Masterclass: Alban Gerhardt on Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto no.1, part 2

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Alban Gerhardt explains why it takes courage to fight tradition and forge your own interpretation – based not on what others play but on what the composer wrote – in the work’s third movement

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Saint-Saëns was a wonderful composer, but very seldom have I heard this concerto played in the way that he wrote it. Instead most cellists follow the traditions established by others before them, often because they have listened to too many recordings. It is far more difficult to break away from those traditions if you have heard the work played ten times in the same way. Pretend instead that the music has been written just for you and then interpret it on your own. It is fine to change things in the score, but only if that helps you to bring across the musical message that you want to share. Don’t do it out of laziness, bad habit or just because you’ve heard it played that way before.

Breaking away from tradition takes some courage, particularly when your collaborators are used to things being done in a certain way. Some conductors are wonderful and remember everything that you ask them to do, but others can’t overcome old habits. In an ideal world, the conductor will listen to your ideas and be a musical partner who understands you and takes initiative. You shouldn’t have to nod to tell them when to come in, where to make a transition, or when to continue on from a long note. You need to feel and share the music together, and move together too. I’m happy to play along if a conductor surprises me, unless the only surprise is a return to tradition!

Click here to view the sheet music for this work in our digital edition

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