About 30 years ago, we spent another Easter holiday in Salzburg where my father as member of Berlin Philharmonic had to play under Karajan during the Festspiele, I heard as a 10-year-old for the first time in my life the young Krzystian Zimmermann. Karajan had introduced him to his sponsors (after a so-called “FÃ¶rderer-Probe”) as his own discovery, and I managed to experience the g-minor Ballade by Chopin after having practised my own little children piece (Gavotte by Prokofiev) in a one of the warm-up rooms, where I secretly used to practise. This was an absolute eye- and ear-opener, I fell in love with the piece and forced my piano teacher back in Berlin that I HAD to learn this piece.
Well, it took a couple of weeks until my teacher gave in (I’m not only since yesterday very stubborn); fact is that I had no technique or basic training to tackle a piece like that. Manually I wasn’t very talented as a young boy, and it was only due to an enormous patience and will that I managed to play this piece of music at the Steinway-Piano Competition (for children) a year later. Oh no, I didn’t win, but I have a recording of that performance, and it is adorable, little me, many wrong notes, but with quite some musical imagination (where has it all gone???).
Why am I telling this little story? No, not to show off, but to explain how I learn a piece which appears to be at first (and also second and third) sight far too difficult. Objectively the Chopin back then was at least five numbers too big for me, but my teachers taught me highly valuable and rather simple tricks how to proceed; on the piano you obviously can learn each hand by itself at first, but in oder to conquer all the fast passage work without the daily fingerexercises a normal young piano student would have to do, I needed to work very slowly and methodically, and until today, on the cello, I use these piano tricks: dotted rhythms (fast-slow-fast-slow and vice-versa as well as slow-fast-fast-fast-slow-fast-fast-fast and the other way around), every day, plus the metronom. When the final speed would be 150, I started with 50, playing through the entire passage in slow motion, and if I mastered it, I was allowed to move up to 55, and so on. Never faster than I could still manage to do it without too many mistakes. Oh yes, that takes a long time, but I had no choice: I wanted to be able to play that piece, and not only the slow bits, but also the excitingly fast ones!
I just got back from my second rehearsal of the Chin Concerto, and I had to think about the time back then and how much I owed to the experience of having dug my teeth into a piece which was far too difficult but which at some point I more or less conquered thanks to an eternal patience. Exactly this patience was needed to learn all the fast passage work in Unsuk Chins Celloconcerto. I have found an e-mail I wrote to her two months ago where I told her that her metronom markings were impossible to do; for the end of the second movement she asks for 150 per minute if not faster, and for the longest time I had no chance to get it faster than 120 beats. Last week I managed once 170, and it felt soooo good to have managed to fly over this tricky part. Also the last movements asks for speeds quicker than I couldÂ evenread the music, technically and rhythmically pretty complicated stuff, but I refused to give up, put my pride on the line, and now it feels natural and the right thing to do. I was grateful to Unsuk’s answer, who drily wrote “it’s possible!” and right she was.
Reherals are going well, Ilan knows the score very well and made the orchestra work very hard, it’s coming along quicker than I hoped for. I didn’t have too many memory slips, though still have to secure the quick stuff, because it is so easy to get lost in these devilish runs up and down. Yes, I am nervous, but hopeful that we’ll pull it off. As always it is hardly enough rehearsal time, especially since there are some very difficult passages in the orchestra, but Ilan’s efficient way and the orchestra’s concentration and ability make me very optimist for next week. Time will tell…