On the 27th October 2019 it will be exactly 100 years since the very first performance of Sir Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto in E minor with the London Symphony Orchestra. After a less than stellar premiere, due to an unfortunate lack of rehearsals, this piece was not performed again for another year. Yet today Elgar's last major work, the intimate and haunting product of a dark period in his life plagued by war and illness, is possibly the most famous concerto in the repertoire for this instrument.

We have asked acclaimed cellists Leonard Elschenbroich, Alban Gerhardt, Daniel Müller-Schott, Jean-Guihen Queyras and Raphael Wallfisch to share with us some of their personal memories connected to this masterpiece.

Leonard Elschenbroich performs Elgar's Cello Concerto with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner.

Leonard Elschenbroich: “On summer vacation in my father’s hometown in the Italian Alps one evening in 2016, I received a phone call: to replace Truls Mørk for the season opener of Bergen Philharmonic with Edward Gardner two days later. That evening, I played the concerto through once to my dad, on the terrace during sunset, and traveled all through the next day. Because I didn’t have any time to practise it on the cello, I spent the whole journey reading the score, playing it in my mind, remembering how it feels to play, how the music feels. It turned out to be a very organic and healthy method of preparation. I felt quite free and in the moment during the concert. Ed is a fabulous collaborator and there was a real sense of occasion and excitement in the concert. Another occasion was in La Paz, Bolivia, with my Orquesta Filarmónica de Bolivia. It was the day after the Brexit vote. The feeling of tragic loss, of an unreconcilable incision, an earthquake in the process of history: for Elgar regarding the World War, the advent of modernity and so on, and for us in that moment the corrosion of the European project, of democratic integrity and so on – both of these so specifically regarding the future and past of England. The analogy hit me hard during the concert.”

Alban Gerhardt © Kaupo Kikkas
Alban Gerhardt
© Kaupo Kikkas
Alban Gerhardt:

“Maybe because it wasn’t particularly popular in the mid-eighties in Germany, it took a Brit, my English accompanist Paula Schinz, to introduce me to the Elgar Concerto in a recording with Heinrich Schiff, and the only time I ever heard the piece performed live was with the wonderful Paul Tortelier. The incredibly touching video of du Pré and Barenboim I only saw much later, when I was already convinced that it was an absolute masterpiece; not quite as orchestral as “The Dvořák” but telling us of the same deep human suffering about loss and death, which I have always found most intriguing in music. While I find du Pré’s interpretation most moving and beautiful, I have from my very first time learning and performing the piece taken a quite different road as for me the indications in the score point to a rather introverted version than one about passionate love. I will never forget my angst performing this British treasure publicly for the first time in 1994 with the London Sinfonietta somewhere in Cornwall. I was afraid the musicians and the conductor would look down on the little German’s interpretation (I was 25 back then), but luckily, although they might not have liked it, they pretended to be happy that somebody had gone with a more straightforward reading.”

Daniel Müller-Schott © Uwe Arens
Daniel Müller-Schott
© Uwe Arens
Daniel Müller-Schott:

“My first experience with Elgar’s Cello Concerto was when I heard the LP with Jaqueline du Pré's interpretation in the 1980s. Her depth and immensely expressive voice have made a huge mark and have stayed with me ever since. Over the years I’m grateful to have gained more clarity and awareness interpreting this miraculous piece over and over again: it remains such a personal mirror of Elgar’s inner world and what he has had to experience – the horrors of World War I, which brought for him the realisation that all that had lived before had been wiped out in an instant, questioning and doubting everything. His farewell piece to a long gone beauty in music and the personal voice he used throughout the solo cello keep creating that unforgettable loneliness.” 

Jean-Guihen Queyras © Marco Borggreve
Jean-Guihen Queyras
© Marco Borggreve
Jean-Guihen Queyras:

“The most powerful experience I ever had with the Elgar Concerto was to perform this extraordinary masterwork at the 2018 Proms. Intense and truly unforgettable! Furthermore, I have two vivid memories of the recording session with Jiří Bělohlávek and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. First, Jiří gave me a simple but essential tip regarding the challenging theme of the first movement: “In order to get as much line and calmness as possible”, he said, “bring each quaver early and give it more time”, which proved very helpful. Later on, as we were going through the second movement, he turned to me and, while conducting with his right hand, underlined with his left hand a huge smile on his face, signifying to me that he wished for more playfulness and joy in my sound. Both of these precious advices inspire me since then, each time I play the piece.”

Raphael Wallfisch © Benjamin Ealovega
Raphael Wallfisch
© Benjamin Ealovega
Raphael Wallfisch:

“My very special connection to the Elgar Cello Concerto stems from 1919, when my wife’s grandfather, Albert Coates, incurred the wrath of Sir Edward and Lady Alice, when he took virtually all the rehearsal time away from Sir Edward and Felix Salmond, the brilliant young soloist with the LSO for the world premiere of the concerto! – “That brutal selfish ill-mannered bounder... that brute Coates went on rehearsing”, Alice Elgar complained in her diary. The result was an indifferent premiere for a work that has since earned iconic status. I have felt a special responsibility to play the concerto as well as possible to make up for this! I first heard the concerto live in a memorable and inspiring performance by my teacher, Amaryllis Fleming, when I was 13 years old and very soon afterwards studied it for the first time myself and have given many performances worldwide. It is still remarkable to give a performance in a country which is unfamiliar with the music of Elgar. Thanks to the great amount of letters to and from Elgar and so many recordings of Elgar conducting and eyewitness accounts of contemporary performances, Elgar is a composer with whom one can get very close and widen one's understanding of his style.”

Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim perform Elgar's Cello Concerto.

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