Frankfurt main station on a Thursday evening. Rush hour has just ended but there’s still the usual hectic going on. Amidst the crowd, an inconspicuous looking man opens his battered cello case, plugs in a small amplifier and sits down. If it wasn’t for the television crew, 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. In fact, Gerhardt is one of the world’s leading solo cellists who normally performs on international stages and is paid well by the “overly subsidised classical music scene”, as he remarks self-critically.
In 2012, Gerhardt played at Berlin main station for a concert experiment, which was soon to become a tangible idea of a mini-tour across Germany. Within two days he travelled to six different train stations to play Bach’s Cello Suites, his last station being Frankfurt last week Wednesday evening. “My name is Alban Gerhardt, I play the cello. Enjoy”, he says and begins an unusual recital of Bach’s Suites No. 3 and 4. Except for a few fans who had seen the tiny poster at the station there aren’t many people who actually stop – at first. The longer Gerhardt plays, the more people are amazed at this highly concentrated cellist, 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 which 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. Besides, there’s something about the atmosphere at a train station that makes Bach’s music stand out even more”, Gerhardt says about his project. Due to the surrounding noise, the audience really needs to focus on the sound which creates an intense involvement.
In addition to the quality of sound and the extraordinary context, it was Gerhardt’s complete unpretentiousness that made his performance so outstanding. Always very focused but never tense he transfers the bliss of Bach’s Suites onto the listener and even after an hour of playing in the 10-degrees-cold train shed he seeks talks with his audience. “It’s not as exhausting as I’ve feared and the reactions of the people are really rewarding. It’s great to see how people respond to Bach’s music.” By proving that even in the most unlikely environment, music can bring people together, Gerhardt has clearly achieved his aim.
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 ads modestly, “Anyway, it’s a learning experience for me too. I’ve only played the Third Suite for the fourth time or so today.” By heart, of course. If I learnt something that evening, it’s that there is still hope for classical music as long as people as Gerhardt are around.
Alban Gerhardt will be touring again with “Bach im Bahnhof” in München, Augsburg, Nürnberg, Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin on 1 and 2 October 2013.