Alban performed a sensational Bach Marathon to critical acclaim in Berlin last Saturday and below is his blog entry from the night:
Last night was probably the hardest concert I ever played in my life. All Bachsuites in one go, the first four in the first half, the last two in the second half, with a 25 minute intermission break in which my wife, a professional healer, recharged my energy and helped relax my worn-down hands. As amazing as she is, she couldn’t prevent that I played in the second half as close to my limits of both physical and mental capacities as never before. This was also due to the settings of the concert:
It took place at the Radialsystem in Berlin, the coolest performance space in Berlin, a former water utility plant, attracting a rather special, very young audience. I played the suites from four different locations within this hall which can seat up to 600 people, but because we wanted the atmosphere to be rather relaxed and unconventional, we pulled the chairs a bit apart, added some lounge furniture and mats for people to even sit on the stage on the floor, which finally gave room to almost 500 people. I started the first suite in the back of the hall in total darkness – the light went slowly on within the Prelude. Before moving with the applause to my second location off-center stage left, I took a microphone to welcome the audience and explain what we were trying to achieve with this different setting, encouraging people to take breaks in between – no obligation to listen to every single of the suites, or rather listen outside on the terrace or in the bar while drinking a glass of wine. The third location for Suites No.3 and 6 was in the back of the stage center, surrounded by the people sitting on the mats, and the 5th Suite I played high up from the gallery, the hall almost dark, just some blue light on me.
This changing of lights, locations and talk in between may have created a more personal atmosphere between me and audience, but I think it took even more energy from my part than the stereotype way of doing a concert. I felt the audience with me much stronger than usually which was very inspiring, but at the same time very demanding – I felt obliged to live up to their expectation in a different way, almost like a story-teller in an Arab market where the audience is longing for his unbelievable stories, and when he looses his thread or can’t come up with something really exciting, the people will walk away, so he has the pressure on him to provide some constant spark.
During the 6th Suite I thought my fingers were going to fall off, my left arm felt so stiff and tired that I considered more than once to just give up, stop and leave. The title of the concert, Bach-Marathon, wasn’t suggested by me, but in that moment I realized that it was justified. I have never ran a marathon, but I could very much imagine that one has similar feeling during these 42 km… Afterwards the artistic boss of the hall and me had a talk in front of still maybe a hundred members of the audience who also got to ask some questions – it was about midnight when we wrapped up the whole concert with a steak and a glass of wine in the bar of the hall.
While I have been fulfilled with some of my performances playing Shostakovich, Dvorak or Prokofiev, I admitted last night in front of everybody, that with my Bach performances I have never ever been satisfied. No, I don’t think I play Bach badly, but there are so many possibilities how to play it, so many hidden difficulties which only seem to come out while playing it in public, and worst of all, there is the style issue which one can’t forget about either. Vibrato, yes, but not too much. Articulation important, but not at the expense of colours and sound. A constant compromise in a way, but it mustn’t sound nor feel like one – for me the most challenging of all concerts, by very, very far.
In intermission on top of everything my son told me that he liked it but that he was surprised that I made some mistakes. By then I had already forgotten my couple of little memory-slips, tiny ones, but obviously audible. Sure enough, during the fifth Suite I focused a bit too much on not getting lost, which is the death sentence: halfway through the Prelude I got lost, so bad that I jumped almost an entire page back which made for the longest Prelude ever. It is so confusing to play this suite with the A string tuned on G, so much room for error that I am never really surprised when it happens, still it is annoying, sorry for that one! But I guess this is life, it ain’t ever perfect, things happen, and it adds to the drama, at least I like to believe that. If you want pure perfection, buy a cd…
The sun is shining, my desk is waiting, but first I will spend some father-son-bonding-time hanging the punching bag his mother bought him yesterday while I was preparing for my marathon
Check out Alban’s blog on his website: www.albangerhardt.com