Alban's Blog

The loneliness of a soloist

Beautiful hall, wonderful orchestra, good audience, nice success – and one hour later I am sitting (again) in the artist lounge of the Concertgebouw, alone and tired after a very long day, but not ready to go to bed yet. I could have gone out with some of the orchestra musicians, but somehow I felt so empty and exhausted that I let this chance pass and now I regret it a bit, because to have finished the debut with the Concertgebouw Orkest would call for some kind of party, and now there is nobody to party with…

At least I have time to write a bit about being lonely and happy at the same time. Always a loner I didn’t mind at all driving off after yesterday’s concert in Amsterdam (with Neeme Järvi playing Sinfonia Concertante by Prokofiev) to Bremen (360 km, about 4 hour drive) where I had a rehearsal this morning with the Bremen Philharmonic for two concerts on Monday and Tuesday; Brahms Double with Baiba Skride, conducted by Markus Poschner, and since on Sunday they don’t work I had to dash to Bremen in between my two Amsterdam concerts. Nice distraction, but I realize now that I am not getting any younger and that being on a busy highway isn’t the most relaxing thing in the world. I managed to pull myself together tonight, but the deep emptiness I am feeling right now must have to do with the short night before and all these large amounts of concentration essential for not falling apart somewhere along the line (either in rehearsal, on the highway or during the concert).

Why do I accept something like that? Well, first of all I don’t cancel anything just because something “better” comes along, and while the concerts in Amsterdam on first view look more prestigious than the ones in Bremen I do have a very good relationship with this orchestra in Bremen and their chief conductor so that I wouldn’t have turned them down after being offered to fill in for Truls Mörk a couple of months ago (the concert dates for Bremen were already fixed since more than a year). At the same time it is an honour for me to perform with this great group of people here in Amsterdam in this glorious hall, so I really wanted to play both engagements. All I had to do was to ask Bremen Phil to rehearse the Brahms Saturday as early as possible so that I could get back to Amsterdam with plenty of time to refocus on Prokofiev. Maybe that’s why it is important for me to be alone when being on tour, because I do need to be very focused to play well.

Neeme Järvi’s wife told me after the concert that I should take my son as much as I could with me on tour; “school is important, but life is more important” she claimed, and maybe she is right. But if I had him around all the time while being on tour, I would be afraid getting out of focus – just because it is so much more wonderful and rewarding to be with him than to practise. Before leaving Berlin for this trip I obviously had to practise a bit at home, and while doing so János was doing his homework while listening to me scratching away on my cello. It was a very inspiring atmosphere somehow, seeing him laying on our bed reading his book (for school) and me trying to be as efficient as I could be so that we could play some ping pong later on. At some point he stopped reading and just watched me doing the pyrotechnics of this great concerto, and at the end he said that from now on he wanted to be more serious about his piano playing.

It’s so touching to see the struggles of such a young person who on the one hand loves music and is not untalented with his instrument, on the other hand he had come to apreciate the advantages of all the electronic distractions which are so well designed to hook not only young people for a lifetime to a computer screen. Once he asked, oh, he almost begged me not to give in when he would ask not having to play the piano anymore. And he did ask since then, but I fulfilled my promise and haven’t given in yet, and I guess it is really a parent’s responsability to guide the kid through these phases where they really don’t want to sit down and work because there is no immediate reward – all I can tell him that in year’s to come he would be sooo happy if he could play music together with other people, express himself at the piano (or any other instrument), but that before being able to do so he will have to incredibly patient and take small steps at a time. Very hard to teach that in a very fast-paced time… Good luck, parents!

Wow, writing almost has the effect of a lullaby – all the adrenalin and the excitement have fallen off me, and I can peacefully go back to the hotel and call it a night!


  • David Nice

    Lillia is a lovely lady, to be sure – but tell us a bit more about Neeme, Alban – was he not a marvellous conductor in that of all works (Symphony-Concerto, bitte – straight from Slava’s mouth – not Sinfonia Concertante, sorry to be so pedantic but it DOES make a difference)?

    Of course you don’t HAVE to be honest, though I know it would go against the grain from all that I’ve read.

  • Alban

    Hi David, yes, Lillia is lovely, and so is her bear-like husband Neeme! And yes, he is a marvelous conductor indeed, I love his approach of not beating every single beat but feeling music often rather in two than in four – very musical and inspiring to work with, but as so often, as a “younger” musician I clearly had to follow his lead which is fine with me when the guy in charge is such good musician!


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