Alban's Blog

Working with a legend – John Adams

After trying to learn and memorize these two awfully difficult concerti by Benjamin Britten and Matthias Pintscher last week in Sweden while trying to spend some quality time with my parents, my sister and our children (well, her daughters and my son!), I am finally in action again, trying to prove that my brain is still as capable as I want it to be – well, dream on, the rehearsals for the Britten weren’t exactly brilliant from my part…

Sitting here in a little pizza joint near the BBC studios where I had two rehearsals in the past two days (yesss, free internet access versus 15 pounds per day in the hotel…) I am wondering how I manage to always leave everything until the last second. Somehow I seem to need the stress and the pressure of a deadline. Well, who doesn’t, but with me it is getting a bit dangerous. Especially when the concert features my first appearance with a London orchestra in almost 10 years, one of the toughest pieces for cello and orchestra and on top of everything John Adams as conductor.

But what can I do when there are too many things to learn at the same time? At least I am dealing with a very lovely composer-conductor; John Adams is very down-to-earth, has absolutely no attitude and treats me with a respect I still have to earn, because I was not really on top of the piece in these two rehearsals. For him it is the first time that he conducts the Britten, for me the second time I am doing it, which doesn’t really help, since both of us have no real routine with this work. On the other hand it will most probably help for a “fresh” performance 🙂 At lunch we discussed certain interpretatoric issues, mainly rubatos and overall speed, and it felt so nice to communicate with such a superstar of the classical scene who is so unpretentious that it almost seems unreal.

My problem is that somehow I have reached the limit of what my brain is willing to take in: attempting to memorize 40 pages of modern music (well, Britten isn’t really modern, but complex enough, and Pintscher is modern and complex) suddenly makes the little gray cells work slower (or I am just getting old, let’s face it!). So even though I did play the Britten before (seven years ago) without too much memory trouble,  I still got lost today in the Scherzo, and it feels so embarrassing to play something, which has nothing to do with what’s written in the part…

BBC Symphony and John Adams are not showing any disgust, they are smpathetic and probably thinking: let’s give him a chance tomorrow – if he fails then, we’ll have a laugh… And probably (hopefully…) in the moment of trouble it feels much worse than it actually comes across, but I can understand now why many performers start using music in concert since it can be just so dangerous without it. Though also much more rewarding – for me it is much easier to penetrate the music,  see the whole structure and feel the emotion. Is it worth the risk? We’ll speak after the concert tomorrow…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *