Watch a clip of Alisa Weilerstein playing the first movement of Dvořák’s cello concerto

Alisa Weilerstein performs Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra alongside a programme of Mozart and Tchaikovsky at Royal Festival Hall on Sunday 19 May, 7.30pm.

A day in the Life… Principal Bass Trombone, Roger Argente of Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Ahead of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert at Royal Festival Hall on Friday 30 March, Principal Bass Trombone Roger Argente gave an insight into life in the orchestra and a little bit of background on the pieces which will be performed on Friday. You can buy tickets for the concert by visting the website


Ein Heldenleben – A Hero’s Life

I’m writing this post backstage at the Auditorio Nacional inMadrid, while the RPO, or the band as I call them, is on stage rehearsing the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Julia Fischer.

The RPO are regular visitors to Spain, Madrid and the Auditorio Nacional in particular. On this occasion we’re doing two concerts here in Madrid and started with a concert in the newish (2007) Centro Cultural Miguel Delibes in Valladolid on Tuesday, about 100 miles north west of Madrid, playing repertoire including Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life).Valladolid was cold and windy, it even snowed overnight on the outskirts but we made the most of it, as we always do. The small family-run taverna opposite our hotel in the Plaza San Miguel did a roaring post-concert trade in hearty soups and raciones (bigger versions of tapas that you share).

The morning after our first Heldenleben concert we made our way to the new AVE train station inValladolid. The AVE is Spain’s newest transport solution, using super-fast trains traveling at speeds of up 300 KPH and has cut down a previous 2.5 hour journey to just over one hour between Valladolid and Madrid.

Anyway, back to the music. The Dvorak New World Symphony is a great piece of music; the tunes permeate the brain and are hard to get rid of, but we do play it regularly, whereas Heldenleben only comes around every few years.

A bit of background on this piece…

It is a tone poem written in 1898, when Strauss was 34 years old. It utilises the leitmotif as ‘invented’ by Richard Wagner: the use of small musical themes that help glue the whole work together. The music itself is extremely romantic and many scholars believe it to be partly autobiographical while others go for the more tongue-in-cheek approach. We must also understand that it was written at a time when music in Europe was moving in lots of different directions, particularly those experimenting with modernism and impressionism.

The opening leitmotif is particularly well written and features the horn and cello sections; this opening rising motive really gets the hair on the back of you neck tingling – or at least it should do. Other favourite sections of this piece for me include the twittering critics, as portrayed by the woodwinds and the recurring ‘Dr Daring’ parallel 5ths of the tenor and bass tuba. Physically the Hero’s battlefield is a real blow for all the wind and brass.

The subtle drip feed of themes from other Strauss tone poems, particularly Till Eulenspiegel, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Don Quixote and Death and Transfiguration are also very effective.

But at the end of the concert the glory belongs with the leader and the solo horn, played beautifully and sensitively by Duncan Riddell and Laurence Davies.

I first came across this piece while at school in South Wales when I started reading Norman del Mar’s critical commentary on Strauss. At that time I was very fortunate to have played good and varied symphonic repertoire both at school level (Dwr-y-felin Comprehensive School), county youth orchestra (West Glamorgan Youth Orchestra) and the National Youth Orchestra of Wales. The repertoire I performed then was challenging but not quite as challenging as Heledenleben. My first chance to play through the piece came about quite by accident when in my first term at the Royal Northern College of Music I stood in for an older student who was ill. I then played it several times with professional orchestras in theNorth Westand in Bournemouth, but it wasn’t until just over 20 years ago that I played it inLondon. I first played it with the RPO as part of my trial period under our then musical director Vladimir Ashkenazy.

After tonight’s concert the RPO is flying back to London, I’m personally off to Frankfurt for a few days, then we’re off to Budapest on Monday to repeat the Dvorak New World programme followed by an eagerly anticipated repeat performance of Heldenleben on Friday March 30th at the Royal Festival Hall.

Roger Argente

Roger joined the RPO as Principal Bass Trombone in April 1992.

He also combines his RPO commitments with a part-time position at Trinity College of Music, where he is Head of Brass Studies and runs his own brass and percussion ensemble Superbrass.

Behind the scenes: Corinthian Chamber Orchestra

In a evening of passion and romance, Corinthian Chamber Orchestra and Adrian Brown pair Dvořák’s much-loved cello concerto and Rachmaninov’s monumental Third Symphony.

It is amazing to think that Dvořák procrastinated for years over an existing commission for a cello concerto, considering the instrument insufficient to carry the solo part. Brahms appears to have thought the same; despite having composed his double concerto for violin and cello in 1887, he is reported as saying of Dvořák’s work, ‘If I had known that it was possible to compose such a concerto for the cello, I would have tried it myself!’

We caught up with the orchestra in rehearsals and have these behind the scenes shots with some of the members.

Catch the Corinthian Chamber Orchestra on Tuesday 28 June at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. Get tickets here.

The Tetzlaff Quartet: the power of friendship



Tetzlaff Quartet

Tetzlaff Quartet

For many international artists, playing chamber music is associated with the holidays. With the hectic city-hopping season left behind, the summer is a time to settle down for a week or two in a beautiful location – Aspen, Verbier, Tanglewood – and perform in temporary ensembles.

The members of the Tetzlaff Quartet also enjoy busy careers of course, but their dedication to chamber music, and indeed to each other, means making time within the season itself. ‘Every year we do one or two tours,’ says Christian Tetzlaff as he explains that, while the quartet only meet rarely, they continue to grow together as an ensemble.

The group has been doing this for 16 years, but it is not a set-up without challenges. Rehearsal periods are hard to organise, for example, and as second violinist Elisabeth Kufferath says, ‘We all live in different cities, so there are logistical issues’. But for Tetzlaff, there are distinct advantages to coming together only sporadically. ‘We have been playing together for a long time now but we are still eager for those few weeks together,’ he says. ‘I am not saying that full-time quartets lose that eagerness, but we feel that we gain a sense of spontaneity and a good feeling on stage, precisely because we have so few opportunities to do it.’

Inevitably, the quartet’s repertoire is selective. Choosing works to perform from such a large catalogue is, Tetzlaff says, ‘done on instinct’. It is interesting to note that many of the composers to whom the quartet often return are less regularly performed by other string quartets. This trend began on day one. ‘We first met at a festival in Austria and played just one piece there together, the Schoenberg D minor quartet,’ he says. ‘We worked on it for a whole week.’

The ensemble’s most recent recording pairs the Schoenberg quartet with another D minor (and rarely heard) work, and the final piece performed in the quartet’s concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall on Thursday 21 October, Voces intimae by Sibelius. It is not a particular surprise to find Tetzlaff championing Sibelius’ music; he has recorded the composer’s complete works for violin on the Virgin Classics label. ‘For us it is one of the great quartets,’ says Tetzlaff of Voces intimae, ‘but it has been completely and utterly neglected for the past 100 years. For many famous string quartets, Sibelius was a persona non grata.’ Elisabeth Kufferath agrees. ‘It is a piece that is not played very much, and even among our musician friends, there is a feeling that the Sibelius is a strange piece. For us, it is strange in such a deep, wonderful and emotional way.’

Tetzlaff is similarly passionate about Dvořák. ‘The chamber music works of Dvořák mean a lot to me,’ he says. ‘I have performed vast amounts of his music at the Heimbach Festival. Dvořák’s late works especially are some of the best chamber music we have.’

It is not just the personal choice of repertoire that makes Tetzlaff Quartet tours so eagerly anticipated by the players, but also friendship. ‘We enjoy playing together and inspiring each other but, more than anything, we’re great friends’ says Elisabeth Kufferath. She is certainly inspired by Tetzlaff, whom she describes as ‘a wonderful musician, the best you could fathom and more.’ For Tetzlaff, chamber music itself is a ‘medium for friends to speak to each other of intimate things’. Such camaraderie, musical and personal, will certainly sustain the quartet as they perform the seven European concerts that precede their appearance at Southbank Centre on 21 October, the final of the tour.

© Tim Woodall, 2010

Click here to book tickets for 21 October