Alban's Blog

Everything comes to an end…

My 10-year-old son János was crying today for minutes after dropping me off with his mother at the airport in San Juan. I had to fight with the tears as well, but in both our cases I don’t think it had much to do with the fact that I was parting earlier than them. We are so used to me parting for much longer than this one week which we are going to be separated this time that separation alone doesn’t move us anymore. It was much rather due to the fact that a beautiful time had come to an end.He is a rather profound young man, who is very aware of time flying by quickly, especially well-spent time. We had maybe the best quality time ever spent together, although I was a bit sceptical how I would manage to work in such a holiday place like Puerto Rico, or vice versa what kind of holidays it would be while having to “work” – having to learn a brand new piece of music. Judging by our tears it must have worked out well, and indeed it did!

I have rarely spent such a relaxing holiday, and the two, three hours I worked behind the cello didn’t spoil the “recharging of my batteries” whatsoever, rather the opposite. It gave a bit of structure to an otherwise completely lazy day, that I actually enjoyed the freetime even more. Besides shooting some basketballs at the driveway of his grandmother, eating good food, swimming in the pool, body-surfing and playing beachtennis at the gorgeous playas of Puerto Rico 15 min away from the house we had some deep “man-to-man” conversations, often after 7:15 pm, when it got too dark to continue playing or reading at the beach. Day before yesterday we actually stayed until 9 pm, sitting on our little towels, watching the waves and talking about more or less everything that has any relevance to us (death, love, soccer, school, dreams, future, past, you name it). Most wonderful bonding time I’ll never forget!

Yes, everything comes to an end, happy times as well as unhappy ones – though somehow the unhappy ones tend to last longer; I wouldn’t have minded that my diving trip last week ended a bit earlier after getting so horribly seasick that I could hardly move at the end of it. I knew I was sensitive to too much movement, so before driving down South of the island I took a sick-pill which seemed to help very well until we got to our drop-off point four miles off the shore of Puerto Rico. The sea became more and more agitated, and while looking for my finns I had to abandon the position of looking at the horizon for 20 seconds, and in this short time the sea-sickness started creaping up on me, and once it is in this process, it is very, very difficult to stop it…

I did the first dive rather well, saw some nice fish down at 32 meters, but while waiting at 4 m depths before getting back to the boat I got so sick by just seeing the vessel above me moving like crazy, that I had to throw up for the first time. The time until the next dive passed far too slowly, as I was looking forward to being allowed back into the warm ocean,  because inside it you don’t feel sick, so they say. Well, my stomach didn’t agree with that known fact, so I had to stop the dive after 30 minutes in agony, waiting for another hour until we reached the harbour. Oh, never again, I swore to myself, but already I can’t wait to try it again, then with two pills 12 hours before the dive, and one right before it – never give up too easily 🙂

And now I am sitting once more in another plane which brings me back via Philadelphia to Europe, straight to Glasgow where I will have to proof to myself that 86 hours of practising (yes, I really counted every one of them!) are enough to really know a concerto for the rehearsals before a world premier. I read through the entire orchestra score after finishing my first two hours practise session without any score, and I felt rather secure memory wise. That doesn’t mean that in the rehearsals with Ilan Volkov and the Scottish BBC Symphony I won’t fall apart at some point, especially in the frentically fast virtuosic passages, but I am prepared for that, ready to apologize to the orchestra for stealing their time.

Fact is that if I manage to survive the rehearsals without having to look into my part I will feel much safer and freer during performance, and I want nothing more right now than to show the world that this concerto by Unsuk Chin deserves to be played everywhere because it is a magical piece of music. Modern music at its best: not populistic nor easy-listening, but the listener will be able to understand and enjoy it while listening to it for the first time which for me is essential since often people aren’t willing to listen to a certain piece three, four times until they manage to understand what’s going on and what the composer intended to express through his (very often too many) notes.

I am even taking the luxury to arrive in Glasgow a day prior to the rehearsals (I am normally a last-second man who loves going to rehearsals straight from the airport… :)) in order to adjust to any jetlag, meet the conductor Ilan Volkov the night before the first time with the orchestra, and yes, maybe have a glass of wine for the first time in a month (I lived without any alcohol in Puerto Rico, good cleansing there….) with the composer – and then enjoy hearing her piece for the first time with orchestra. Luxury is also the amount of rehearsal time: 3 rehearsals of 70-80 minutes each (not including the dress rehearsal) should be plenty of time to bring this music together, especially since there is nothing experimental going on which would have to be explained for hours to an orchestra. Besides that the SSO is a very quick, friendly and responsive group of musicians and I can’t wait to work with them again. In between the rehearsal period in Glasgow and the premier in London I have three days off which is also wonderful, because it allows me to reflect about and listen to (the recording of the) rehearsals, cleaning up some possible technical problems and fullfilling some extra wishes from the beloved composer!


  • Raymond Chan

    Looking forward to hearing your performance of the Chin’s concerto at the Proms on the 13th online , it’s great that it will be archive for 1 week so we can hear a few more times to get more from the piece.

    Good luck with the world premiere at Royal Albert Hall.

    Toronto, Canada

  • Pablo Hernandez

    I would love to see you in that performance Alban. I am pretty sure both the recording and the premiere performance in London will be succesful. Looking forward to meet you some day (and to receive a lesson from you :D).

    Best wishes,
    Pablo Hernandez
    Puerto Rico

  • Michael Chen

    Hi Alban:
    Ilan Volkov was one of the most outstanding conductor we had as assistant conductor here at Boston Symphony. I hope you will work well with him and the orchestra. I’ll try to listen in online at your Royal Albert Hall concert on the 13th….,but at this moment I am traveling along Rhein and Mosel wine tasting :))))) Yesterday I hiked up the small mountain at Bacharach am Rhein to the old castle which has since been converted into a Youth Hostel. We drank beer out on the terrace overlooking the twisting Rhein and the vineyards on the sloped while listening to a group of youngster practicing Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony inside the castle. They sounded very musical and fresh — quite a fantastic feeling. Afterwards, the young musicians poured out onto the courtyard for their Lemonade break. Really special!!

    Can’t wait for you to bring Chin Concerto to Boston!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *