Alban's Blog

Haydn and Prokofiev in Wellington, New Zealand

The infamous Haydn D Major – how come this piece scares every single cellist? It ain’t fair, because it doesn’t sound difficult, not even remotely so, doesn’t look anything, but still we pee our pants before having to play it. This morning in the dress rehearsal I felt as incapable as I hadn’t felt in a long time (maybe I shouldn’t have watched the Tour de France until 4 am) and lucky enough the saying of “bad dress rehearsal, good concert” worked once again, but still I wasn’t completely fulfilled with myself. What to do with this piece of music? Lovely, springlike, fresh, yes, but at the same time so delicate and dangerous, that you just have to watch out and concentrate so much for just playing in tune.Sorry, should have mentioned, I am in Wellington right now, playing six concerts altogether with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra with Julia Jones conducting, and except the horrible weather here I am loving it. The orchestra is incredibly willing and Julia Jones makes them play this repertoire they are not so familiar with like as if it’s their own. They even played the Haydn “authentically informed”, meaning not too much vibrato and real good phrasing. And their Schumann 4th Symphony was an excellent performance. We Europeans shouldn’t be too full of ourselves – they are able to play “our” music sometimes better than us ourselves.

And the nice thing is that since it is such a long way out, they treat us (the conductor and me) really well – besides nice hotel and nice food after the concert, they show us that they are happy we came all the way out here. In winter! I can’t believe it, spending the precious summer months at a very chilly and extremely windy 8 degrees Celsius, which feel much rather like 3 degrees. Until now it has been raining all the time, and this morning on my way to the dress rehearsal my cello almost flew away, so for the concert I accepted the cab they are providing, although the hall is just 500 m away. But at the same time I should be happy it is so grim outside, because I have to practice like an idiot. Not only the Haydn and the Sinfonia Concertante (which I am doing in the second concert tomorrow in the same hall, dress rehearsal at 10 am, in exactly 9 hours…) , but also the Concerto by Prokofiev which I am recording beginning of September in Bergen, and I have to confess, I just started learning it.

Yes, the Sinfonia Concertante is based upon the concerto, and when the Hyperion people asked me if it was worth recording the two pieces together, I had a look into the score and realized that the Concerto consists of the same material as the Sinfonia Concertante, but it does completely different things with it, so I agreed to record the two pieces for one cd – but it is highly confusing to learn it, since it is so similar, but never the same. Similar passages but with just a few different notes in it, or in a different key. But mainly it’s completely different and not much easier than the Sinfonia Concertante, which Rostropowitsch helped crafting; he even claimed that he wrote certain passages. I believe it, because it is like some of the Horowitz-transcripition on the piano. Sounds develishly difficult while not being so hard, just very effective writing – the opposite of Haydn D Major, so I find it actually quite funny to do these two pieces on the same tour with the same orchestra.

Before I look like a ghost for the rehearsal tomorrow morning and Usha, the artistic coordinator of the orchestra, gives me a hard time for being such a sleeping pill, I’d better get some rest right now, especially since Julia, the conductress, warned me, if I showed up later than 10 minutes before the start of the rehearsal, she would play everything at half-speed. She knows me well – I would hate that most, because I believe that this piece suffers a lot by being played too self-indulgently slow and sticky.

Oh, I used this really bizarre metaphor at a luncheon with the friends of the orchestra (I had to talk about the Prokofiev), comparing these musicians who rest at every single “beautiful moment” (resting meaning taking tons of time, slowing down or just really more or less stopping the pulse) comparing these people to little dogs who pee at every single better-looking tree/bush and make the poor owner wait for ever… ๐Ÿ™‚ Oh yes, I know, I am sooo mean, and maybe just too unmusical to understand that this is real profound music-making!


  • Diana and Jeremy Pope

    Not fulfilled??? !!!! For us your Wellington concert last night was something that will stay with us for as long as we live. We lived in Berlin for four years in the 1990’s and heard a lot of music – but last night beats them all!

    Kia ora.

    Diana and Jeremy

  • Alban

    Dear Diana and Jeremy,

    sorry, sorry, I shouldn’t have said it like that – it is just that I have so many ideas and thoughts I want to bring out in my performance, and then I just hate the fact when I get side-tracked by having to watch out for hitting the right notes. And it’s true, this doesn’t matter at all; I am the first to say that to play some wrong notes is really not a problem as long as the music is happening, and I felt good about the music yesterday. But I was mad with myself for having missed two crucial notes right in the beginning, even though I wasn’t particularly nervous and felt rather confident. And again: I am very well aware that this doesn’t matter, and I didn’t let it spoil the rest of the evening, but when I sat at my computer last night before going to bed I got all frustrated again, how difficult this piece is. Tonight will be a different story, the Prokofiev is so much “easier” to play, because one can just jump inside this full-blooded, crazy music…
    Thanks for having enjoyed the concert, come back tonight, the orchestra deserves the support, they really play with heart and soul, it’s a joy to listen to and play with them.
    Best wishes,

  • Wess Beukes

    Hi Alban

    I was unlucky enough to have to play the Haydn for a few orchestra auditions so can sympathize completely. Looking forward to your Prokovief recordings. South Africa has a huge rivalry with New Zealand on the rugby field (as do Australia), best not ask them about rugby, they lost both games for the first time in about 100years. Enjoy your stay – look forward to hear from you soon again.


  • Boris Nedialkov

    Very interesting, indeed! And what “back stage” revelations…..I totally understand how you feel. And I feel the same about Haydn. It’s so difficult to get it right musically, leaving some room for your ideas to surface, and play in tune at the same time. One cannot improvise at the concert and be sure everything will come out fine. If you let your imagination fly, you will probably let a tone or two (ore more) slip, but then – what is more important to the audience? Do you have an answer to that?

    By the way, I am also learning Prokofiev concerto – 1st movement is down, but I’m still struggling with the others. What do you think about this piece? I simply love it.

  • J.V.B.

    Hey Alban,

    Learning the Haydn concerti is an exercise in reality.Clarity of sound,pitch and musical balance is so important.There is no place hide,no place where you can sort screw up, and blend into the orchestration.It is cello music written in it’s purists form,I for one am very thankful to have them.Nothing gives me goosebumps like hearing them performed well.So whether the C major strikes fear in our hearts,listen to your self in performance,or someone else that you admire,have a glass of wine and enjoy it’s power.

    I personally prefer the D major.I love the “Here we go gathering nuts in May” rondo 3rd movement.*LOL*


  • Alban

    Hi Wess,
    yes, I know about the Rugby, what a desaster; my last concert here in New Zealand in Auckland (Sinfonia Concertante) is on Saturday, at the same time when the Kiwis have their last chance not to get swept by the Aussies, loosing three games in a row since ever, I guess. So who is going to come to our concert? I don’t need a full house to feel happy, but if there is nobody, or just a third full – that’s tough, especially since it is such a nice program with the Prokofiev in first half, and then Ma Mere l’Oye and La Mer in the second half. I think it is a bit of a shame to have the Haydn D major as audition piece, as it demands qualities of a cellist which are different to the qualities really needed in an orchestra musician.

    You have to let your imagination fly, Boris, in that piece – otherwise it is just boring, simple music. One doesn’t have to go crazy, but it has to have a certain freedom, which doesn’t mean it should be played self-indulgently slow. I like the Concerto by Prokofiev very much, have never heard a recording of it yet and still need to buy a score, but it strikes me as a very special and it is not right that we never hear it in concert. Will have to change that ๐Ÿ™‚

    Hi JVB,
    all you say is even more true to the Bach Suites, I think, since they are so much harder from the musical and bow-technical point of view – I also find them much purer than the concerto, which has so much rather empty virtuoso gestures, especially in the first movement. Oh, I don’t mind, but I don’t think it is Haydn’s strongest work. I much prefer his middle symphonies, where he is more original and humorous. But at the end of the day, since we don’t have no Mozart, I love the Haydn Concerti! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks for the interesting entries, all best from New Zealand,

  • Phoebe Soon

    Hi Alban!

    Thank you so much for the Friday concert in Auckland!! I know how hard that Haydn was although I am not an accomplished cellist myself. I can tell that you have strived the whole way to practice it until perfect! The audience don’t mind if you made a few mistakes. I agree with the others: that they are there for the musical conveyance. You did your best!

    While I sat 4th row and I brought my students along with me, one of them couldn’t really watch you and I was afraid of that since he was born with a defected eye and went through many heart operations. There is only so much that he can play but that is his limit. He could see a cello figure but he couldn’t see the hands clearly. If there was a way, I would have wanted him to meet you. However, the boys enjoyed the concert thoroughly and because of this, I hope the boys practice more! haha

    It was memorable and I greatly appreciate it!! Thank you!

  • Boris Nedialkov

    The only recording of Prokofiev concerto I’ve come accross is the one of Janos Starker’s performance. You will be the firts after Starker to record it, I believe ๐Ÿ™‚ Looking forward to get hold of that CD!

  • Kath

    Dear Alban

    I was at your concert on Friday and thoroughly enjoyed it – I’m not a cellist but can sort of imagine the tension of difficulty + beauty that is in the Haydn and your encore was extraordinary. The good thing is that I was not planning to be at the concert but a colleague from work bought me a ticket as a treat so – it was especially enjoyable. The spanish word duende came to mind – describing those moments where there is the obvious (a skilled concert with gorgeous music) and the hidden beyond that moment (where you are taken beyond that obvious and ‘feel/experience’ something more profound. So thankyou for coming to windy/wet NZ – make your next trip February…..



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