Alban's Blog

In London at the Proms

While my little family is still sleeping in the hotelroom here in London I am taking the opportunity to do a bit of writing before the gap to my last entry is too long and I broke my promise to write at least twice a month. Normally they are never travelling with me, but since the Royal Albert Hall is one of the most amazing places to play at in the world (and one of the most scary as well – soooo big, and without amplification we feel like little dwarfs in front of far too many people) I thought it would be nice for them to see their father/husband sweat. And sweating they’ve got plenty of to see….After returning from New Zealand I really had it for a while, couldn’t stand touching the cello for a while, so I decided instead of practising and learning the Prokofiev Concerto (recording in 11 days, arghh!) I took a break of more than a weak and spend some quality time with my family who returned shortly after me from their holidays in Puerto Rico (lucky them!). First I played tennis like a maniac, once I stood for 5 hours straight on the clay court of my little tennis club; yes, I have this obsessive nature which doesn’t allow me to stop with something I am into. It can even be something silly like doing taxes or organizing my son’s room – I can go for hours without resting, until the job is done. Maybe this is very German? Well, that’s a completely different subject; the Germans with their “ability” to go to the very end gave us some geniuses like Bach, Goethe, Einstein and many others, but, at least in my eyes, also led to the Holocaust. Quite a jump of thoughts, I know, but try to understand my thoughts: the Germans didn’t invent Antisemitism, but nobody ever has even dreamt of trying to extinguish an entire population with such horribly logic procedure as the Germans did only 65 years ago. So unfortunately this German “virtue” of going with the head through the wall in order to get things done, it applies to good as well as evil.

Why did I get there? Oh yes, I was writing about my self-imposed cello break. Tennis first, then tons of biking around the city with my son, later on we took a canoing-camping trip together with the family of my sister Manon, great fun, just not the greatest of weather. Typical! While being in cold and windy New Zealand they had a wonderful summer in Germany. As soon as I came back, rain and wind hit my home-country, but we didn’t let that harm our joy of having holidays for a week – I packed the kids of my sister and my son into the car and drove to a swimming paradise outside of Berlin with gigantic slides and other fun attractions.

Few days ago I had to start touching the cello again, exactly a day before I flew to Glasgow for my rehearsal with the Scottish BBC and Ilan Volkov for our concert at the Proms last night, again Sinfonia Concertante, but at least I had done the right decision to take my family with me to London in order to also do some sight-seeing, something I never get to do when I am on my own. I had two days in between rehearsal in Glasgow and the concert and we did as many touristy things you could do. Yes, we did the London Eye, this gigantic wheel at the Thames, right next to the Royal Festival Hall where I played my first concert with orchestra in London (in 1998), we took a bus trip around town and also a boat cruise after walking for some time through Hyde Park. It is a glorious city, just a bit too crowded for my taste… ๐Ÿ™‚

At 4 pm yesterday I returned a bit earlier from the sight-seeing with my son, slept half hour, got ready (shower, dressing), did a for me very interestingร‚ย  pre-concert talk (with co-guest David Nice, a Prokofiev specialist), went through all of the Sinfonia Concertante in my little dressing room, and then, at about 7:45 pm, I had to enter the Coliseum-like hall, with about 1500 people standing in the parkett. Was I nervous? Yes, indeed, but really more excited than anything else – and once Ilan Volkov got the perfect start with a wonderfully marching speed in the opening bars of the orchestra introduction I knew it would be a good performance and really enjoyed every second of spending on that famous stage, feeling the attention and expectation of this wonderful audience. I can’t wait to come back next year, then with the world premier of Unsuk Chin’s Cello Concerto, which will be more of a challenge…


  • Eileen Boden

    Congratulations, Alban. We were there last night, and (it hardly needs saying) found the Prokofiev absolutely superbly performed. Didn’t know the family were here too. How long are you all in London?

  • Robert Asher

    Thanks Alban for a fabulous concert last night in the Albert Hall, and thanks too for the interesting talk beforehand which I heard. This was my first time hearing you but it won’t be my last. After the concert I went to your website – a big mistake as I found the music on it so compelling that I was very late getting to bed! If there had been time at the pre-performance talk I would have liked to ask: (1) have you ever got lost performing from memory? and (2) after all those years of punishment, what’s happened to your left hand fingertips (I’m an adult beginner at the cello and am noticing big changes)? Best wishes, Robert.

  • David Nice

    Greetings, Alban,

    That talk was a real joy for me, and I thought Martin steered it very well. For you, of course, it was merely an amuse-guele before the main course, so I just wanted to say how marvellously well you articulated the S-C – the gear changes were so effortless the public wouldn’t have noticed the usual difficulties. And of course the end was thrilling – and in tune!

    Did you hear the Pastoral? Pity you didn’t play in it – so warm and intimate. Just what we were saying about the spaces of the RAH working best in the quiet places. What, no Bach? I have to say the audience was a bit more muted than usual (nothing to do with you, Ilan or the rather likeable Scots orchestra).

    I’ll write it up on my blog when I have a moment, probably tomorrow (and when I have another photo, of Dudamel, sorted – the second one of us three is fine, at least from your and my perspective, though Martin looks a bit startled).

    Good luck with the recording – we expect revelations of the Cello Concerto No. 1. If anyone can find the key, it’s you.

    Very best wishes,


  • Kate Whitfield

    Dear Alban,

    CONGRATULATIONS on your performance last night at the Albert Hall. My mother, husband to be, his best friend, and myself were all very excited to be at our first Prom and it didn’t disappoint!! I was lucky enough to be sat very close to the stage (close enough to read the first violin part!) and was amazed at the apparent ease with which you were playing. That is, in contrast to myself (huffing, puffing, generally swearing more than playing!! Haha!) and not to say that you didn’t put effort in! Wonderful sound – Although the “so that’s how it’s meant to sound” comment from my fiance wasn’t well received!!! :o) Anyway, just to say what a pleasure it was to hear you play and hope that you and your family had a lovely time in my home city. We will all be coming next year to hear you. (Although having just returned from Shanghai I find London quite small and empty!!!!!!)

    All the best,


  • Alban

    Thank you for being there, Eileen, too bad we didn’t meet ๐Ÿ™ Next time in December at Wigmore?! Glad you liked the Prokofiev, I love that piece.
    Have I gotten lost playing by memory? Yes, Robert, quite often – the first time was in some piano competition 23 years ago in a 5-voice-fugue of Bach, and there I showed my true talent: finding my way to stay in the game ๐Ÿ™‚ I was completely lost, but I dared to improvise or at least to pretend to be playing something else, and suddenly I was back in the saddle. And in my more recent history it happens more or less in every other concert, tiny little slips which don’t matter to me – sometimes nobody can tell because nothing happens, since my fingers were on autopilot…
    And about my fingertips? Not too bad, I am just not pressing the string too hard, that isn’t even necessary. My fingers look kind of normal, just the nails are very short of the left hand.
    Thanks, David, I enjoyed our talk and I am happy you didn’t hate my interpretation too much… ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for putting the pressure on for the Concerto – I will get up tomorrow morning at 7 am to practise it real well and give justice to your hopes. No, unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to listen to the Pastorale because I had an important meeting with my manager – and since today was family day I didn’t want to meet with anybody, and I scheduled everything right after my performance. But I am sure it was wonderful; my friend Steven Osborne told me so as well, and I didn’t expect anything less from Ilan ๐Ÿ™‚ Good to have met you, hopefully not for the last time!
    Thanks for your nice words, Kate, glad you made it with your entire family – that’s why the hall looked so full from my place ๐Ÿ™‚
    Best wishes to all of you back from Berlin,

  • David Cottam

    I wondered how the S-C would sound sitting several tiers up in the RAH because the last two times I heard you play I was sitting near the front in a smaller hall . It was a thrilling performance last night and the variety of colour and articulation you produced was still apparent from way back. I find this piece quite strange but wonderful and full of extremes. Last night I began to make more sense of it. Thanks for your spellbinding performance which was savage ,witty and lyrical. It will be very interesting to hear how it sounds a bit closer in your recording. We all hope you’ll come to Exeter again before too long.
    Best wishes,

  • David Nice

    I second Robert about the sound clips here – the Dvorak slow movement stopped me in my tracks. Unfortunately I don’t have your recording to hand so I had to go back and listen to You Know Who.

    I’m sure you know that every Prom is available to Listen Again for seven days online – I don’t know whether you listen to your own performances, but you could certainly catch the Pastoral – it’s a real morning tonic unless you like to clean out your ears by not listening to music at all, in which respect I wouldn’t blame you.

    Our talk is also online – I had to listen, just to reassure myself that I wasn’t trying to dominate on the Prokofiev front, and I was happy with it. Not sure if it’s available outside the UK domain, though.

    Thanks again for your friendly interaction. Now I really must write up yesterday – and you’ll see that I didn’t ‘hate’ the interpretation at all, very far from it.


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