Alban's Blog

Recording in London and my own inefficiencies…

Recording at Henry Wood HallI have no idea why I have been silent for such a long time – it is definitely not because I had too much to do, rather the opposite; since my last official concerts of 2007 end of November in Neuss (a recital with Markus Becker) and Bratislava (Elgar with the Bratislava Philharmonic under Alexander Rahbari) I wasn’t very busy. Actually a very welcome break in the schedule since I had to prepare and learn half of the repertoire for the next cd production which takes place right now here in London at Henry Wood Hall.

But somehow this „break“ of almost two weeks passed quicker than anything else, and since I hadn’t been home for a longer stretch there were many things to take care of, not talking of trying to be a father for once, practising the piano with Janos, working on his school work and just playing games. We had even bought a basketball ring and hung it as high as possible in his room (yes, Berlin ceilings are very high, so we have almost the official heighth in his room which means we can play real basketball games J). Now, whenever I need a break in practising, I go into his room and shoot the ball. I finally even lived out a dream I had: to be able to dunk the ball. Well, for these who haven’t seen me in person: I am not very tall, rather short (1,75 or 5’9), so no chance for me to actually do it. But Janos has a trampolin, and with the help of that I just manage – feels amazing to do something I was only used doing in my dreams.

So while my poor pianist Steven Osborne was practising our new sonata for the cd since summer, I started it end of November because he had told me, the Alkan Sonata is very easy for the cello. Yes, easy in comparions, but I had a hard time stuffing it into my fingers and then brain. As a matter of fact, he came to rehearse with me in Berlin beginning of December, we even played a little warm-up concert at some nice villa in Berlin, and until two hours before the concert I didn’t know the piece entirely by heart. At some point he even got upset with me because I was so heavily underprepared. I have never learned anything in such last-second effort, must have been the closest call in my life. This was December 4, and I was very relieved after having had that piece „under my belt“ – the other work on the cd, the Chopin Sonata, I had already done a couple of times, so I wasn’t really afraid of that.

Now I am in my hotel near this gorgeous recording venue after having recorded 10 hours today, hard work, my fingers are falling off and I thought I should use my exhaustion to pay tribute to the fact that I am always most efficient when I have tons to do. Today was definitely the toughest day of the last 4 weeks, and it is today that I take the time and write something maybe not most meaningful, but at least a „Lebenszeichen“ as we say in German, a sign of life.

Of these 10 hours we took almost two hours finding the right sound and balance, and I am a bit depressed about how the cello sounds these days; it needed a new bridge since the string had been far too low in the past few monhts. It’s much higher now and completely different to play, I am still getting used to it. And instead of taking the time to get a rehair for the bow, I believed it would be fine, and now I am paying the price; hair falling out by the minute, I might even have to finish the recording on my not very much loved second bow. Bugger…
Oh, and the other 7 hours (one hour lunch substracted already) we managed to record three out of four movements of the Alkan Sonata, very fascinating and beautiful piece by the way.

It is the same recording crew I was able to use for all my Hyperion recordings, it’s quite wonderful how this label treats their artists: best venues, best recording crew, enough days to record and the best of it: the owner Simon Perry and his marketing man and more or less right hand Mike Spring gave us the honour and came and listened for a couple of hours, which feels somewhat nice to know that they really care about what we are doing, not just the final product but also the entire process.

On my way to London on Friday (Steven and me did another rehearsal session plus houseconcert at my lovely manager Angela Sulivan’s house) I bumped into two famous people on the plane: Ralph Fiennes (my wife would have loved so much to get an autograph, but I didn’t dare, didn’t want to bother the poor man) and as direct neighbour I had pianist Lang Lang sat besides me. We had very ineresting talks, mainly about his life which is absolutely crazy – I think I never met anybody with a schedule like that. I have no idea when he is practising since he seems to be constantly travelling/performing/giving interviews etc. But at the end of the day I realized how happy I am where I am since I don’t have the pressure of selling 100000 copies of my cd’s, don’t have to participate in all the „glamorous“ parts of being a star (frequent TV appearances, several interviews per day, important people wanting to meet constantly etc.) and being able to surround myself with people I really like to be surrounded by. And it’s nice to know that the people who are working for me (manager, PR) do it because they really care for me as person and musician, not just for the money-earning-part, because with me they don’t get rich…


  • Thomas Walter

    Hi Alban!

    It’s very intersting to listen to your experiences! While reading i asked me why you need so many hours to record two sonatas wich least maybe one hour (?). By the way I finally found your recording of the Brahms sonatas 🙂 I like the f-major d-major viloin sonata very much, but the e-minor feels kind of strange to me. It’s different from what I had expected; my first impression was that it sounds like Schubert (for example like the second movement of his great “arpeggione” sonata). The emotions are more hidden…

    Best wishes

  • George

    Your statement about being most efficient when you are under the “gun ” really hit home..I have just been off for 2 weeks and at the end of my time before going back to work realized I hadn’t done a damn thing worthy of mention during that time..This didn’t feel good but nonetheless must have been the right thing to do.The time off was spent in purely selfish pursuits…I saw some good movies and a simulcast performance of Romeo et Juliet by the Metropolitan Opera Company..exercised, ate and hung out with friends…while not “productive” it was time well spent. I even managed to get in some quality practice time and met some new potential music clients for ’08. I checked in this morning as I hadn’t received an email contact indicating a new post from you for quite some time..As you can see I am still catching up to a blog entry from 12/18…Your comments regarding your work, schedule demands and life are very interesting to hear about. Whenever they arrive. Best Wishes for a prosperous 2008!

  • Alban

    Hi Thomas,
    well, it is a different thing to record than to play concerts. Even if a live concert goes rather perfect, there are so many things one might want to change or have even more perfect, that nowadays one isn’t happy anymore with the quality of a live-performance. One is able to exchange every single note (almost), that means cut together different parts, play single phrases over and over until everybody is happy. We have the possibility to do that, so everybody going into a studio is doing it, taking much more time than one would think is necessary to record 70 minutes of music.
    Also, while listening to what we record (we are only playing about 40% of the studio time), we get new ideas about how we want the music to sound, so often we change in the middle of a recording session the interpretation.
    About the Brahms: This is almost 12 years ago, I think, i don’t remember much, haven’t listened to it in 10 years, but I recall that I had focused so much on the very difficult violin Sonata (original G major) that I had neglected the e-minor, which in the recording session gave me a very hard time. But nevertheless, I feel that Brahms in general doesn’t have to played too obvious, I like the fact that you think the emotions are almost hidden, especially an earlier opus like that – he was a more introvert man than one might believe by just seeing these silly old photos of his with the cigar and the long beard…
    Thanks also for your post, George, good to hear from you.
    Now I’ll write another blog 🙂


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