The cello star who likes to play tutti

I once met the widow of an amateur violinist who, as he began to play the overture at a festival concert, saw another violinist slip into the vacant seat beside him and start playing from his score.

He nearly fell off his chair when he recognised his stand partner. It was Fritz Kreisler, and he was down to play the next piece – the world premiere, if I’m not mistaken, of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. ‘Don’t mind me,’ whispered Kreisler. ‘I hate being stuck alone in green room.’

(We all know that feeling.)

Last night, something similar happened in New Orleans.

Alban Gerhardt was down to play the Dvorak cello concerto in the second half, after the Louisiana Philharmonic got through Sibelius’ Lemminkäinen Suite.

As the concert began, Alban took up a chair in the back of the celli beside LPO cellist Jeanne Jaubert, who happened to be sitting alone. Second half, he played a great Dvorak.

Way to go.


alban gerhardt lelchuk

Gerhardt later with asst. principal cellist Daniel Lelchuk.

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  • Yo-Yo Ma has been famous for doing this for as long as I can recall. He joined a colleague of mine for Dances of Galanta after performing what I think was the Dvorak concerto.

  • Two weeks ago, in Madrid, Queyras did the same: after playing Haydn’s C major concerto, he joined the celli section of the ONE (Spanish National Orchestra) in Dvorák’s Eighth. Ashkenazy conducted.

  • “It was Fritz Kreisler, and he was down to play the next piece – the world premiere, if I’m not mistaken, of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending.”

    Marie Hall was the violinist, who played the world-premiere of “The Lark Ascending”; both in the version for violin & piano and for violin & orchestra.

  • I had a similar experience with a star violinist. Martin Beaver (former first violinist of the Tokyo String Quartet) was playing the Mendelssohn Concerto in the first half, and sat beside me second which was an absolute thrill. He is a wonderful violinist, and a very nice guy as well.

  • In Harry Ellis Dickson’s great (but alas, out of print) “Gentlemen, More Dolce, Please,” he talks about Kreisler doing this at times but also saying to the effect that Kreisler didn’t know how orchestral violinists could do it.

  • Lynn Harrell is another who has been known to play through an entire half program after performing a concerto. I recall at least two separate occasions when he joined the Vancouver Symphony cello section in concert.

  • I saw Yo Yo Ma do this too, in Manchester’s Free Trade Hall. He had played the Saint-Saens (I think) in the first half, and as the second half was about to begin ( a symphony that I cannot remember) noticed the BBC Philharmonic had gained a new back-desk cellist! I was mightily impressed, and it just shows how much the guy just lives for music! A great artist.

  • ==the world premiere, if I’m not mistaken, of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. –

    No, it was Marie Hall who premiered this piece

    • Quite right. It must have been the overture that was a premiere, followed by Kreisler playing the Elgar. Looking into it.

  • It is an unbearable crowd pleasing gimmick that exasperates orchestral players. Being a great soloist does not make you an experienced and astute orchestral player. My experience of such occurrences has always been that the soloist did not blend either tonally, rhythmically or musically and made a total mockery of the art of high level orchestral playing.

    • Now of course Lynn Harrell was principal cello in Cleveland for many years, so we can’t be talking about him. I have seen Yo Yo add himself to the Philadelphia Cellos under Muti back in the 80s. He was on his own at the back of the section for Dvorak 6. I can’t see Muti going for this unless it sounded good……………………..

  • This isn’t quite the same kind of story, but is still fun.

    Many years ago, I played in an orchestra concert in which Marian McPartland, solo and with her trio, were soloists. At the time she was performing the Grieg concerto with various orchestras, and also performing with her trio with orchestral accompaniment.

    As I recall, her bass player sat in with the orchestra when he wasn’t playing with the trio.

    It must have been great for him to have the opportunity to do some orchestral playing.

    (I don’t recall if the drummer also participated, in the percussion section.)

    • …and that makes all the difference between sincere participation and a flamboyant gesture. I’m actually surprised that conductors allow this without requiring rehearsal attendance. Members of an orchestra risk sanction if they willfully miss rehearsals. Imagine a conductor showing up to perform without attending a single rehearsal.

  • I recall Nikolaj Znaider sitting in with the LA Phil/Marin Alsop after playing the Brahms. 2008, I think. A filter holder from one of the ceiling lights got loose, and fell onstage during the concerto. Alsop handled the disruption, which happened behind her and out of her sight, extremely well. She resumed after verifying that no one on or offstage was hurt.

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