung (der Hals war etwas lose…) und verbrachte dann mit meiner Verlobten drei Wochen in ihrer wunderschönen Heimat Bulgarien, am Schwarzen Meer, ihrer Geburtstadt Pleven sowie in den Bergen des Balkan und Rilagebirges. Eine Woche verging allerdings, bis die regelmäßigen Albträume (Flugzeug verpassen, Blackouts auf der Bühne, Verlust des Instruments oder einfach ein Stück spielen zu müssen, das man gar nicht kennt) sich einstellten. Erst in Augenblicken der Entspannung merke ich, wie stressig das Leben als freischaffender Musiker ist.