Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Sydney was blessed with the first time visit by the 40 year old German cellist Alban Gerhardt last week in an all French programme (Bizet, Saint-Saens, Debussy) with a rather English subtitle (Sense and Sensuality), conducted by an American born in Costa Rica. We went on Friday. There were noticeable French accents in the audience, and the hall quite full, if not exactly packed.

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald (belying that paper's increasingly thin arts coverage) Gerhardt is refreshingly unpretentious and direct about himself, music and audiences.

"I find it incredibly arrogant to diss the audience, to say 'You are so stupid' if they want to clap," he says of the no-clapping camp. "People end up not wanting to go to a concert because they feel so intimidated. But the less musical education, the better - you can get to the core, get that raw, emotional response."

Right then. Read his travel blog, via his website (above), for the run up to the interview. This man is exceptionally warm and generous. As was his playing.

The Saint-Saens Cello Concerto No 1 in A Major is short at under 20 mins, its three movements as one, but what a joy it was. To Gerhardt it is a thing of delicacy, something he's been devoted to since youth, a work he feels inside how he wants it to be, and hopes some day it will emerge as he hears it. Whether it did so on Friday to his satisfaction I don't know, but he's kept me happy since. I've taken to playing it over and over, the wonderful Rostropovich with the LPO and Guilini. Buy it for someone you love, and that includes yourself, of course.

The programme guide listening notes use the word 'swirl' six times, and that is just talking about the first and last movement, the second movement a minuetty dancing delight between the cello and the woodwinds. Swirl it does and swirl they did. The last movement by the way contains one of the longest rising scales in the cello repertoire, lasting 25 seconds in Rostropovich's hands.

Whatever was the matter with the audience I've no idea, but when they should have been on their feet, the applause nearly faded out just as he was about to come back for an encore and caught him unbalanced at the platform door. As you'd expect from such a man, he hesitated slightly then bounced out, to hold the place entranced with Rostropovich's Moderato (not very, he quipped) and then he and his lovely smile were gone.

Driving away, C asked if I'd noticed how Catherine Hewgill didn't take her eyes off him the whole time. I hadn't noticed because I couldn't. I hadn't taken my eyes off him the whole time.

If you want to know what you missed:


Anonymous said...

I'll second that! (And wasn't it lovely that he joined the orchestral cellos for the second half of the program?)

WANDERER said...

NO. I am devastated. That is so in character and I missed it completely. I shut my eyes a lot for the Debussy. No excuse. I am going outside to kill myself NOW.

Don't you love that clip?

WANDERER said...

Come to think about it, there were other interesting (re)arrangements. The first half strings were at a rough guess 75% female, as if some annual affirmative action audit was due, and a change in concertmaster at interval (Williams to Dauth), and a male harpist.

Anonymous said...

Very true. One of my colleagues said at interval on Friday: "Did you notice that the entire first violin section was female?" It hadn't really registered with me, but I paid more attention on the Monday night. I can only assume that the girls are better equipped to play Bizet's fiendish violin parts.

It was certainly well-deserved when Monday night's conductor, Ben Northey, stood the first violins up to take the first applause after the Bizet.

I'm a self-confessed weak-at-the-knees fan of Alban Gerhardt and it's been great to finally see him in Sydney. My fingers are crossed for a prompt return visit.