Alban's Blog

Dvorak in Utah and Madrid

Yes, I made it finally to Utah after all the trouble with visas and ticket changes – and I was rewarded with the most gorgeous skiing weather you could imagine! My son János came with me and we skied every single day; I was a bit jealous because he got to do it the whole day while I had to dash in and out of Park City into Salt Lake City to rehearse the Dvorak with the Utah Symphony under their chief conductor Keith Lockhart but I must admit that in spite of all the fatherly envy I enjoyed my time with this courageous orchestra which played two beautiful concerts – for free! They donated their salary for the sake of keeping the organisation going, and they really put their pride into the two performances which included two of the great pieces of the last 100 years: Dvorak Cello concerto and Strauss Heroes Life. And while knowing Keith for 15 years now, With Andris Nelsons after the concertI have never seen him more inspired and genuine in his music making than this time – he is now conducting without a stick, which in his case I think made his approach somewhat more profound, very interesting. I sat in both second halves to play the Heroes Life in the section, and it was a real joy to play that incredible piece.For my 18th birthday my father had put the cello part of “Ein Heldenleben” by R.Strauss on my stand in my room, and when he saw my uncomprehending face he explained to me that his birthday present for me was to play for the first (and last) time of my life substitute with his orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic. I more or less memorized the part and remember so well the nerves and the excitment I felt going onto this stage with the colleagues of my father whom I knew more or less from my earliest childhood on. Zubin Mehta was conducting and I was in heaven! Anyway, whenever there is another chance to play that piece, I’ll try to do it, only to revive these early adolescence memories!

The craziest day was the day of the first concert. Blue sky, perfect skiing conditions, I decided to go up the mountain with János for one hour before the dress rehearsal – I skied from 9 till 10 am, took a shower, drove into town (35 min drive), played the dress rehearsal from 11:10 until noon, dashed back for three more hours of skiing, took a nab which felt as deep as no other nap ever before (János had to wake me up because I had not heard the alarm) and then finally prepared for the concert that same night (practise the piece, take a shower, get dressed, off we go, another 35 min drive into town). During the drive I could hardly look out of my eyes – the jetlag as well as the skiing had gotten to me, but isn’t it wonderful what adrenalin does to you? As soon as my feet touched the stage I felt rejuvenated and ready to play the arguably best concerto written for any instrument, “The Dvorak”. Why is that? Very simple: It is maybe Dvorak’s best symphonic composition, which means the orchestra is being treated in it best possible way, shining throughout the whole piece while never overshadowing the cello – an actually impossible task, because the cello is just a cello; it doesn’t project as well as violin nor the piano, is not as brilliant as any of these instruments and therefore the orchestra parts of other concertos are often a bit subdued or just thin in order to let the cello do its magic. Not with this one here: orchestra and cello pushing each other up to incredible heights of music making, and for every cellist it is almost like a drug playing this piece – the more you play it the more you need it!

On Easter Sunday we flew back home to Berlin, arrived there in the early afternoon, unpacked, did some laundry, ate together with our neighbours only to leave the next morning at 6:30 am to the airport – to do another Dvorak in Madrid. My fatigue was such that I forgot my backpack with my entire life (laptop etc…) in the taxi. Lucky enough I realized it at check-in and managed to track down the taxi who brought me the backpack 15 min before the departure of the plane. Good start for a tough day, I thought, but actually from there on everything went smooth. I arrived in time at the hotel, took another nap, practised a bit, rehearsed from 5 until 6 pm and played the concert at 7:30 together with the CBSO under their beloved chief Andris Nelsons about whom I have written already about 40 days ago (we did the same concert twice in Birmingham, and this was now just a happy repeat – happy for me!). The best was still to come: after the “Concerto for Orchestra” from Bartok (I was allowed to sit in the very back of the group, front desk were two other former Pergamenschikow students) we were taken to a wonderful restaurant (1 Michelin star) in which we ended up throwing truffels into each other’s mouths. Yes, it was well after midnight, we were the last ones in that restaurant, and I hope they forgave our bad behaviour, because the food was really delicious.

And now it’s 4 am, and instead of trying to get over my jetlag as fast as possible, I am making the worst mistake you can do, by staying up infinitely late… Silly me!


  • Brian

    Alban, it was a great concert. We really enjoyed seeing/hearing you again. Sorry we couldn’t chat longer. Hope to see you again soon. Thanks for a wonderful evening.

  • Thomas Walter

    The Dvorak concerto is wonderfull, indeed, but were there never times in your career in which you were fed up with it?

  • Alban

    Was good to see you there as well, Brian!
    No, I was actually never fed up with the concerto; it is the piece I played most in my life, more than hundred times, I’d say, but I never had to play it more than three or four times in a row, and then a couple of months before the next performance, which helps to keep the love fresh. At times I didn’t even get to play it for more than a year. Since I do play a variety of concerts I keep the love for the more “conventional” pieces alive, I guess…


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