Alban's Blog


Bob asked in one of the last Blogs how my Reger went last week. The situation was that I tried to force myself to learn music which I have to play respectively record next year.

And when I was asked to play a solo recital for the Cancer Research Institute in Heidelberg on Dec 16, I put in the first half the 1st and 3rd Suites by Max Reger and the 3rd Bachsuite. None of these works I had ever played, and as usually I had started practising them far too late. I had intended to start in November, but my laziness was stronger than my conscience, and when I flew to Vancouver on Nov 30, I had only learned the Bach, nothing from the Reger pieces.

In Vancouver I was with my son because his mother couldn’t take care of him – no time to practice there. So when I got back on December 6 at night, I had to sit down and learn this hard to memorize music. When I played the two suites for a friend on Dec 15 at noon, I didn’t manage at all to get even half through, it was an utter embarrassment.
Instead of taking it easy the day before the concert I worked until 11 pm that night, trying to stuff the music into my brain. On the 5 hour train-ride from Berlin to Heidelberg I went through the pieces in my mind, which was hard, because I fell constantly asleep (I had taken the train departing at 7:20 am). But I got really scared during the 4-hour-practice before the concert, because I realized that the piece was not really in my fingers nor in my brain – had to stop constantly and check with the music.

I expected the worst for the first half, since even the Bach was not bullet-proof-memorized. How to solve a situation like this? Follow the game plan: no quick tempi, give yourself time to be able to think constantly ahead, because as soon as you are climbing from note to note, you are doomed. And when I went on stage, I was so calm in my mind that together with the highest level of concentration I managed to get through the first half without major memory slips.

And most amazingly: People loved this strange Reger music, they were hooked from the first note on, which might have to do exactly with the amount of concentration I had to use in order to stay alive. I would have loved to have my brainwaves checked during an “on-the-edge”-performance like this, must have been a frenzy of brain activity there…
In the second half I had to play an old war-horse, the Kodaly Solosonata for which I had spent the smallest amount of time; an there, in the first movement, I had the biggest memory black out since I play the piece – I think I jumped three lines because I had no idea which notes to play. In my desperation I slid to the next known place which was far later than I intended to.

And who realized? I hope nobody…


  • Tim


    It’s good to hear that the Reger Suites went over so well with the audience, and odds are good that few people there knew about the slip in the Kodaly (though anyone who was there who is now reading your blog must know! ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

    Anyway, back to Reger…I’d tend to agree with Bob in his comment to your previous blog that Reger may work better in live performance than on a recording. By the way, too, I liked your choice of Suites 1 and 3. For what it’s worth, the 2nd Suite has never struck my fancy as much as the other two do, although I’m sure you could carry it off convincingly.

    Incidentally, have you learned and/or performed any of Reger’s works for piano and cello?

    Best regards,

  • Alban

    Hi Tim,

    I should have mentioned that before: I am in the middle of a recording project which consists of all the Sonatas and Suites by Max Reger. This is going to be a double cd since there are four really beautiful Sonatas for piano and cello. We recorded in August the two last Sonatas and the d-minor Solosuite, and in April we will do the rest. Since I don’t like to read music while playing the cello I force myself to memorize everything I record – I can make for myself so much more sense of what I am playing when I know the things by heart, because I have to, otherwise it won’t go into my head.

    I like the d-minor Suite, but one has to help it a bit: the metronome markings are a bit slow for cello and we have to speed it up a bit. He thought of it from the organist point of view, but on the cello we have only one bow and it tends to sound ridiculous if we have too many long notes which don’t sound well because we are constantly running out of bow. By playing the whole suite in a quicker tempo than usually, the overall length falls under 15 minutes which is essential for all these minor works – we mustn’t try to find something which is not in there…

    The Sonatas are unbelievable, musically very difficult, technically impossible for the pianist, not easy to make sense from the cellopart – they definitely grew on us, and at the end I loved them. But it is an acquired taste I’d say ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Tim


    Thanks for the response! I hadn’t realized you are in the process of recording Reger’s entire set of sonatas and suites. That explains a lot. Anyway, I was asking if you’d played the sonatas because I just got the recordings by Reimund Korupp and Rudolf Meister on the cpo label a week or so ago. Intense listening followed, and the sonatas have been growing on me quite nicely (though honestly some movements still more than others). Will the Kleine Romanze and the two Caprices also be on your recording? (They’re all very short; maybe 5 1/2 minutes total.) Also, when are the CDs slated for release?

    Thanks for the tip on the 2nd Suite, too. I’ve only seriously played the 1st suite (and my wife still hasn’t forgiven me for the amount of time I put in polishing up the 2nd movement! ๐Ÿ™‚ ) If/whenever I get around to working on the 2nd Suite, I’ll definitely keep your tempo suggestion in mind!

  • David

    Dear Alban,

    One of my friends recently introduced me to your site and I have to say I really was amazed with your playing. You seem to truly connect with the music you play. I myself am a cellist studying at Ithaca College in New York with a Starker apprentice. I was extremely compelled with the repertoire you will be playing over the next two years. Performing such huge works for the cello that are so demanding, and playing concerts one after the other. I think its just great.

  • David

    Sorry for the multiple comments, I submitted the last comment by accident.

    But yes I have a question regarding this last blog. I have heard Steven Isserlis memorizes his music by studying the score and knowing almost every aspect about it before he even plays one note. I was just curious how you go about memorizing the music you play? Since you have so much on your plate for the next two years I find it incredible how you can memorize music in such a short period of time. Especially peices that are contemporary and are not as well known. You really are great!


  • Alban

    Dear David,

    thanks for your nice words. Memorizing? That’s another blog, for sure…
    Sorry for answering so late, but I took a break from cello and computer in order to be just “family guy”. About Steven Isserlis whom I admire very much as a musician who has something to say as well as an extraordinary cellist; I haven’t heard him in quite a while, but a friend of his told me that he is not playing much by heart anymore after having had a traumatic experience with the Rococo Variations. Don’t know, if it’s true, but his friend said, that he didn’t want to put himself through the stress anymore. Obviously, it helps to know every aspect of the score to be really secure while playing by heart. Already the saying “knowing something by heart” shows that you need to know it inside out. But I like to save time and do it all at the same time, the score-studying together with the “learning the notes”. Check out the next blog.
    Best wishes,



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