Alban's Blog

Financial Crisis

One hour ago I was affected for the first time by the financial crisis, but first a little update on what I have been doing since my last scribbling:

After an enjoyable Elgarconcerto in Bonn two weeks ago with Stefan Blunier, a wonderfully original conductor, and his newly acquired orchestra I had a whole week at home to take care of some paper- and office-work while spending some quality time with wife and family.  Right now I am sitting in the plane flying me home from Valencia (via Zurich) where I played another Haydn D Major concerto with the local orchestra and the 78 year-old Günther Herbig. In the second half I took the opportunity to join the orchestra in a very gripping and emotional performance of Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony, 80 min of intense music-making. I was in awe by the energy this old gentleman projected into the orchestra which played their hearts out for him. Great energy, good amount of wide hair and not too many wrinkles, I thought he was about 60 years old when I met him at first, discovering only later through wikipedia his real age.

During my Haydn performance I doubted myself constantly and compared to what I had done a month earlier with the same piece in Cologne – playing it under the inspiration and guidance of a specialist for authentic performance-practises, Ton Koopman. He had urged me (as I wrote in a blog right afterwards) to hold back with the vibrato and to exaggerate certain articulations which I happily accepted and achieved quite a good result by the second performance (at least that was my impression). Unlike times before I didn’t feel that by stopping the vibrato I had stopped my music-making. Yesterday in Valencia (beautiful city by the way – great modern architecture but also a wonderful historical center with an amazing Basilica!) I didn’t dare to take the same road, especially since Maestro Herbig didn’t encourage the orchestra to play without vibrato. In Cologne the radio orchestra had as a matter of fact hired a concertmaster who specialized in baroque music, and they played with very few members, some of them using baroque bows.

Strangely enough I felt guilty playing with more romantic sound last night, as if I was betraying Ton Koopman, Haydn and the way this music was most probably played “back then”. Did I corrupt myself in focusing on a homogenic performance (how bizarre would that have been the orchestra vibrating while me playing without any – not very convincing in my eyes) rather than sticking to what I knew was “right”? Well, right and wrong in music are obviously not decisions about life and death, and Harnancourt himself writes in his book “Musik als Klangsprache” that most the most important thing is that the music speaks, and by articulating as I did with Ton Koopman I hope I managed to at least “speak” the music well enough. On the one hand it is important to reflect about music and avoid too many compromises, on the other hand it is also crucial to present a piece of music with conviction and heart, and in yesterday’s case I don’t think it would have shown much conviction but rather self-righteousness from my part if I had played as “purely” as I did in Cologne.

Obviously I have been thinking about what is going these days, and yes, it worries me, but I have been expecting this since quite a long time. Maybe I am too conservative, but my parents raised me financially very conservative. My father never invested in anything except the education of his children, his house and his violin. He never bought a single stock in his life, he doesn’t know what a mutual fund is and bought his house 36 years ago and paid it back the following 35 years. A friend of mine predicted about 6 years ago about the crisis we are in right now, and I am actually only shocked about the disbelief of everybody: you really didn’t need to be Nostradamus to know what was coming up. Apartments in NYC went up 1000% in value – but did the value really go up this high? No, the poor quality of these places stayed the same, overheated and run down, and just because people bet on the price going up the price actually went up, astronomically so, even though the places weren’t worth it.

Not talking about all these credit cards which are thrown at you when you live in the States. Pre-approved, no interest for the first six months, and people go for it. At least in Germany they take the full amount of your credit card out of your checking account, and if they can’t get that full amount, they immediately block your card. But in the US and the UK you can pay just the minimum payment, and you can open as many credit cards as you like. How can an entire economy function only on borrowed money? People overspending for years and years now, so it had to come to this point sooner or later. And the funny thing is, they don’t really change the rules. Do we need financial responsability be taught in schools? No, it’s something the parents have to teach their kids, but how should that work if most adults don’t have any clue how to deal with money?

Isn’t it almost the same problem with relationships? Nobody teaches us how to lead a healthy relationship – we just hear about eternal love and people pretend to be happily married or “linked” in some other way, but very few people dare to speak openly about their problems. It’s personal, as are finances, so people don’t often share their deepest fears and worries. We have to keep the appearances up, until it all blows open. At least in a relationship you can split up, divorce, whatever – in this financial desaster there is no escape, and obviously the weak ones are getting hit the worst again.

Sorry, shouldn’t even go there, since I don’t know enough about the subject, but it troubles me that people act as if this was a Tsunami nobody had foreseen and nobodoy had anything to do with. Sad thing is that there are far too many guilty people in order to punish anybody, including me having profited from buying stocks and selling them with profit – for having done nothing in return! To receive large quantities of money for just “giving” a small amount of money is perverted and wrong, as are bonuses and salaries for people with lots of responsability but who don’t get held accountable for when they screw up.

Anyway, it remains to be seen, what classical music will do in this times – I am happy to play for part of my fee if it contributes towards saving an orchestra’s season, and maybe that would be the way to go for more or less the whole world, at least those who can somewhat afford doing that, because this is just the beginning of the crisis, I am afraid…


  • Katie Berggren

    Insightful and inspiring as always, Alban.

    A fan in Wisconsin

  • Shunske

    if you weren’t such a great musician and politics not such a corrupt business i would have urged you to become a politician 😀 good also to know i wasn’t alone in juggling thoughts about “period” vs. “modern” interpretations…am doing quite a bit of that myself these days. good luck, and greetings from NYC!

  • Boris Nedialkov

    The part about Haydn was very helpful to me! In my country the authentic practices you describe are not in vogue, with some minor exceptions. To me however, they are more natural and close to my own feeling about this kind of music. I had to play Haydn C dur recently and I did it so as to please the audience, with vibrato and romantic nuances, but it was not convincing at all. You, however, gave me a great idea how to overcome my reluctance to perform Haydn in a more romantic way, without experiencing any internal conflict over it. Thanks!

  • Jeri Stilwell

    I am enjoying your blog — and you are so right about the financial situation in th US.

    My son, John, lives in Herzogenrath, and hopes to attend your Aachen concert in April. I wrote to you about him after you first played in Portland. He can play some mean Bach Suites.

    I am curious about your blog — do you write it in English of have it translated from the German? Anyway the Englisn is very good.

    I hope you are coming to Portland again soon. I took 6 guests last time.

  • Alban

    Hi Jeri,

    yes, I write this myself, sorry for the mistakes, but I am often too lazy to proof-read the stuff. Tell your son to stop by in my dressing room after the performance in Aachen. If he needs a ticket, he should e-mail me beforehand, maybe I have a comp left.
    All best,

  • Alban

    Dear readers,

    I would like to apologize for having completely misunderstood and misrepresented the following facts: my manager had informed me that the Cleveland Orchestra changed the program for June 2010 and that they weren’t going to need me anymore to perform the Concerto by Matthias Pintscher. I assumed by having recently read articles about how the financial crisis affects US orchestras that this had to do with budget cuts of the Cleveland orchestra. This is completely wrong, and neither has the Cleveland orchestra laid off anybody. I apologize sincerely for having written something without having gotten my facts straight beforehand. The reason for the program change is that the focus of the program is now the 10th Anniversary of the Cleveland Orchestra’s young composers’ initiative and will feature ONLY works commissioned as part of this initiative. I also owe apologies to my manager whom I quoted also wrongly; she had never told me that this cancellation had anything to do with budget cuts of the Cleveland Orchestra – we had talked about financial problems of smaller US orchestras because of the crisis and that artists, especially soloists might have to be content with lesser fees or might not even get invited so easily anymore, and in my little brain I had put two and two together (added up as five in my calculation though…) and came up with the wrong assumption.
    Best wishes,


  • Nicola Frei

    Lieber Herr Gerhardt,

    mit oder ohne Vibrato hat mir und meiner Frau das D-Dur Haydn Konzert ausgezeichnet gefallen. Vielen Dank für die wunderbaren Momente auch mit ihrer schönen Zugabe; wir haben es genossen und haben uns sehr gefreut Sie kennenzulernen. Sie haben hier in Valencia drei (meine Tochter auch) neue Fans und freuen uns sehr auf ein vielleicht baldiges wiedersehen in Valencia. Vielen Dank und beste Wünsche für die Zukunft.

    Nicola Frei aus Valencia (Spanien)


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