Alban Gerhardt In Perth


Over the past decade, Germany’s Alban Gerhardt has established himself among the greatest cellists of our time. He’s in Perth with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra for their Masters Series, performing tomorrow and Saturday evenings, as well as performing a recital on Monday.

Of particular concern for Alban is his desire to help audiences break with old listening and concert habits and to open classical music to a younger audience. I spoke to him this morning during my radio program. He was even kind enough to play a short piece on his 303 year old cello. It was an honour to watch and hear him play.

Classical music can sometimes be thought of as elitist or old fashioned but Alban is convinced that the kind of music he loves and plays can be appreciated by everyone.

I played all Bach’s Cello Suites in 2010 in an ‘alternative’ Berlin performance venue, in front of an audience that had not had much experience with classical music. I was amazed how well they listened and I realized that this old, rather intellectual music can be understood by everybody.

That same year I embarked on a so-called radio tour: travelling in Northern Germany for a week to different radio stations and giving a free concert of the Bach suites, only the listeners had to call in and suggest the venue and provide the audience! I ended up playing at a maternity ward, a fitness studio, a café, the headquarters of some anti-nuclear waste protesters in a pub in the middle of nowhere. When I suggested it to the Cleveland Orchestra they set up a Bach concert at a local supermarket. People reacted incredibly well; people who had never heard a single piece by Bach listened to the entire Suites (including all repeats!). Now I am convinced that although Bach wrote the bible for us cellists, his genius can be understood and appreciated by everybody.

On the train home after the last performance of this radio tour, I saw a musical performance of some kind in the main train station in Berlin. Immediately I thought of the idea of performing Bach there. A year later, amplified only by a small, portable sound system, I played all the suites there and the success was huge: hundreds of people came, stopped by, listened and were touched. One lady even claimed that she had never listened so intensely to any music; in concerts she often dozes off, but during that performance at the train station, because of all the distracting noises by trains and other disturbances, in order to focus on the music, she had to listen so carefully and concentrate so hard, that she got more out of it than during a normal concert in a normal hall. Bach’s music transformed the train station into a concert hall.

You can hear our chat by clicking the play button on the audio player at the bottom of this post.

Alban will play at Perth’s underground train station tomorrow afternoon before his WASO concert.

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About the author

Rodney Olsen

Rodney is a husband, father, cyclist, blogger and podcaster from Perth Western Australia.

He previously worked in radio for about 25 years but these days he spends his time at Compassion Australia, working towards releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name.

The views he expresses here are his own.

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