LA Phil survives loss of cellist

LA Phil survives loss of cellist


norman lebrecht

January 22, 2018

Robert deMaine, principal cello of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was down to play the difficult modernist concerto by Bernd Alois Zimmerman on Friday night, with Susana Mälkki conducting.

On Tuesday, he pulled out ‘for undisclosed personal reasons’.


The only other cellists who know this piece – reportedly, just three of them – are all in Europe and unable to reach the West Coast in time.

What to do?

The LA Phil went downtown and whistled. Three guys – LA Phil associate cellist Ben Hong, Calder Quartet cellist Eric Byers and Lyris Quartet cellist Timothy Loo – raised their hands. They split the five movements between them and the concert went ahead without a visible hitch.

Mark Swed writes: Only knowing Zimmermann’s concerto from recordings, I can’t say that the cellists were able to achieve the last word in interpretive nuance under such unreasonable conditions. But I can say that not only were all three utterly convincing, the addition of a third pas-de-trois element to the performance turned out to be a terrific theatrical idea. Moreover, the sense of camaraderie among the players, the orchestra, the dancers and Mälkki added an unexpected endearing aspect that is otherwise disturbingly lacking in Zimmermann’s music.

Read on here.


  • John Borstlap says:

    My fly on the wall informed me that the ‘undisclosed personal reasons’ were, in fact, the opening of the score. Namely, Mr deMaine is a very musical musician.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    I like the piece itself. Perhaps they should have offered the cellist the opportunity to play in the consortium rather than the whole work which may have been too much given his work load as principal cellist of the LA Phil.

  • Zimmermann is a great composer says:

    Nice solution for a rather unprofessional behaviour ! Nevertheless it must be said that the critics opinion is ( like most of the time) nonsense : Zimmermanns music is full of delicate, lovely and intimate moments . If someone doesn’t realize the level of Zimmermanns music – how can you understand other music of the 20th century ? The first Cello concerto might be the better piece, but also this one is amazing !

  • Robert deMaine says:

    I want to let the readers know that I am on an extended medical leave, and it certainly was not my intention to withdraw from the concerts on such short notice. I will be back in February in all likelihood.

    This had nothing at all to do with any artistic decision or my feelings about the piece, which I learned and enjoyed very much, as thorny as it is. I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, but one’s health has to come first. I am sorry that it was on such painfully short notice.

    Mr. Lebrecht, your headline makes it look like I’m dead. On the contrary, I am very much alive.

    • harold braun says:

      Wishing you a speedy recovery!

    • boringfileclerk says:

      Thank you for your willingness to to come forward with this. We wish you the best, and a speedy recovery. Look forward to hearing you play again soon!

    • Scotty says:

      More than a little funny that the subject of the story calls the headline author to task on the same day that the author’s “a false music headline” commentary was posted.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Mr DeMaine, in no sense does the headline or the content suggest to reasonable readers that you are dead. I am delighted that you are making a good recovery. Might it not have helped the general clarity of things if you had said you were withdrawing from the concert for medical reasons? Happens to all of us. Best wishes, NL

      • Robert Holmén says:

        I read that headline and, indeed, thought he was dead.

        He didn’t even look sick when I saw him in recital!

      • Alex says:

        It absolutely does read like he is dead. And he certainly is not required to explain to you why he had to withdraw from a concert. But like I said before (and was censored) … responsible journalism doesn’t pay for that beach house in Portugal.

        • John Rasmussen says:

          It’s the first thing I thought. The only reason I read any further was to find out how Mr. deMaine met his demise.

      • Chris says:

        The three other occasions in which you use the term “loss” in the discussion of an individual are all in the context of the person’s death. Unless your intention is to purposefully confuse the readers, your choice of headline is unfortunate. The decision to not edit it is indicative of your irresponsibility as an editor.




        • norman lebrecht says:

          So does that mean we are all confined to using ‘loss’ only in connection with death? The word is versatile. Let’s keep it that way.
          Here, the LA Phil lost its soloist. What followed is more interesting than these semantics.

          • Chris says:

            Unequivocally, a news editor should strive for clarity over versatility of language if one is unfit for achieving both.

          • Bruce says:

            I didn’t absolutely think “oh no, somebody died,” but I did think “oh no, did somebody die?”

            — Especially since the headline uses the rather versatile word “survives,” which can mean getting past an obstacle, or making it through an ordeal… or being still alive after someone else is dead.

            I wouldn’t necessarily say the headline was misleading, but it wasn’t as clear as, say, “LA Phil Copes Creatively With Soloist Cancellation,” for example.

            P.S. Even when the headlines are misleading or wrong, the actual article or interview is always interesting; so thank you for that.

          • Jonathan says:

            You’re ignoring the small matter of context, Norman. Sure, “loss” has various meanings, but when literally everybody who read those words in that context inferred a death, what does that tell you?

            Besides, a professional writer should understand that personal interpretation of particular words can cloud judgment as to what others will take from them. Sometimes you’ve just gotta admit that whatever track your mind was in is at odds with the consensus.

    • Knowing Clam says:

      I thought the same thing…that you had passed (glad you hadn’t).

      And on the very day Lebrecht decides to make fun of another outfit for its disingenuous headlines. He loves the clickbait more, methinks.

    • Tom Flaherty says:

      Greatly relieved to hear of your lack of demise, mr. demaine! Looking forward to seeing and hearing you again soon!

  • Robert demaine says:

    To be perfectly clear, the statement, “For undisclosed personal reasons,” was not a direct quote from me. I think whoever issued it was merely protecting my privacy. I decided on my own to clarify it here on your blog, which is completely voluntary.

    Thank you for your kind sentiments. It is not my mission to be argumentative, truly.

  • Tracy Sparks says:

    I thought he was dead or dying too! The headline is rather “sensationalized!” I’m glad Robert will be getting better and I am glad they were able to pull off the piece!

  • Jane Parsons DeWitt says:

    The headline is an unfortunate choice of words. I also thought someone had passed.

  • Walt says:

    My man Dave Garrett probably could have whipped it up as well!

  • Internet Cello Society Friend says:

    Wishing you a speedy recovery, Bob! You obviously have great colleagues to return to. I am very grateful you’re not dead! Cheers!

  • Andrey says:

    Big Bravo’s for all three cellists, Maestro Mälkki , and the musicians of the LA Phil!

  • Pamela Frame says:

    Robert, your friends and admirers are all so relieved to know you have not met your demise, as was implied (shame on Norman), and I hope you recover quickly. You certainly do not owe the WWW any explanations of your absence; your artistry and concert calendar speak for themselves. Bravo to your excellent colleagues for filling in! Cellists are wonderful. All the best!

  • Pamela Frame says:

    Robert, your friends and admirers are all so relieved to know you have not met your demise, as was implied (shame on Norman), and I hope you recover quickly. You certainly do not owe the WWW any explanations of your absence; your artistry and concert calendar speak for themselves. Bravo to your excellent colleagues for filling in! Cellists are wonderful. All the best!

  • David H. says:

    The Zimmermann cello concerto is a unique, eclectic, truly transcendent, and magical work, which I first became acquainted with as a teenager, via the classic Wergo LP. There have been other recordings since then, but I’ve hoped for 38 years to hear it played live. So I traveled to LA from New York last week, score in hand, and attended 2 of the 3 concerts. I can report that Malkki exhibited absolute mastery of the score, that the orchestra was collectively brilliant (although the dynamics of the electric double bass were generally too soft) and that the 3 cellists performed fantastically, even allowing for the last-minute circumstances. Bravo to the cimbalom soloist too. I admit to being too transfixed by the music to have paid too much attention to the movements of the dancers. But their gestalt presence was wonderful. I still hope to hear Mr DeMaine’s interpretation in the future, and hope he will have the opportunity. This work deserves wider recognition and appreciation, and I could talk about for hours.

  • Phillip McCrevis says:

    Perhaps RdM is merely undead now.

  • Barry McCochinya says:

    Robert DeMaine is a great cellist. I’g glad he’s still around.

  • Suzetta Hugh says:

    Is this news? That a cellist was on medical leave and (as medical leaves don’t always happen on the schedule we’d prefer) they had to call three subs to handle the piece at the last minute? I just listened to two minutes of this piece and I always wonder why these things aren’t written as improvisations in the first place! Think of the problems that arguably more “sustainable” approach to composition would solve! I can promise you that when we play stuff like this, we always do a bit of “improvising”, especially with only a couple days’ prep time. Nothing against the composer here, just a practical suggestion. Frankly, Mr. Lebrecht, this just read like gossip. Unless we are supposed to be impressed that cellists on the street in LA can play the cello remarkably well after years and years of high level study and under tremendous pressure to boot. I’m sure there were more than three in that line. I doubt they were impressed by it themselves. I’m assuming they got paid for the work… I mean, hats off to them and all for pulling together in a musical time of need. Very solid stuff, and what I expect from our comrades, but isn’t this just what we do all the time as professional musicians? If a surgeon gets sick, another surgeon must step in. It’s more of a news story—not to any professional classical musician, of course—that there are always a few classical musicians who are skilled on the level of brain surgeons just walking around town waiting to be whistled at by the LA Phil, who happen to be free and that much in need of cash or a boost in street cred. (nothing against them either, on the contrary!) I’m assuming young people who aspire to becoming professional cellists read your blog now and then. They deserve the real story about what it means to be ready to take gigs like that at a whistle. There is a real story there that someone should tell them over and over, because that story might do some good; it might influence their choices.