‘The cellist playing on platform 4…’

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, Updated 29th May 2013

As Alban Gerhardt brings Bach to Frankfurt Station, Stella Lorenz reports

Alban GerhardtFrankfurt main station on a weekday evening. Rush hour has just ended, but all is still fairly hectic. Among the crowd, an inconspicuous looking man opens his battered cello case, plugs in a small amplifier and sits down. If there wasn’t a television crew hovering around, passers-by would probably take the young man for another street musician. But once Alban Gerhardt starts playing, everyone instantly knows that he’s not. This, in fact, is one of the world’s leading cellists.

In 2012, Gerhardt played at Berlin main station as a concert experiment, which soon turned into the idea of a mini-tour across Germany. Over two days, he has travelled to six different train stations to play Bach’s Cello Suites, Frankfurt being the last.

‘My name is Alban Gerhardt. I play the cello. Enjoy!’ he says and begins his unusual recital of Suites No. 3 and 4. Except for a few fans who have seen the tiny poster at the station, there aren’t many people who actually stop… at first. The longer Gerhardt plays, though, the more people are amazed at this cellist who is so immersed in the music, who has his eyes closed and smiles every time there is an announcement.

There are lots of young people, but also businessmen who interrupt their tight schedule and decide not to run for the train but to appreciate this beautiful sound that is almost surreal in this cold, crowded place. ‘I’m trying to take the concert experience out of the concert hall and to the people who normally couldn’t afford a concert ticket,’ Gerhardt says about his project. ‘Besides, there’s something about the atmosphere at a train station that makes Bach’s music stand out even more.’ Due to the surrounding noise, the audience really needs to focus on the sound, and that itself creates an intense involvement.

Besides that quality of sound and the extraordinary context, it is Gerhardt’s lack of pretentiousness that makes his performance so outstanding. Always focused but never too intense, he wraps up his listeners in the magic of Bach’s music and then, even after an hour of playing in the 10-degree temperatures of the station, stays to chat to his audience. ‘It’s not as exhausting as I’ve feared and the reactions of the people are really rewarding,’ he tells me. ‘It’s great to see how people respond to Bach’s music.’

When I ask him why he chose Bach for this project, he simply replies: ‘Well, it’s the cellists’ bible and I’ve noticed that with kids, Bach is most popular, so why shouldn’t it be the same with adults who are not as familiar with classical music yet?’ Then he adds modestly, ‘Anyway, it’s a learning experience for me too. I’ve only played the Third Suite for the fourth time or so today.’ 

Needless to say, he played it by heart…

Alban Gerhardt will be touring again with ‘Bach im Bahnhof’ in München, Augsburg, Nürnberg, Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin on 1 and 2 October 2013.

Stella Lorenz is currently studying music at Marburg University, Germany

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