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German cellist Jan Vogler on a mission with Dvorak
Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer, October 9, 2011

Jan Vogler is a virtuoso as cellist, leader of music festivals and accruer of frequent-flier miles.

One week, he's in New York spending time with his family and practicing. Another week, he's in Europe, appearing as soloist or taking care of duties in Germany as general director of the Dresden Music Festival and artistic director of the Moritzburg Chamber Music Festival.

And this week? The Dresden-born cellist will be in Cleveland playing the Dvorak Cello Concerto around Northeast Ohio with the chamber orchestra CityMusic Cleveland.

Vogler, 47, might have made it here sooner if his schedule had allowed. He was invited several years ago by James Gaffigan, former music director of CityMusic, under whom he performed Brahms' Double Concerto (with violinist Robert Chen, concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony) at the Moritzburg Festival.

"I'm happy to come, because Cleveland is the only one of the music centers in America where I have not played," Vogler said recently by phone from New York. "Of course, I hope to be invited by the Cleveland Orchestra, but that could be in 10 or 15 years.

"I want to take the chance to see Cleveland. James spoke very highly of [CityMusic]. It's interesting to go with free concerts to many neighborhoods. It's a wonderful mission."

Vogler's mission this week centers on a work with which he's intimately acquainted. In 2004, he embarked on a project to rethink the Dvorak Cello Concerto, one of the staples of the repertoire and the piece he's most often asked to perform.

But Vogler suspected there was more to discover. Working with Dvorak scholar Michael Beckerman, he delved deeply into the concerto's history and substance before recording the piece with the New York Philharmonic led by David Robertson.

"There comes a point in every cellist's life when you have to forget about how you studied it and learned it and find your own way of interpreting the piece," he said.

On the way to his new interpretation, Vogler learned that the Bohemian-born Dvorak was influenced by American music, including African-American songs, while serving as director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York, where he composed the concerto in 1894 and 1895.

Vogler's Sony Classical recording of the work, "The Secrets of Dvorak's Cello Concerto," contains Dvorak chamber music and songs, as well as "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair," by an American composer who inspired him, Stephen Foster.

"People say, 'Oh, he was homesick. He composed Bohemian tunes,' " Vogler said of Dvorak. "It's not true. It's a rumor, I think."

What's certainly not a rumor is the rising success of the Dresden Music Festival since Vogler took over three years ago. This year's festival, held in May and June, included a New York Philharmonic residency and performance of Mahler's Sixth Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle.

"The Heart of Europe" is the theme of the 2012 festival, which will focus on the region around Budapest, Prague and Vienna and the marriage of folk music with aristocratic traditions.

"This is the secret of this region, which makes these composers so great," said Vogler.

One of them is Dvorak.