Alban's Blog

Facial Expressions during the Dvorak Concerto in Canada

Chilling out and preparing for a short night on the plane from Toronto to Munich I take the opportunity of the wireless service here in the Air Canada Lounge to write about my thoughts of my past week. I played the Dvorak with the orchestra of Kitchener/Waterloo (near Toronto) conducted by their very talented young chief conductor Edwin Outwater. I met him before in San Francisco and heard such wonderful things about him from the musicians of the SF Symphony that I decided to come to Canada for only these performances to open his 2nd season – and I didn’t regret that decision: each performance got more flexible and more profound, a real treat for a maybe over-played concerto.

No, I don’t get tired of it, the music is just too strong, and if conductor and orchestra are joining in trying to create something fresh and new then it is hard not to enjoy every second on stage. In intermission after the first concert a bunch of young cello students showed up to ask me all kinds of questions, and one of them really stuck with me. She said that she liked my facial expressions and asked if I was really feeling all that or if I was putting it on. Strong question, yes, but I appreciated it because it made me think.

My answer was a bit wishy-washy since she had surprised me with the question, but what I should have said was that I do feel very strong about that piece (who doesn’t) but that I can’t see my own expressions nor can I actually hear if that what I want to express arrives in the audience. So while my facial expressions are definitely not “put on”, I can only hope that they correspond to what I feel inside myself. The for me interesting thing is that about 10 months ago I did decide to open myself more towards the audience. Before I was playing with the eyes closed 95% of the time, the head a bit declined, in a way ignoring my audience.

Inspired by watching some singers who do have to face their audience and by that engaging them much more into their music making I started forcing myself to look at this anonymous crowd in front of me at least once in a while, and it didn’t come easy. But in doing so I felt a much stronger connection to the audience and after a couple of months I realized that I started relaxing my facial muscles and that indeed I dared to let my face become in a way a mirror of what I was feeling while playing, which is more or less the same what happens when I just listen to music. I haven’t watched myself in a long time, maybe I would be deeply embarrassed, but while being on stage I really don’t think at all about how I look. You could say that I liberated myself of the inhibitions I used to have while being among people I don’t know. It does help that my eye-sight is not very good and I can’t really differenciate faces – this way I think even less what people might think about me.

So I was a bit shocked being confronted by this young woman about the fact that people not only listen but do watch me while playing  -  oops, I guess I have to forget about this as quickly as possible otherwise I get all self-conscious and don’t manage to stay natural on stage which for me is almost as important as playing the right notes.


  • Larry Larson

    Well, as Principal Trumpet of the KWSymphony, I especially enjoyed watching your facial expressions as you sat in with our cello section after the Interval to perform “Pictures At An Exhibition” with us. The constant smile on your face was very inspiring to me and many of my colleagues in the KWS. I understand it was your first “Pictures” ever, and I’m thrilled that you had that opportunity with us.

    Your Dvorak performances were wonderful, as well as your treat to us of the Bach and Ligeti encores!
    All the very best, Alban. We hope to see you back in KW sometime in the near future.


  • Erin Gray

    As an audience member…way at the back…(which really isn’t that far at the Centre in the Square) I have to say, I enjoyed not only the facial expressions, but the body language and of course, your amazing performance. I agree with Larry, we hope to see you back soon.



  • Rachel Prichard

    Yes Alban – your appearance on stage, including your facial expressions, are very important to an audience. (The word “audience” is not enough to include all the senses the public uses when at a live performance.) While slightly to the side and so not able to see you face on – you certainly have a very pleasing demeanour and one can appreciate the music much better through your visual performance as compared with listening to a CD. (Why go to a live concert otherwise?) We thought your interpretation was intelligent, musical and memorable.
    I will never forget the amazing experience of watching Tortellier play once in England with his daughter, Maria de la Pau. The whole experience was electrifying. On the other hand my husband and I also saw that amazingly gifted celllist, Jacqueline Dupré, playing when she was alive. Those people who have seen her will probably all agree that her bodily gymnastics detracted so much from the music that we needed to close our eyes to appreciate her playing better. Peter Cropper, the lead violin of the former Lindsay String Quartet also fell into this category, unfortunately and one or two others come to mind. I am grateful that this scenario is very unusual.
    Anyway Alban – we thank you for your excellence and look forward to seeing you play again many times. It was our first visit to the KWS as we were visiting from out of town and we look forward so much to more concerts there both with and without you.

  • Thomas Walter

    yes facial expression is important; i heard your brahms double concerto at the schumann festival this year, but unfortunaly i had a bad seet, so i could only see your cello. I had never thought that a performance looses so much of its spirit when you can’t see the performer…


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