On January 31 2005, the 6th birthday of my son Janos, I had the craziest jump-in of my life. At 6 pm on Jan 30 I received a phone call from the GÃ¼rzenich Orchestra if I could play the Lalo Concerto at 11 am the next morning. At this moment I had just returned from the ski slopes back to the hotel in Austria, where I spent some days of skiing holidays with my son. I hadn’t played the Lalo for about two years, but since it was one of the first concertos I had ever learned I was confident enough to agree to the gig.
I arrived shortly after midnight in Cologne (yes, I confess, I sped horribly, up to 140 miles/hour), slept for 6 hours, got up early, walked across the street to the Philharmonic Hall to re-learn the Lalo while my manager took care of my sleeping little son and then rehearsed at 9:30 the concerto. The concert went surprisingly well and since then I have a special bond with this orchestra and especially its cello section. As a farewell present they gave me a beautiful little postcard with a cellist on ski plus a pair of black skiing socks – short story: while I had my cello with me in holidays because of the need of practising the Jolivet concerto, I didn’t bring any concert clothes. And while advising the orchestra to get me some black pants and a shirt, I forgot to tell them about black socks. Somebody of the cello section lent me his for the first concert – and that’s the reason they gave me black skiing socks, so that next time I go skiing I’d be prepared for another jump-in at least with socks.
The orchestra invited me back for October 2007 and wanted me to play the German premier of Unsuk Chin’s celloconcerto. Unfortunately she hadn’t finished it before then so we had to switch repertoire, and it became the Dvorak concerto. Because I love playing during the second half in the cello section I joined them for one of my all-time favorite orchestra pieces, Daphins and Chloe, which made the bond grew deeper between us – they invited me to their annual cello outing in a brewery, great fun! Soon after they invited me again for January 2009 to finally get the Chin Concerto, but guess what: she didn’t finish it again, so we had to switch program again, how embarrassing.
The chief conductor, great friend and musician, Markus Stenz, gracefully accepted to exchange the Chin with the Dutilleux Concerto, while in the second half we kept the original piece, Don Quixotte by Strauss. As a special encore the cellists of the orchestra are playing with me the hymnus of Julius Klengel for 12 cellos. Well, and this just happened, or at least the first concert, and I am so glad I survived it, because as usual I was late. I wonder if it has anything to do with me being gemini – I read somewhere that gemini are always late, not because we are arrogant or clueless, but because we tend to find something else to do in the last second…
In this case I wanted to start practising the Dutilleux which I hadn’t played since 4 years a little before Christmas, but ended up taking a break from the cello (and obviously this blog as well) from Dec 15 until Jan 1. On the 1st of January I got up early in order to finally prepare my concert, and I could not find the music for the Dutilleux anywhere. I knew I absolutely had to start working on that piece that day, otherwise I wouldn’t manage to memorize it again, and after about a dozen of phone calls I managed to connect with Wolfgang Boettcher, the old professor of the University of Arts in Berlin who had given the first German performance of this glorious piece. He not only gave me the cello part but also the score with a beautiful dedication of Dutilleux to him, which touched me very much that he trusted me with that valuable document.
On the 7th I was more or less ready to go for the first rehearsal which took place at 11 am in Cologne. I got up at 4:45 am, took the local train to the national train, missed it because of problems of the freezing temperatures which screwed up the local train schedule and arrived in Cologne two hours later the planned, at 12:10 which gave me exactly 20 min of rehearsals. Mon Dieu, I was exhausted and realized that I was far from knowing the Dutilleux well enough to rehearse it the next day – in a public rehearsal on top of everything. I locked myself into the dressing room of the hall and forced myself to stay there until I could get through it by heart without major mishaps, which worked after six hours of work at 1 in the morning.
The rehearsal the next day was rocky, but I survived, barely though since the sleep deprivation and the task of rehearsing two big pieces with orchestra were wearing me out. Markus Stenz and the orchestra were incredibly patient with me and I am so happy to say that the concert this morning went really well; the hall was practically full (for a concert with such a unpopular program) and the audience listened wonderfully concentrated and silent, a real treat and reward to play for. Yes, I admit to getting lost twice in the Dutilleux for about 2 seconds, until the conductor got me back in. This is the risk of playing difficult modern scores by heart, but the reward is that I can be much more expressive and free with the overall performance, and I tend to know the pieces much better and play with more focus (at least this what I like to believe… ).
The GÃ¼rzenich Orchestra offers a great sevice to its audience by recording the concert onto cd so quickly that after the concert people can line up, buy this cd and even get it signed by conductor and soloist. I am listening right now to the performance, surprised by some very beautiful spots, annoyed by some things which didn’t work out as I had thought they did – especially in the Strauss I played at times a bit too intensely, but hey, the Don Quixotte was quite an intense character, why not play it like that?!