How I was dreading these past three weeks, being “forced” to leave my beloved family in the middle of the summer holidays behind to go once around the globe into the Australian winter, but as it sometimes happens, my fears were all postively disappointed and I had the most wonderful time while my big son is surfing in Puerto Rico (staying at his grandmother) and my wife having a blast in Bulgaria, her parents taking care of the little one.
We had spent quite a lot of time together the months before, me only leaving for either very short (like the Wigmore Hall solo recital in mid June) or us travelling all together, the ten days in Brussels (playing Dvorak and Gubaidulina with the Orchestre National of Belgium with Andrey Boreyko conducting) or five days in Florence (Prokofiev with Orchestra della Toscana and Thomas Dausgaard) – oh, such good food at both cities, where we stayed in private apartments which makes you feel much less of a tourist than much rather a local.
Right before I had the pleasure to perform the beautiful cello concerto of Unsuk Chin three times with the Berlin Philharmonic in my favorite hall. Favorite not so much because of the acoustics but of all the memories and experiences I had in this hall. My father having played in that orchestra for 46 years took me at every other week along to a concert, I grew up with this amazing orchestra, heard the most phenomenal soloists (Horowitz, Arrau, Serkin, Gilels, Fournier, Tortelier, Nelsova, Rostropovich, just to name a few) and finally did my orchestra debut there with a small chamberorchestra in 1987.
This peformance of the Chin was for me very meaningful also on a different level; I feel that inspite of the huge amount of contemporary concertos written for the cello in the past 40 years, very few have managed to “stay alive”, being performed again and again as it happened with the great concerti Rostropovich had inspired from Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Britten, Dutilleux, Lutoslawski and Schnittke (for example). Are these just better pieces or is there another reason? I think it has a lot to do with Rostropovich having relentlessly pushed these masterworks until everybody knew of their value.
Today we ask every composer to write us a concerto, then we premier it, maybe record it, just to jump to the next concerto written for us. The excitement of the world premier has taken over (similar to the need of having a world record at an international track and field meeting) and the necessitiy of performing new pieces as often as possible in order for them to grow (including the performer) is being neglected. It is very difficult to convince orchestras to schedule a new piece if it is not at least the country’s first performance, but the concerts with Berlin Phil marked the first time the Chin celloconcerto was being played without being “a premier”; the first German performance had already happened some years ago with the Gürzenich orchestra, and the concert last year in Munich was sold as a world-premier as Unsuk had changed the second movement quite dramatically (an improvement, by the way). Besides this it was important for me to play it with one of the greatest orchestras in the world not only for the sheer quality of the performance but also because of digital concert hall. Berlin Phil is filming every set of concerts twice and put it online, and for a modern piece it is almost as important to be watched as it is to be listened to. With a good video I am hopeful to convince orchestras and colleagues of mine to perform it as often as possible.
Oh yes, I was nervous, how couldn’t I, haven’t dared to watch the video yet, but people seemed to enjoy the piece almost as much as me, reviews were very supportive, so I hope this was a step in the right direction to establish this concerto as one of the great contemporary cello concertos. Conductor was Myung-Whun Chung who claimed that he didn’t know much about the piece but he did something very beautiful with it, just by treating it with the same care, loave and quality as he did with the Brahms Symphony in the second half.
Chin in Berlin, two days before that Britten in Freiburg, shortly after that Dvorak and Gubaidulina in Brussels and in the same month (May) Prokofiev in Florence – no wonder an “old warhorse” like the Dvorak has no trouble staying fresh with me, since I just don’t play it all the time. On my way to Australia I had filled the blanks of a spreadsheet in which I put all the concerts I have ever played, and yes, surprise, the Dvorak is the No.1, but in 25 years I have played it not even 170 times, which is not even seven times a year – not too much. Having played it now with Adelaide and Tasmania Symphony it felt better than ever as somehow I really dare to push for my favorite interpretation instead of being too afraid what the expectations of the audience could be, and luckily both Eugene Tzigane and Marko Letonja happily supported me in the quest of trying to play what Dvorak wrote, incuding his metronom and dynamic markings. I also enjoyed my time with the West Australian Orchestra under Simone Young where we also tried to do a slightly different interpretation of the Elgar Concerto… But what made this stay special was the effort of sponsors of the orchestra to “kill” my free days in between cities – they sent me with lovely friends of theirs into the best wine country of Australia, Margret River, where I stayed at a small but top-knotch vineyard, called Pierro. Such nice people, incredible wine, gorgeous beaches – I was in heaven and relaxed as much as one can relax in three days.
Right now I am on my way to Scotland where I will have a rehearsal four hours after my 30 hour journey from around the world with Messiaen’s deeply moving “Quatuor pour la fins du temps” for piano, violin, clarinet and cello which I will play with Steven Osborne, Jörg Widman and Antje Weithaas at the Edinburgh Festival in two days (oh God, that’s soon – luckily I practiced already…), and two days later a recital with Steven (Britten and Beethoven) before I can join my little family for five days in Bulgaria.
Oh, I completely forgot to mention the two chambermusic festival my wife Gergana Gergova and me went to in July: West Cork Chambermusic Festival in charming Bantry and after this “Festival Rolandseck” near Bonn. As we were travelling with the little boy who had just turned one year old this was quite a challenge, practicing, rehearsing, performing while taking care of a little angel who loves the attention – luckily not only from his parents but from anybody. We were using three different babysitters who charmed him and kept him happy while his parents enjoyed playing music together and with other wonderful musicians. I had stopped going to chambermusic festivals because I didn’t want to be without my family during the summer, but since my wife is now also being invited to the same festivals and I love playing with her, we are having the time of our lives!