Sitting on the train that will bring me to my first performance of the beautiful cello concerto by Unsuk Chin this year in Hamburg I started thinking about contemporary cello concertos and the fact that none has really made it into the standard repertoire (and I am not talking 20 or 30 performances, but hundreds). Commuting back and fourth between Berlin and Hamburg between the rehearsals and now the concert – my oldest son had all his wisdom teeth removed at once, and I didn’t want him to be alone at home with that challenge – it gives me some time to not only read the „Zeit“ and take care of old e-mails but also write a bit after more than a year of abstinence.
Asking cellists, conductors or orchestra managers which concerto they thought has become standard repertoire in recent years, the answer normally is „Dutilleux and Lutoslawski“. Yes, two outstanding concertos, inspired by Rostoprovich – almost half a century ago (ok, 45 years)! In the meantime maybe more cello concertos have been written than in the 250 years prior but I don’t want to believe that none of them was good enough to stick in the repertoire. Impossible, there must be some great ones, but most probably they have been forgotten because the next one was written a couple of weeks later and took attention away as it was the latest one….
I am not suggesting too many concertos are being written, but to get a new piece performed which has already been performed once is very hard. The easiest thing is to get the world premier, everybody wants to write it, play it, schedule it, listen to it, write about it. It’s like the world record in some track and field meeting; the runner is proud because he has done something nobody has achieved before him, the organizer is happy (and pays a fortune) as he can claim that at his event this world record was broken, the press is excited to write about it, and the audience is thrilled because they can brag about having been there.
Yes, premiering a piece is an honor and a privilege but it also comes with a huge responsability as it is not another „world record“ but (at least for the composer) it is like a baby. A performer is not the parent, that is the composer, but a performer should not „just“ be the midwife who professionally helps to give birth to thousands of kids and forgets about them the next day (as meaningful as every single birth is for them), but we should be like a god-parent to the piece, watch over it not just for the birthdays but help it on their way to adulthood, at least until its 18th year and beyond, as the greatest pieces need to be kept in the minds of audiences, orchestras, other performers and the media.
What to do? Well, first step would be instead of premiering a new piece […]