Alban's Blog

Category: Music Education

Bach at Train Stations

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…

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: 

Adrenalin Pure – Three weeks of craze!

The past three weeks have been maybe the most demanding in my life so far, at least in regards of concertising (not talking about emotional private stuff which I won’t mention since I’d be hit on the head by too many people about being too open and I would have to justify it with the lack of privacy-filter and apologize…). After playing a week of Bachsuites at unusual venues as described in my last blog while practising the highly intense and demanding Pintscher Celloconcerto (Reflection on Narcissus), I travelled to Cleveland on the 2nd of November to play the Pintscher (by heart, couldn’t do it any other way as I like the feeling of authority to know the piece inside out) with this most amazing Cleveland Orchestra. Right after I had two days in Berlin to get the Chin Concerto back into my hands which I had to play in The Hague and Amsterdam, and now I am coming back from a week of Barber-Concerto in Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte.

Tour with Asian Youth Orchestra

Almost 25 years ago I joined the Federal Youth Orchestra of Germany (BJO) in which I played altogether for three years every summer, Easter and winter (and one extra session I don’t remember when). This absolutely changed my life as a musician because it brought me together with young people like me, talented and dedicated to music, different to the other kids in school, sometimes outsiders, but never really geeks or nerds. Playing music together in an orchestra after practising all these years on my own was mind-blowing, an experience so elevating that after the first session I just knew that I would not want to have any other profession than playing music, for the rest of my life. When I was asked to play five concerts with the Asian Youth Orchestra I agreed, first a bit half-heartedly because I wanted to provide real good summer holidays for my son János, but then nostalgia took over and I wanted to relive the time in a youth orchestra.

Prokofiev and Masterclass in Houston

Exhausted and flattened by a somewhat more tiring than usual Prokofiev-Sinfonia-Concertante I am sitting in my dressing room while Hannu Lintu is conducting the second half, Sibelius Symphony No.2 with the Houston Symphony. Oh yes, I would have loved to play this great piece, even asked for sitting in the section for the second half, but then suddenly I felt such fatigue after my performance that I am glad that it didn’t work out (they didn’t have an extra part for me). In Strasbourg I played this symphony after a Dvorak Concerto, but the Prokofiev requires even more energy.

Kommt die musische Erziehung in unseren Schulen zu kurz?

This is an article I spoke for the radio station RBB in Berlin last year, and since I am trying to get politically more involved in improving music education in Germany I am posting this article, in German though, sorry…

Bei dieser Frage handelt es sich offensichtlich rein rhetorisch gemeint, denn dass der Musikunterricht in der Regel zu den unwichtigsten Fächern gehört, deshalb im Zweifelsfalle als erstes vom Stundenplan verschwindet und dies in einigen Bundesländern zu 80% sogar bereits getan hat, wissen wir alle. Die eigentliche Frage, und es beschämt mich als Bürger dieser Kulturnation Deutschland, dass wir sie stellen müssen, sollte sein: Ist uns eine musische Erziehung überhaupt wichtig und wozu brauchen wir sie? Geht es uns nur um das Konzertpublikum von morgen oder gibt es tiefer gehende gesellschaftliche Gründe, den Samen der Musik früh genug zu säen? Nein, nicht um später mehr Profimusiker zu ernten (von denen gibt es genug), sondern damit hier nicht eine Generation heranwächst, die sich nur noch über Playstation und Computerspiele auszudrücken weiß.

Teaching and Performing

My father is one of the most dedicated teachers I have ever come across. Since more or less 50 years he has tought the violin, starting at the tender age of 17, and now, after retiring from playing in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for 43 years, he will still have his students at the UdK in Berlin as well as his work with the German Youth Orchestra to make a smooth transition into full retirement (as if this would ever happen…). His dedication and enthusiasm for teaching has made a very big impression on me with a very funny affect: I love to teach, and I grab any possibility of a masterclass to teach – nevertheless because of my father’s dedication I refuse to take a teaching position. I would not be able to fulfill it with the same responsability and care he has shown and which I am convinced is necessary; students seek and need a lot of attention and help, and with me travelling extensively and trying to be as dedicated a father as I can be, I know some of the three things (family, playing, teaching) if not all three would suffer.

This said it might explain why I agreed to accept to teach two masterclasses and play two concerts in two rather different cities within 34 hours this passed weekend: on Saturday I tought four (highly gifted) cellists from the New World Symphony from 11am-2pm in Miami Beach, played  the same evening the second concert of our Haydn D Major, flew Sunday very early (after a delightful late-night party with the young players of this highly inspiring orchestra – their Brahms IV had great passion and emotion in a way of a youth orchestra, but with the perfection of a professional group) to Montreal, rehearsed with Cecile Licad and played an afternoon recital, attended the reception afterwards and then tought 4 students of Matt Haimowitz from 7-9pm.

To be honest I feel rather inadequate at teaching; I know that I can analyze technical problems very well, and because of the excellent teachers I had (especially Markus Nyikos in Berlin) I can also explain and solve them. But as soon as it comes to music I feel much less able to help the players. Different reasons: first of all I don’t really like any kind of pretentious talk about music – using metaphors and images which sound good in theory and might make the teacher look good don’t really help the student much, at least in my experience. Well, let me rephrase it: I have heard numerous times empty musical comments from teachers, conductors and musicians in my life that I have become a bit allergic against meaningless images. But there are some who are masters in using them, and I have greatest respect when somebody manages to put a musical thought into words in a way, that a gifted student (or orchestra musician) can actually change the way he or her plays a certain phrase.

Carlos […]

Elgar in Rhode Island with the substitute bow

Larry Rachleff, the conductor of the Rhode Island Philharmonic, told the audience in the post-concert talk that I did these two concerts in Providence as a “run-out” from Berlin which is actually nicely put – it almost feels like that, and I love it. My manager once asked me if she should connect the dates in the US so that I don’t have to fly for single engagements across the Atlantic, and I declined that offer because it would mean that I have at least three free days in between, and in these three days I could be home, practising the piano with my son… 🙂

Playing for Youngsters and with Legends

I refuse to spend 27 Euro per day to be able to use the internet in my hotel (Hilton in Brussels)! Yes, these hotels are criminal, if you think that for already 10 Euros you can get a flat rate for an entire month. At lesser fancy hotels the wireless access is included, but since the Orchestre National de Belgique is generously paying for my (very nice) room in this hotel, I am writing these lines in a café before meeting the conductor Walter Weller for dinner. This morning we played a so-called open rehearsal at the Palais des Beaux Arts of about 600 children from and around Brussels. “Open Rehearsal” for which we had to have a rehearsal in order to get all the bits and samples right the moderator wanted us to play. It was a very well crafted analysis of the first movement of Brahms’ Third Symphony and the first movement of the Walton Celloconcerto.

Paris: City of Love and the Arts

Actually I wanted to write this text on my way from Paris to Cologne in the train, but sitting together in the TGV (train grand vitesse = French superfast train) next to my good friend and pianist Steven Osborne prohibited me to do anything else but talking to him about life, love and music – which means this text had to wait until my next journey, which was obviously not the  drive in a rent-a-car from Cologne to Berlin the night after our concert in Siegburg, but now, a day later, on my flight from Berlin via Frankfurt to Boston (long live the online-checkin: I am sitting in the exit-row with endless leg-space – no seat in front of me!)..