Alban's Blog

Mahler on the Westcoast

photoshoot in Geneva

photoshoot in Geneva

In the passed week I had the pleasure and unique experience to perform two different Mahler symphonies in the second halves of my concerts in Portland, Oregon, and San Diego. Somehow Mahler has always been one of my favorite composers whom I didn’t have much chance performing because he didn’t write much for cello solo and his symphonies are hardly ever connected with a cello concerto in the first half because of their sheer length. But last week I got lucky, Carlos Kalmar in Portland connected “my” Haydn C-Major Concerto with Mahlers 5th symphony, and Jahja Ling Mahler No. 7 with the Rococo Variations with his San Diego Symphony. Already as a child I have always been drawn to Mahler’s music, played on the piano many of his songs and the Kindertotenlieder with my mother, a singer, heard most of the symphonies numerous times with Berlin Phil and various conductors and until today his tender, slightly depressed yet optimist moments of bliss bring tear to my eyes. Yes, the big symphonic moments are impressive, great fun to play and listen, but what gives me goosebumps are the parts of deepest sadness combined with a slice of happiness.
This reminds me a bit of Thomas Mann’s theory (in “Joseph and his brothers”) that good and evil are the two opposite sides of the same coin, it depends on which side the coin lands in order for either to come out – and with Mahler the opposites of sad and happy seem to be inextricably entangled which makes his music so real as this is how I have always felt life: beautiful but with an unspeakable sadness underneath.


with Christoph König during rehearsals in Porto for the Chin Concerto

Quite interesting how the audiences reacted to it: in Portland it was a huge success, maybe also because No.5 is a bit easier to understand, while in San Diego I saw more people walking out in the middle of the performance than of any contemporary piece, although at the end it was a big success. While watching this unfold I thought to myself that maybe the attention span of people living constantly in the most beautiful weather for such depressive music is not as strong as it is for and audience who is used to rough weather like in Portland?

This passed October has been one of the more challenging months for me as my curiosity for new repertoire and my readiness to play a rather wide variety of concertos by heart led to a certain craziness I could live without. Right after having played the Chinconcerto in Porto with my friend Christoph König at the gorgeous Casa da Musica, I had a lovely little photo session near Geneva; a friend of a friend had invited a couple of Nikon buffs and artists to her gorgeous house and created some kind of brainstormy photo shoot with some very interesting results. With a hired a car I drove from there to Basel to rehearse the Dvorak with the Royal Philharmonic under Charles Dutoit before they were going to perform a wonderful Schumann Concerto with Martha Argerich plus Tchaik 4 that same night.


with Charles Dutoit and Steve Roger after rehearsal with RPO in Basel

Couple of days later I got to play the Dvorak in Innsbruck, rushed back home to Berlin to prepare the toughest nine days so far in my life: On October 17 I got to play the Rococo-Variations at the Cellobiennale in Amsterdam, a wonderful festival full of cellists, but it is not easy to play only for people who know more about cello than myself, including my old teacher. On the 19th I had the pleasure to work without conductor but fabulous Gordan Nikolic leading the Netherlands Kamerorkest in Haydn D Major, rushing after a masterclass at the Cellobiennale to Oslo where on the 23rd I performed for the first (and hopefully not last time) in my life

with Gordan Nikolic

with Gordan Nikolic after playing Haydn D Major in Haarlem with the Nederland Kamerorkest

the rather taunting Nordheim Concerto (“Tenebrae”) with Oslo Phil before hurrying to Berlin to play the most complex and difficult Concerto (“Narcissus”) by Matthias Pintscher with the DSO, both modern pieces being radio live broadcasts. And yes, I could make my life a lot easier and safer if I was going to perform with music, but as I wrote before, I feel so much more in command of a piece once I learned and know it by heart. Why not put the music on the stage without looking? Oh, I would not be able to do that, it’s either or, no idea why, but if there is a stand with music, I have to look.

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