Cellist embraces old and new for electrifying performances

The name may have a Teutonic ring to it, but with a father who hails from Vancouver, cellist Johannes Moser puts himself down as German-Canadian.

"I suppose there's more German than Canadian there," he concedes, having been brought up and trained in Germany and currently holding a Professorship in Cologne. "But I do have about 500 relatives in Canada. It's kind of scary when there are heaps of people at a gathering and you're related to all of them."

Moser, who plays the Lalo Cello Concerto with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra tonight, made his name by winning the Tchaikovsky Competition in 2002. The international career that ensued can be followed on the cellist's lively Facebook page, which already features him enjoying our New Zealand landscape and the praise of contented concertgoers.

Communication is paramount to this man and his sense of musical adventuring led him, in 2012, to premiere a Concerto for Electric Cello by Mexican composer Enrico Chapela with the LA Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel.


"Way back, when I started, I felt immense pressure, striving for perfection with those great masterpieces by composers like Schumann and Elgar," he tells me. "I ended up looking for a musical playground and I found it with the electric cello. It's a lot of fun. You hook it up with your computer for effects and then plug it into your amplifier and off you go.

"Anything electric is electrifying for kids," he laughs, describing how he gets the youngsters to use a Nintendo programme and "tweak my sound, creating instant chamber music without any necessity of musical knowledge on their part. The electric cello draws them in and, hopefully, will spark an interest in finding other music as well."

It's not often we have a soloist playing a concerto that is on his most recent CD. Lalo is featured, with the better-known Dvorak concert, on Moser's new concerto album (on the Pentatone label) played with the PKF Prague Philharmonia under Jakub Hrusa.

At first he was "positively frightened" tackling the Dvorak, "with all those wonderful recordings out there." He returned to original manuscript, where the composer's jotted notes about everything from storms looming over New York to a delicious borsch lunch, made Dvorak so much more human and tangible. "We're also using the same size orchestra Dvorak would have," he adds. "Ten first violins instead of 16 give the music a more flexible, less cinematic sound.

As for Edouard Lalo's 1876 Concerto, which you can hear in the town hall tonight, Moser admits that "it's seriously neglected." The problem is that it doesn't have the same "back story" of popular concertos. "With Dvorak, there's the tragic death of the composer's long-lost love," Moser points out. "Elgar's concerto has its connections with the end of the First World War and his personal troubles. Lalo's is simply a sparkling piece that's a great platform for a virtuoso soloist."

Something else to tempt you out: On Monday and Tuesday, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's two neighbourhood concerts give Howick and Remuera a taste of the Italian Baroque, with works by Vivaldi, Corelli and a brilliant Torelli Trumpet Concerto, featuring soloist Huw Dann.

What: Scheherazade, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Where & when: Auckland Town Hall, tonight at 7.30pm.

The APO In Your Neighbourhood: All Saints Church, Howick, Monday at 6.30pm; St Luke's Church, 130 Remuera Rd, Tuesday at 6.30pm.