Sunday, November 4, 2007

Rianne reports from the Kronberg cello festival

My first cello festival! A month ago, I spent a wonderful weekend in the small medieval town of Kronberg, Germany. Just got the photos back (I'm one of those stone age people that uses light-sensitive chemicals on a strip of plastic), so I thought I'd share some impressions with you.

I arrived late at night on thursday and left early on sunday morning, but those 2 days were absolutely crammed with exciting events. Concert highlights included Lynn Harrell & Pavel Gililov in the Debussy sonata, Gabriel Schwabe & Gililov in the Rostropovich humoresque, David Geringas in Vasks' Gramata Cellam, Gary-Hoffman & David Selig in the Magnard sonata, and Natalya Gutman's Schnittke (the end of which was unfortunately marred by the gigantic sneeze of an idiot at the back of the church). There were lots of encores too, including a melancholy transcription of Sibelius' valse triste by Geringas and a reprise of the volcanic humoresque by Schwabe.

I managed to get audience tickets for 3 masterclasses. Unfortunately, Gutman's class was oversubscribed, and I had difficulty hearing anything she said from my place in the windowsill behind the curtain. I had a better seat in the Hoffman & Harrell classes, and fortunately they were loud and clear. Interpretation issues aside (works featured were the Dvorak concerto and sonatas by Brahms, Prokofiev and Miaskovsky), I was amazed by how much both of them went back to basics. There were lots of remarks on posture, arm position, tone production, mental preparation, listening carefully etc. Lots of stuff that's directly relevant for me as a beginning player.

The theme of this year's festival was 'Remembering Slava'. There were book presentations by Harald Eggebrecht ('Great cellists') and Elisabeth Wilson ('Mstislav Rostropovich: Cellist, teacher, legend'). Unfortunately the latter's readings were crammed in the small interval between Eggelbrecht and the Gutman masterclass, and she was cut short in middle of some wonderful anecdotes. She very kindly signed my copy as she went out. Lots of wonderful Slava anecdotes were also recollected during a panel discussion in the city hall with David Geringas, Natalya Gutman, Mischa Maisky and composers Giya Kancheli and Rodion Shchedrin. Moods varied wildly, from Maisky's moving recollection of Slava's care for him when his father died ('I feel I lost a second father now'), to a funny anecdote by Shchedrin about the premiere of one of his works in Kronberg (apparently Slava sent a student to collect S. from a restaurant who told him he was urgently needed in the artist's room of the city hall. When the composer arrived only minutes after interrupting his meal, Slava just asked him: "Please, this bar - up or down bow?". "Down." "Thank you, now go!". For Slava, the composer's will was law.

What I loved most of all was the informal atmosphere of the place. Lively discussions with the performers after the concerts, chatting cellists young and old in the cobbled streets and the hotel breakfast room, and a buzzing market with students trying out instruments and music lovers browsing through sheet music and cds. Gary Hoffman played a wonderful slow movement as an encore after his late night concert, but I didn't hear who the composer was. I initially thought "I'll just do a Google after I get home", but then I decided "why not ask the man himself after his masterclass?". I did, and he kindly wrote it down for me (turned out to be from the cello sonata by an Alsace composer called Leon Boellmann).

I guess I know now where I'll be in two years time...

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