Alban's Blog

Recharging Batteries while Sight-Seeing and Sailing

After the last concert in Italy – Poggi del Sasso – on July 17th I could have almost locked my cello up until end of August if it wasn’t for this one concert on August 2nd at the festival in Hitzacker, where I have to play in three concerts all Bachsuites plus a Reger-Suite as part of a workshop at noon. Why did I agree to this single date in the middle of the school summer holidays?

I could have left the cello and all other responsabilities for 5 weeks, recharing the batteries for the next season, enjoying life with wife and child, but instead I have to keep the Suites in my fingers and brain. Well, I was supposed to play on July 31 the world premier of the Unsuk Chin Celloconcerto at the Proms in London, but because of her opera “Alice” which just got premiered in Munich she fell behind composing the piece and had to postpone it on short notice. By then I had already agreed to perform the Bach since I thought it would do me good to not only focus on modern music for a month but having to work on the cellist’s bible. And now I am stuck with this single concert. Cancelling? No way, I don’t do that, I pay for my decisions – especially since part of the plan was to finally force myself to play all of the Suites at once. And since I had the chance to play them already in Italy I felt safe enough to put the cello away for a week already and take holidays, three parts in 2 weeks:

First we took four extra days after the festival and toured Tuscany by car: Montalcino, Pienza, Montepulciano, San Gimignano, Firenze and Bologna. What incredibly beauty, to see especially these small little cities which haven’t changed much in the past 800 years (especially San Gimignano), quite touching and overwhelming. After that I flew directly to Stockholm, rented a car, drove to Västervik where my two brother-in-laws had prepared our sailing wooden sailing boat which we wanted to sail down to Germany in a tour-de-force of 3 nights and days of continuous sailing. Unfortunately the winds were too strong, we had to take breaks at nights because of our exhaustion of figthing the 2 meter waves in the Baltic Sea, and when yesterday the wind didn’t change as promised by the weather service to a a bit milder West wind we had to change course and stop in Öland. Right before the harbour of Borgholm we hit ground, got a huge crack in the hull (the bottom) and just made it in the harbour where we fought for the sinking ship for abhout an hour until the   firetruck came with a huge pump and saved it.

No, I was never really afraid for my life, just felt horrible because we could have avoided this accident and continued our beautiful trip for another two days if we would have read the map more carefully. One shallow wasn’t marked in the over-all map and because of the weather we didn’t manage to check the detail map while sailing…

My father picked us up and drove us to his country house 2 hours from Borgholm, a pre-mature arrival to my third part of the holiday-plan, because I wanted to visit my parents anyway, especially since my ailing mother (ALS) is doing worse and worse by the day. How tragic to see this once powerful and energetic woman suffering by this horrible disease (in the US it’s called Lou-Gerig disease, Stephen Hawking has it since many years, but normally patients die after a couple of years) which slowly paralyzes her from the head down. Since more than a year she can’t talk anymore, can’t swallow anything and has only 30% of her breathing capacity left. While I am not afraid of death, I hate seeing her suffer so much without being able to help except playing some games with her which is a welcome distraction for her. 

As a young boy I was thinking and confronting myself about the possible death of my parents with no particular reason, it caused me much pain and nightmares early on with the effect, that now I can deal with it rather calmly without having the problems of letting go. Our parents have to leave us at some point, maybe sixty-three years old is too early, but still it is not the same tragedy as if your child dies before you. This I wouldn’t carry with the same composure as the imminent demise of my beloved mother.


  • Jerome

    Dear Alban,

    I am in sympathy for you and mother,I watched my mother suffer for years with complications from diabetes, untill her death when I was seventeen.Just keep up what you doing,making her life as pleasant as you can,that is of great value.

    I became a great fan of yours every since I heard you play here in Louisville Kentucky a few years back,and if you are ever in the region again I will surely make an effort to attend.

    You mentioned the name of Janos in your last blog,would that happen to be your childs name?If so, has it any thing to do with Mr.Starker? Of the cellist of that era,Mr.Starker is my favorite,his playing is what I have always aspired to,although the talent to acheive such a high level alludes me,it still inspires.I can think of a few mordern day cellist that do the same for me,you,Tina Guo and although a bit older than you guys, Truls Mork. My point in mentioning these other people is to thank you and all of those that keep advancing the art of cello playing to the level of the great violinists.Keep up the awsome work.


  • George

    Best of luck with your August 2nd performance..I hope someone will be recording them…maybe a pirated version will appear on YouTube!!

    My dad is 92 and in failing health it is difficult watching someone who was once incredibly big in life & robust slip away. I relish the times I have with him, and visit regularly..he is about 100 miles away from where I live. I have made sure that he knows how special he is to me.

  • Alban

    Dear Jerome,
    thanks for your supportive comment, this must have been very difficult for you to loose your mother with 17. For me it would have been horrible at that age. Now at 38 I feel much more independent, not removed, but I know she won’t leave us for good (even though I am not really religious) but will be waiting somewhere, and watching over us.
    A propos Kentucky: I think we are looking at dates for me to come back in a year or two, so check my calendar in a month or so. Yes, János is our son’s name, didn’t name him after Starker directly (my grandma was Hungarian, and I always loved that name), but Starker was somehow involved in making him; he recommended me to a presenter in Puerto Rico, and at that concert I met my wife… But yes, I admire Janos Starker very much, wonderful cellist and teacher! Hope to meet you in Louisville next time. All best, Alban

    Dear George, there will be a radio recording of three of the Suites on August 2nd, I think Deutschlandradio is taping it, which makes me even more nervous. Best of luck for your father, good that you see him so often.
    Best wishes,

  • Christina

    Hi, Alban!

    From the 12th of July, I am in Leipzig. Every evening, we have concert.
    Today as always, lots of works and I needed a break(At this moment, the concert is on…..), So, I checked my emails and read your recent news.
    Life is sometimes tough to us…. though it is so worthy to live.

    I would love to listen to your Suites!!!
    I hope to see you soon again,

  • Alban

    Hi Christina, thanks for checking in! Yes, life is tough, but that’s what makes it special.
    Best wishes from Berlin to Leipzig,

  • Jerome

    Hi Alban,
    It’s great that you are discussing a return to our fair city of Louisville.Do you have any idea what you will be playing if you can work out the details? It would be nice if you would give some thought to the Britten Symphony,Barber concerto or that yummy Misakovsky c minor concerto.I’m not suggesting to you what you should play,just wishing that I could be in attendence of a performance of one those works some day.But,anything that you choose would be a real treat indeed! We don’t have many great cellist come here any longer.

    It’s a travesty here in America how people don’t support the arts the way we once did.Here in Louisville,when I was in music school in the 70’s,we had a vibrant arts community.Yo-Yo Ma,Janos Starker,Bernard Greenhouse,Itzak Pearlman,Murray Perahia and many others once graced our fair city.But,due to economic concerns and decreased musical activity in our school system, the great community support that we once enjoyed has all but vanished.That is why up and coming artists of your ablities are welcomed with open arms!

    Best Wishes,


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