Alban Gerhardt’s Unusual Tour

Thursday 4th November 2010

Having recently played at the Radialsystem in Berlin, a former water utility plant, Alban Gerhardt is no stranger to alternative classical music performances.  The world-renowned cellist enjoyed the challenge of performing in an unconventional setting so much that WildKat PR decided to organise a week-long tour of unusual performances for him last week.  Each morning Alban appeared at a different radio station in Germany and encouraged listeners to suggest some alternative places in which he could perform.  He then chose the requests that interested him the most and gave some unique and surprising performances of Bach’s Cello Suites.  Here is an overview of Alban’s unusual classical music tour:


First stop: Rostock and Radio Lohro!  In the radio interview Alban’s recording of a movement from Bach’s Fifth Cello Suite was broadcast, and this was the first time classical music had ever been played at the radio station.  After some suggestions, one listener came up with a wonderful idea for a performance venue: the cellar of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung.  Alban played three suites to a dozen very attentive listeners whilst they enjoyed a glass of wine.  A very relaxed way to experience Bach!


The listeners asked for more but Alban had to continue his tour.  On Tuesday Alban visited Lüneburg and made an appearance at Radio Zusa.  Here Alban was asked whether he could play in an anti-nuclear waste-related protest.  However, the radio host felt that this would be too dangerous and the idea was not taken up until two days later.


On day three, Alban was live in Kiel on the NDR broadcasting station.  It was here that Alban’s innovative project really took off, with hundreds of listeners phoning in with their requests.  These included a 70th birthday celebration, a local pub, and a small hall in a castle!  But Alban chose the two ideas that interested him the most:

The first request he fulfilled was to play after the delivery of a baby at a maternity ward in Hamburg.  The soon-to-be Aunt of the newborn baby had phoned the radio station that morning to ask whether Alban would play  music for the parents, the nurses and the doctor in Barmbek Hospital.  Alban described this performance as ‘quite an experience’.  It was emotional for both the performer and the listeners alike, and in his blog Alban admits that was moved to tears by the situation.  He had to play the entire cello suites within the softest dynamic range so not to wake up the baby, whilst still maintaining the same level of expression and interpretation: a great musical challenge!

The second performance Alban gave on Wednesday was at a school where the Youth Orchestra of Hamburg was rehearsing.  Alban played two suites for them and the young musicians had the opportunity to ask him questions.


Next stop: Oldenburg!  On Thursday Alban was interviewed at a non-classical radio station called Oldenburg Eins, where he received a variety of interesting performance requests.  Alban chose two of these: a local musical theatre company rehearsal and a physiotherapy fitness studio.

Despite receiving warnings from the radio host in Lüneburg, Alban chose to play some Bach during an anti-nuclear-waste protest later that evening.  Although he only played for half an hour, Alban’s audience grew quickly from a handful of listeners to at least forty nuclear-waste protestors who had been awoken from their sleep by the sounds of Bach’s Sixth Cello Suite.


Friday was the final day of Alban’s tour.  Alban made an appearance on the RBB Kulturradio’s classical musical show in Berlin.  Although it was a more conventional place to hear a conversation about classical music than other radio stations Alban had visited, there were still some very interesting performance requests.  Alban performed to appreciative audiences at an alternative coffee shop in Kreuzberg, and in a Cuban cellist’s music salon.

Since WildKat PR’s concept proved to be so popular, Alban took it with him to his next concert in the US.  Before appearing as the soloist in Pintscher’s Reflections on Narcissus with the Cleveland Orchestra, Alban continued to experiment with unconventional performances.  Yesterday (Wednesday 3rd November) he played Bach’s Cello Suites in a supermarket in Cleveland, Ohio.  Information about Alban’s trip to Ohio can be viewed here.

The fact that so many people have shown interest in Alban’s tour proves that there is a wider audience for classical music out there waiting to be reached.  With Louise Jury, the Chief Arts Correspondent for the London Evening Standard insisting that ‘classical music must change if it is to attract younger audiences’, Alban Gerhardt and WildKat PR’s unusual tour is one significant step in the right direction.  These ‘rules-free concerts’ need to be encouraged by musicians as an alternative to the conventional concert experience, but not necessarily a replacement.  Ultimately the success of Alban’s unusual tour shows that the traditional concert hall is not an essential factor in the enjoyment of classical music.