Alban's Blog

Open Your Eyes…

Even though I should be in bed since about one hour, I suddenly felt the urge of starting this silly With Heinrich Schiff in Colognecomputer of mine (which I have avoided in the past 10 days!) to take care of some serious business like answering e-mails, paying bills, checking reviews and reading the new blog entries – thanks for them, by the way! Before turning this addiction underneath my fingertips off I decided to write a quick conclusion after these rather exhausting past two weeks with 8 concerts in four cities and two continents, playing a solorecital, Shostakovich 2nd concerto as well as Rococo, Dvorakconcerto and Dvoraks Silent woods while practising as much as possible new stuff.The good news first: I survived, somehow even the critics didn’t criticize much, they rather enjoyed together with a very pleasant audience. Was I happy? Well, not so much about myself than rather about the pure fact that I didn’t make a complete fool out of myself. The Dvorak in Cologne was a wonderful experience, haven’t played that piece in more than a year, and I must admit, I had a craving for it. The Gürzenich Orchestra in Cologne played very well, and their musicians, especially the cello group were incredibly welcoming and warm towards me. After the last concert I sat with half of them in one of the Cologne breweries (Sion Kölsch) and did some serious cello chat.

It was my first collaboration with their chief conductor Markus Stenz, with whom I am friends since a couple of years, but not until now we actually made music together, and we had a great understanding between us. I would have loved to play some things better than I did, which I think was also due to the pressure that I knew that they were recording each concert in order to sell the cd directly after the concert, so I wanted to play perfect, and whenever I want to do that, things can happen… No, didn’t dare to listen to the recording yet, will do so soon 🙂

Markus Stenz had the brilliant idea when he started with this job a couple of years ago in Cologne, to add a suprise “third act” to his concerts, in which he performs a secret piece of 5-15 minutes lenght. He asked me if I had any suggestion what he could including me for this slot, and I suggested Silent Wood, this gorgeous little elegy by Dvorak I hardly ever played. He liked the idea and we did it, and I think rather successful, because it send the people home with a smile on their faces. I’ll try to post the recording soon to the “loop” on my homepage.

After the first concert in Cologne last Sunday (in the morning), I had the chance to see another concert in the afternoon followed by the excellent “Nozze di Figaro” at Cologne Opera with rather marvellous singers (with whom we had some beer after the show) – the concert in the afternoon was the play-conducting Heinrich Schiff. He played Haydn C Major, and I must admit I learned so much from that performance. Since I never really studied with this great master of the cello he doesn’t appear in my biography, but I did have three lessons with him which influenced me immensely. And now he did it again, showing me how to play Haydn.

Well, it wasn’t even so much the music he was doing but much rather the delivery; small little detail: he chose not to close his eyes, but he sometimes looked to selected members of the orchestra, but also into the audience, without giving us the feeling of being stared at. This underlined his musical ideas (of which he always has plenty, a real joy for any musician to listen to him) and I immediately started questioning myself always playing with the eyes closed. And sure enough, the next morning (I was dead, since after the singer-party I ran into Schiff at the hotel bar and we had a couple of more drinks – that’s the photo up there, yes) when I gave my “lecture-demonstration” to a High-School near Cologne (it turned out to be rather stand-up comedy than a proper lecture), the 11th graders encouraged me to play with my eyes open, looking at them.

I felt so embarrassed, could hardly play, got lost, made mistakes, but after a while it felt much better, and the teenagers cheered and seemed even more involved than before. Do I exclude my audience while closing the eyes? I thought I could focus much better on the music like that, but if I push the listeners away this can not be good. So guess what: I forced myself to sometimes open my eyes during the Monday night performance, and I dared to actually face my audience for the first time in my life. I have no idea if it had anything to do with it, but Stenz said that the Monday-night-audience normally doesn’t cheer as much as they did after our Dvorak – maybe they felt more included in the process? I will try to go further in this direction and will report, promise!


  • Kevin Keogh

    Just heard you playing Dvorak on ABC radio Australia – poor reception – but Dvorak sounded glorious in your and the orchestra’s hands. Your website got a mention and it is such a wonderful place to visit – thank you so much. The best arranged site I have visited and the content demands regular revisits.
    I have never heard of you before – yes it’s true !! – and I am so looking forward to discovering your work (and play) on disc.
    Your blog seems to be the heart (and soul) of your site and it is just such a privilege and joy to be given access to your thoughts and ideas in this way. Reading about your closed eyes and struggle (?) with what might happen if you open them, makes you seem more real than my next door neighbour.

    So great to get to know you Alban Gerhardt from Kevin Keogh in Sydney Australia.

  • Alban

    Hi Kevin,
    yes, it was a struggle to open them, but I think it’s worthwhile – did some more thinking (and talking to friends) about it, and to close the eyes does kind of lock the audience out of the creative process in a way, as if I don’t want them there, which is wrong. I like to play for an audience very much (otherwise I wouldn’t do this), and for me it is a sure sign of insecurity that I am so afraid to look at them. It almost makes me more vulnerable, I feel, when I keep the eyes open – like a little child which hides behind its hands and thinks nobody can see it.
    Oh, I believe you that you have never heard of me, since first of all I have never been to Australia (yet), and second of all I am not recording for one of the record majors, “just” Hyperion who are wonderful to work with, but they don’t really push their artists whatsoever, no publicity except having well-crafted cd’s out there, which ain’t bad either 🙂

  • Christian S.

    You did a fantastic job here in Fort Worth! I think you should definately come back and perform the Rubinstein Cello Concerto. I sure hope you keep playing the celllo until your joints force you to stop when you are 87.

    Christian Standridge

    P.S. I met you after one of your performances of the Double Concerto, in Fort Worth.

  • Alban

    Thanks, Christian. Actually, that’s a good idea, the Rubinstein is such a wonderful piece, it really deserves a place on the big concert stages – I will push for it, since it is on the one hand very easy listening, on the other something new for a change, and not a bad piece of music at all.
    Best wishes to Fort Worth,



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