Alban's Blog

Milan, Vienna, Prague, London, Zürich…

What a lovely month – visiting all these beautiful cities within three weeks, how much better does it get? Every day I am aware again how fortunate I am to have a profession in which I can make a living while travelling around the world and playing a bit of cello. What makes this month even nicer is that I have to play only three different pieces: Dvorak in Milan, Prague and London, Prokofiev in Vienna, and Don Quixotte in Zürich. Right now I am sitting in the hotel in Prague instead of practicing, but I was postponing to write something here since a while, and before it all becomes old news, I use the fact that I know the Dvorak Concerto more or less backwards and that there are still 4 hours until the dress rehearsal at the Rudolfinum this afternoon to write about the wonderful sensation of spending time in two of the most important musical cities of the 19th century, Prague and Vienna.

Unfortunately the weather all over Europe is pretty disastrous, and especially in Vienna it didn’t stop raining. But who needs sunshine if you have the chance to practice and perform in the most beautiful of all halls, the Musikverein in Vienna? The afternoon before the middle concert, last Saturday, the charming stage hand told me I could practice on the stage of the big hall, the “golden hall”, and I didn’t let this chance pass and played for three hours in the hall which sounds by itself. Playing the cello suddenly becomes incredibly easy, the music flows, and somehow you feel all the music and the genius of the musicians who have performed there in the last 140 years. Whatever it is, especially during the first concert with the Vienna Symphony and after many years finally again with wonderful Russian conductor Andrey Boreyko I felt as if I couldn’t do anything wrong, it was so inspiring to play there that it felt almost too easy…In Vienna’s Musikverein

Easiness in music is almost a bad thing, which is the reason why I always play with earplugs. Not to protect my hearing but to put myself immediately into my own “zone”, into the special focus which is by now needed for me to get to the last 10% of my musical abilities. I am able to judge balance much better, and I don’t get carried away by my own sound production but feel the need to always having to do more, sound- and musical-wise. It is a constant reminder of how small I am, how unimportant and insignificant, and this again helps of not becoming too nervous, strangely enough. Andrey provided me with plenty of new ideas about the piece, he really knew his score and opened a new perspective of the piece to me: at some point towards the end of the middle movement, Prokofiev quotes in a rather hell-like passage the “d-s(e-flat)-c-h (b natural)”, the initials of Dmitry Schostakovich (as we write it in German), and Andrey’s interpretation of this was, that Prokofiev saw in the person of Shostakovich a big problem for himself, almost equal to Stalin who obviously was his enemy No.1. I like very much if conductors have a strong opinion about a concerto, because it means they give more importance to it than somebody who just uses it as a program-filler, even if this opinion contradicts what I was feeling. It didn’t in this case, but any kind of musical controversies are inspirational and can be a wake-up call for us being stuck in some bad habits.

The Vienna Symphony even let me join them in Schumann’s Second Symphony, thus I managed to prolong the pleasure of playing in that hall which sounds not only beautiful for the listeners, but also for us on stage. The next day I visited a school in the 8th district of Vienna, played and talked to the youngsters before rushing to the trainstation for the train to Ostrava. Rain everywhere, floods and grey skies, but the music making during the rehearsal the next day was refreshingly sunny and gave me a huge uplift – I can’t wait for the concert tonight at the Prague Spring festival, because playing the Dvorak Concerto at Rudolfinums Dvorak-Hall ranks among the favorite treats for any cellist. Oh, the conductor’s name is Petr Altrichter, not a young man anymore, but with such young spirit, at least during the rehearsal, which made the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestras play the old warhorse of a piece like a new composition. Well, they are going to film it tonight and put parts of it on youtube, so we’ll see how much esprit will be left…


  • kate

    I have just got home from hearing you play the Dvorak at Royal Festival Hall. I have to admit that on arriving I didn’t want to be inside in such glorious weather, however I am certainly glad I was. A wonderful concert….one of my favourite concerto’s bringing back memories of many a happy (or unhappy) hour studying it in my youth. Thank you! I hope you get to enjoy some sun in London before you leave to go elsewhere! Come back soon!!

  • David

    Love the CD of the two Prokofiev concertos side by side, love your interpretation, but Boreyko is nuts if he thinks Prokofiev saw Shostakovich as a problem (though I hadn’t noted the DSCH ref, must check it out). There was a certain friendly competition, and Prokofiev could be rude and tactless about works of DDS that he didn’t care for, but they knew each other’s worth. And Rostropovich claimed that he was inspired by seeing the timpanist of the, I guess, Moscow Phil, hit the end of the Prokofiev as he did, and incorporated the idea in his First Cello Concert (typical Slava anecdote – ‘man with wooden leg comes, bang!).

    In just the same way a lady of the Rachmaninoff Society told me the two Sergeys hated each other. Not at all. The young ‘un clearly had to kick against the grain, but in America he came to see Rach as a kind of father figure and loved him.

    Finally, I’m being so picky, but high time you called it by its proper name – Symphony Concerto. Not at all the same thing as Sinfonia Concertante, but old habits die hard. The Russian original means the former, and not the latter.

    All best, and hope to hear you again soon. Steven Osborne gave us a stunning Shostakovich Second Piano Concerto in Birmingham – I never suspected the piece could take what he did with it.


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