Alban's Blog

Category: Anecdotes

(English) Sharing thoughts or just describing concerts?

(English) A German journalist reminded me the other day of my diary which is called “blog”, asking how much my audience has to know about me. I told him that as long as it wasn’t embarrassing they could know everything, and since there is very little I am embarrassed about it would leave far too much material which obviously I am not sharing here as I hardly ever post anything. And do I really share my deepest thoughts about music, life, feelings, ideas on these pages here? While I have never received a proper shitstorm I have been misunderstood and misquoted before, I have harmed myself by sometimes being too opinionated and by giving out judgements where it might not be my place to judge as I am too involved in the musical world.

Not without my son…

After not really having been much of a father the first time around 15 years ago for my first son I am making up for it the second time. When my first son Janos was born I was living with my first wife in New York, mainly performing in Europe which meant I was travelling back and fourth sometimes for just one single concert, and still I didn’t really manage to participate in his first two years, neither do I remember much of it, sadly. As I was the sole generator of income it was the deal that I would continue my career while Janos’ mother took care of him while studying part-time. Entering the third year of my second (and last!) marriage I am happy to realize that I learnt from my mistakes.

Fitzenhagen and the Rococo Variations

Wilhelm Fitzenhagen was a young German cellist and composer who had taken lessons with the famous professor Friedrich Grützmacher in Dresden, and after performing at a Beethoven festival in Weimar, Franz Liszt offered him the job of principal cellist there. Simultanously Nikolai Rubinstein had tried to lure the talented Fitzenhagen to Moscow to become the cello professor at the conservatory there and in what I’d consider a very brave move, Fitzenhagen accepted the Russian offer over staying in Germany. In Moscow he became good friends with Peter I.Tchaikovsky and convinced him to write a piece for cello, the Rococo Variations. Fitzenhagen never performed them in their original version but arranged them differently, maybe to the dislike of Tchaikovsky, but for me he did such a good job in “improving” Tchaikovsky that I jumped onto the possibility to record some of Fitzenhagen’s own music when Stefan Lang from Deutschlandradio suggested it a couple of years ago. My label Hyperion loved the idea which is the reason why instead of taking the month of August completely off I had to prepare for one of the hardest recording sessions in my life with the Deutsche Sinfonieorchester under Stefan Blunier.

Vieuxtemps Concertos first edit

Flying to Australia is always a welcome excuse to catch up on films, getting acquainted with the newest TV shows (just watched “Dexter” for the first time), answering e-mails and writing for my so-called “blog”. The first two legs from Berlin to Copenhagen and from Copenhagen to Singapore I brought already behind me, sitting comfortably in my chair on Singapore Airlines flight 213, sipping on a tomato juice, the cello right next to me. Yes, after the accident with my bow I stopped checking my instrument into the cargo, can’t take the risk and the stress anymore – getting wiser with age or just lazier?

Artist in Residence

The busiest one and a half months in a long time with seven concerti, almost complete Beethoven Sonatas and Bach Suites were topped by my very first artist-in-residency with an orchestra. In between concert in Sevilla (Dvorak), Amsterdam (Frank Martin), Oslo (Chin), London (Schumann), Barcelona, Madrid and Valladolid (Lalo), Berlin (4 Beethoven Sonatas), Fort Worth (another Schumann) and now Hangzhou (Elgar), I flew to Portland (no, unfortunately not connected with the set of concerts in Fort Worth with the wonderful Fort Worth Symphony and a great conducting musician, Josep Caballé Domenech) to play three times the Rococo Variations plus Silent Woods by Dvorak, starting the first week of a three-year residency in this lovely city. While other orchestras have their “artist-in-residence” come several times within one year to play different pieces with the orchestra and maybe also give a recital, the idea of the Oregon Symphony and its chief conductor Carlos Kalmar was rather unique: 

Concerto Marathon

Sitting in a train, dashing back from my last concert in order to spend a bit of late-night-time with my son, always gives me the opportunity to get some work done. Answering e-mails, returning calls, or, as rather sedlomly recently, writing my little diary here. I know, I should just translate the monthly blog I am writing for this music magazin “Fonoforum” in German, but this would take much more time than writing something new – at the same time it’s kind of boring writing twice about what happened in the past few weeks which is the reason I have almost stopped posting something here. 

Skiing in Switzerland…

I am not trying to justify myself, but I will just give you another (weak) reason for my laziness in writing here: thanks to a chief editor of a classical magazin in Germany, the “Fonoforum”, who somehow thought that my way of writing rather honestly and directly about whatever happens to a travelling musician could be of interest for his readers, I am writing every month a “thing” for his publication. And somehow, this “thing” which I am normally writing within an hour or so, takes even more drive away from writing onto my own homepage. And while writing here is without guidelines and not too many readers (or at least I don’t know them), at the Fonoforum I mustn’t write more than 3500 letters which I haven’t managed yet, and the poor man is pretty upset about my unability to just state the most important things – I just wrote the new “blog”, and I am already at 3935, which is almost 15% above.

The Week After

I promise I really wanted to write my freshest memories from the world premier of Unsuk Chins Celloconcerto – and what happened? Nada, niente, nothing but hot air! Laziest cellist in the world has nothing to say anymore, even though there were enough emotions flowing I would have liked to capture in the aftermath. Big difference: normally I am alone after a performance, and the trip back home or to the next engagement has lots of empty time which I often fill with writing e-mails and blog. This time my little family came over to London to hear what all the work in Puerto Rico had been about. Besides that they love the Proms and didn’t want to miss my second one within 12 months (I got to play Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante August 2008 after the Chin premier got postponed). But with my son and wife around I didn’t have a free second afterwards, especially since we had planned a mini-trip to Italy and Croatia right after the concert.

The Unsuk Chin Celloconcerto – Preparing for a World Premier

Exactly ten years ago, summer 1999, I met through my friend Lisa Batiashvili in Helsinki her old friend Maris Gothoni accompanied by the lady he had just married, the Korean composer Unsuk Chin at a party following a concert of Maris’ father Ralph. Unsuk and me didn’t really get to know each other back then, but when I saw her four years later after the world premier of her violin concerto at the Philharmonie in Berlin (for which she subsequently won the Grawemeyer-Award) she invited me sponaneously to the pre-concert party at her flat in Berlin-Charlottenburg.

Father and Soloist

Often I am being asked in interviews how difficult it is to combine the life of an egotistical soloist with having a family (somehow this subject sounds familiar – I must have written about it already; if so, please forgive me for repeating myself!). Last week I lived the perfect example of how easy it can be to combine the two pleasures; my ex- wife attended a seminar in Los Angeles and our son János who had just switched schools refused to stay alone in Berlin during my trip to Oslo (he could have stayed with my father or my sister). The solution was far too tempting for me to turn down: He had to come with me to Oslo. During school time. Why not? He took massive amounts of homework with him, his laptop with online-work to do, and by experiencing a new city the loss of missing three schooldays would be within the limits.