Alban's Blog

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… 🙂

And since I don’t suffer of jet-lag I can afford to come over even for only one concert (as long as somebody else pays for the tickets….) and fly back right away, as I did on Thursday, arriving in Boston at 4 pm with a rehearsal from 6:30 – 9 pm. Yes, I admit, towards the end of that Elgar rehearsal I was pretty much wasted, but I adore this feeling of floating, as if suspended in time and space, not sure where one is – and the following night I slept like a baby, 9 hours almost straight, from 10 pm until 7 am. Perfection!

Less perfect was the story of my bow. As I wrote in my last entry, I am in love with my one and only Kittel bow, so much, that I had nightmares for the last 8 years, being afraid that I could loose it or break it to the point of unfixable. Well, with the last breaking of it right before the Wigmore Hall concert and me having glued it with super-glue, my luthier Ingeborg Behnke told me that this kind of fixing won’t work anymore. She sent it to the bowmaker Hans-Carl Schmidt in Dresden who was supposed to build a new tip and somehow connect with the rest of the Kittel bow (the break is right before the tip). He had the bow for more than two weeks, but when I called him to make sure that I could have it back next week, he told me that he hadn’t even started yet. He couldn’t find the same wood and would recommend anyway that I should come to Dresden to try out his newest bows. I had played on one before, as a student, and they are a far cry from the quality of my Kittel; how sad is that when a bowmaker doesn’t recognize a great stick when he sees one and even tries to trick me out of one of the greatest bows ever made.

My luthier was furious, she felt betrayed that he tried to sell me a bow while his job was clearly to repair this gorgeous bow of mine. It is being sent back as we speak, and I hope I can find somebody who sees it as a real duty to safe this bow and build a tip with which I could continue playing on cloud seven! Tonight and especially yesterday I played on my decent substitute bow, and what a difference. Also very nice stick, but it doesn’t pull the sound as the Kittel did. Luckily nobody has complaint yet, even though I am sure if they would here both bows in a row, audiences would be able to tell the difference. Or maybe it’s just me? But even if I am indeed the only one who realizes the difference, then it still matters, because a great bow does inspire us to make music more freely and beautifully (as some instruments can do as well), and with a lesser bow we have to work much harder.

Mh, but maybe this hard work is actually being appreciated? Maybe more than a maybe a bit more colourful and inspired performance? Fact is that I hardly ever got so many nice comments from so many sweet people like here in Providence, and this for a rather intimate performance of the Elgar Concerto, a piece people like to hear the way good old Jacqueline du Pré played it (which is amazing indeed, but do we all have to do the same?), and I can’t do it like she did it, because I am far older, and much less charismatic than she was. Gosh, I saw her on video doing that piece, and who can beat that?! So don’t even try to do it, we left-over cellists just have to interpret it the way it speaks to us and nothing else.

The orchestra was in amazing shape – I sat in and played Petruchka with them in the second half, and they did a marvellous job, lead by this high-energy, very charismatic and funny conductor Larry Rachleff whose genuine and passionate music making I enjoy very much. Rather amazing, that in the American “province” you find such quality in music making and also reception of music; concentrated listening and warm support of “their” orchestra, the audience proved worthy of such good orchestra in town! And I somehow really like the Q&A sessions after the concert; it’s somehow very nice to connect with an audience afterwards and answer their questions, hear their praise or criticism, suggestions etc… I think we musicians have to make a much bigger effort to connect with our audiences because they don’t HAVE to come to our concerts. We must make them WANT to come, and what is easier to do this than making the connection also on a non-musical base, make them understand and like us a people we are – often interesting and crazy enough people (us musicians) for the average audience in order to feel the need to come back and hear more about what’s music all about.

This is actually the whole reason why I am writing this blog (yes, also for my bestselling book-deal in 10 years, when I will public “the best of” this blog mess here :)) – to show people how musicians tick, how common, highly sensitive yet at times silly or even crazy we are, how interesting or boring the life of a travelling artist can be and what the person in his funny dress on stage is thinking while we are watching him sweat and miss all these notes…

Oywey, my eyes are closing by themselves, I can’t think straight anymore – it was a long day after all, practising Shosta 2 for Copenhagen this week, the two Boccherini Concerti for Mid December and the Elgar for last night; notes jumping up and down in my brain – – I’d better stop and wish you good night and later on Happy Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday (no presents, just good food and cozy atmosphere…


  • Ellen

    Hi, Alban–
    Yep, du Pré was breathtaking, but every good musician brings puts his own stamp on what he plays. If Bill and I want to hear Jacqueline, we can (fortunately, still) listen to her recordings. But we don’t always want to hear her interpretation, and we’re glad to learn and enjoy what younger musicians like you do with the cello.

    We’re so sorry about your bow; I know, from an American acquaintance who plays violin with the Radio Luxembourg orchestra, that a fine bow is as treasured as a fine instrument. I can try to find out which luthier he uses, if you like; I think it’s one in Italy; I may still have one of his business cards.

    In any case, we hope that you again soon have a bow that you’re really happy with.
    Ellen (& Bill)

  • Daniela

    Hi Alban,

    I loved your performance of the Elgar with the Rhode Island Philharmonic. I was sitting quite close and was amazed by your concentration. I didn’t know you were playing in the orchestra for the Stravinsky! I’ve been reading your blog this morning and find it very inspiring and funny. Thanks for sharing with us your strategies for tackling hard pieces. I loved your father’s story about Emil Gilels.
    I’m very sorry about your bow and I hope you will find someone to fix it. Your sound was gorgeous even though your were playing with your second bow!
    I hope you will come to Rhode Island, again.


  • lois rodi

    i have the recording of du pre and have loved it for years – but when i heard you play on saturday with ripo it was just as if i was hearing it for the very first time – it was gorgeous- it sung out to my soul and my heart – thank you- thank you

  • Jean Gress

    I broke a bow at the tip and after finding a replacement, repurchased the repaired bow. they said it could break anytime-so far it has not. Bows make a huge difference in the sound of an instrument. Sorry I had another concert-I prepared the RI music but had another concert the same night to play elsewhere.


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