Alban's Blog

If you have nothing to say…

… don’t say anything. This very wise saying I kept in mind for the last few weeks, not writing a single sentence in this little blog here – batteries and head empty, time for retreat and recharging the run-down, abused system. One of my tricks how to deal with the stress of performing and travelling, the tristesse of being alone and without family, is simple: I ignore it, I pretend it doesn’t exist, I ask from myself to be superhuman – but at the end of the day, I am not, and I felt it very strongly after my last performance in Frankfurt on December 19 with two Boccherini Concertos (radio orchestra and Markus Stenz were my partners – don’t remember how it went at all, everything blanked out). I was ready for a good rest, and luckily enough I didn’t have to look at my cello for three weeks altogether, just enjoying the Christmas days in the circle of my rather large family (4 sibblings with tons of kids on their own) and my little one at home. Even New Year’s celebration was very calm but beautiful, with a very good friend coming over with his family, cooking together, drinking, talking, playing games – and suddenly it was midnight and for once we all went to bed early.

With good reason: we had a plane to catch the next morning at 10 am. No, not the first concert of the year, God no, but something much better: skiing in France, in one of the biggest ski resorts of the world with 420km of pistes. Soooo much fun, great weather (or at least most of it), pretty cold, but incredible skiing with more pistes than I could ever have dreamt of. My son Jรƒยกnos and me went for it all day long, hardly ever repeating a piste twice going down like little devils, which wasn’t too dangerous because the strangely enough there weren’t too many people around. What better thing to do for getting your energy back?! 7 hours a day in the open, fresh mountain air, sleeping 10 hours every night, cooking, reading, playing cards while not skiing – and the most amazing part I hadn’t even realized before is that time passes very slowly, which meant these 9 days of holidays felt like a month.

No, I didn’t break anything, didn’t fall or hurt myself in anyway, skiing with passion but caution, and now I am back on track, sitting right now in yet another airport lounge (at London Heathrow) after having played yesterday the first concert of the new decade, the Walton with the BBC Wales in Cardiff, my debut in that city, not with that orchestra though with whom I have played already many times, though never in their home town. David Atherton was conducting, and with all this snow having fallen onto Central Europe I was happy my arrogant travel plans allowed me to arrive in time for the first rehearsal on Thursday early afternoon; I had chosen to fly into London that same day, supposendly arriving at 8:25 am, leaving a drive in a rented car of about 150 miles. No problem, you should think, but because of beautiful Daisy (the lovely blizzard having transformed Berlin into a fairy tale city) my plane arrived almost three hours late in Heathrow, which left me with barely 2 hours for the drive (through fog and rain) from Heathrow to Cardiff.

Yes, I know, irresponsable me, in winter one shouldn’t plan so tightly, and obediently I immediately switched my flight plans around for going to Canada next week; instead of leaving on the day of my first rehearsal with a subsequent half-hour recital in Calgary, I now fly luxuriously the day before with plenty of time to miss at least three airplanes. As it always goes, this time I probably will be super punctual. Why do I do this dangerous planning? Because I LOVE being home, and I am very, very stingy with the precious time I can be home. And maybe, who knows, because travelling is soooo boring, I like the adrenalin of running behind schedule…

Concert last night went alright – orchestra was very supportive (and played with great conviction and passion, especially their second half, the Planets), so was the conductor David Atherton, I just didn’t feel the freedom I would have liked to feel while playing this gorgeous piece of music; partly it might have been the fact that it was broadcasted live on the BBC all over the UK, or maybe even more so because I knew my beloved producer Andrew Keener, a man with very, very good ears, was in the audience with his Mom, and I respect his musical opinion so much that I couldn’t free myself completely from the fear of disappointing him. He claims I didn’t, but again, these are just words, and he doesn’t only have ears, but also a heart, big enough to forgive my shortcomings.

The producer of last night’s concert told me afterwards that it was the fastest Walton he had ever heard – not so much because of the quick middle movement, but just because of the slow outer ones, which I instead of playing them about 20 beats per minute slower, did at only 10 beats under the marked tempo of Walton. The old discussion: how serious shall we take metronom markings? Obviously, they are just a guideline, you shouldn’t take the literally, and we didn’t, but it is quite a difference if you feel every bar in four or in eight. Just the beginning, for example, which seems to have no connection with earth when being played at the suggested speed of 66, but if one does it, as most performances, at 50 or less, it becomes much more real, settled, substantial, instead of the unreal, floating-over-the-ground quality I feel Walton was striving for.

And as with so many concertos, there is a slow, winding down coda, beautiful harmonies and melodies, but nothing new, just reminiscences of the previous material – being played too slowly it becomes longer than the rest of the movement, and I compared it yesterday with a dog, whose tail is longer and heavier than the rest of the body – out of proportion, obviously, but in music we fall into the same traps over and over again and then we are surprised that certain pieces are not being played more often. Which pains me most is when the quality of a piece is being argued only because of a bad tradition of interpretations. It’s not the composers fault if people stretch their music to the extent that you can’t understand it anymore. Oh no, I don’t say that the way I played yesterday was the right one, but maybe a step in the right direction…

I have been told that one can relisten to the performance on the BBC webpage, but don’t ask me where to look. The concert took place yesterday, Januaryร‚ย  15th, at 7 pm in Cardiff’s St.Davids Hall, check it out and tell me if you hated it ๐Ÿ™‚ And yes, I had a memory slip, I admit it, in the Scherzo, in my little solo-bridge, no orchestra, suddenly I didn’t know the notes for a bar and was faking my way up to the high A – sorry for that one, won’t happen again! ๐Ÿ™‚

My son just called me to ask if we helped already the people in Haiti, and guiltily I went onto a page and transferred money. I was so ashamed that with all my little performance worries I had completely forgotten about the real problems in this world. Talking about self-indulgence; here I am worrying about a missed bar, and there, half-way across the globe, an entire city of 3 million has been crushed with its poor, innocent people right in the midst of it. Why always the poorest of the poorest? The worst desaster ever – how could anything be worse than the Tsunami few years ago, and yet, it’s worse… Even though I am not really religious, I can’t help but praying for the people down there – at the end, what’s worse, being dead or suriving hell like that? Having seen your parents be smashed to pieces by your little house? This all sounds like my worst nightmares I had as a child…


  • cuuldude

    I was in the audience at St. David’s Hall on the 15th, it was my first classical concert. I would like to thank you for making it one of the most magical experiences of my life. I have listened to your performance a countless number of times on the BBC website, and I love it every time.

    Thank you and well done ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Anna-Lena

    In your blog, you mentioned flying to Calgary… Well, I was in the audience for your Dvorak concerto there and I wanted to thank you for the wonderful experience! I moved to Calgary only a few years ago and having grown up in Stuttgart, Germany, I really miss the variety of classical music performances available there. I am sorry you had to play in front of a half-empty concert hall, but even more than that I feel sorry for all those Calgarians who missed out on your playing! I also play the cello in my free time and have come to love the Dvorak concerto in particular (I think I was humming along at some parts ๐Ÿ™‚ ), so all in all your concert was a very special evening of enjoyment and memories of Germany for me! Thank you so much.


Leave a Reply

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