I am at the moment sitting in a café opposite the Gare du Nord in Paris with an obligatory croissant and coffee, for which I am being charged a small fortune. I guess, to channel the ghostly words of Hemingway and Beckett, I should be writing in a small overpriced black notebook, but this is the 21st century and I have my laptop. We actually started this tour a couple of days ago in Birmingham with Mahler 7 in the wonderful Symphony Hall. When we arrived, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra had left us a huge pile of chocolates which was most welcome after the Friday afternoon trip up the M40. We had a short rehearsal to get used the the ample acoustic of the hall and then went and found something to eat, not difficult in the huge number of restaurants around the canal area.
When I was a kid, I was always a little jealous of the oboe players I sat next to. They always had their instrument which was accompanied by an old cigar box, in which was crammed pliers, wire, knives, bits of sandpaper and all sorts of things which looked exciting to an eleven year old boy, but the sort of thing that would get you searched if you tried to take it onto an aeroplane. I on the other hand just had my flute and maybe some cigarette papers. They were always fiddling around with reeds and scraping cane and gouging out something. I wiped my flute with a cloth. As the years progressed and I saw oboists become more neurotic about sea level and humidity, neither of which affect the flute, I began to appreciate the simplicity of my flute. So if you’ve ever come to a concert and wondered why the oboe section have bags under their chair, now you know. I guess that should something go wrong in a concert, they like to be prepared for every eventuality, and I must admit to borrowing the odd screwdriver over the years as my sunglasses frequently become loose.
The stage in Birmingham is slightly rounded which means that rather than sitting in a long straight line, the woodwind sit in a curve. This means that sitting in the fourth flute (doubling picc) chair in Mahler 7, I have a clear view of Christine Pendrill our Cor Anglais player. Christine is not one of those players that gets in a flap. She often sits not playing for a very long time as the orchestra goes nuts in a Shostakovich symphony and then finally plays a long, quiet, drawn out solo of anguish. And she does it very well indeed. So you can imagine my surprise when in the final bars of the first movement, she stood up, calmly and spoke to the section and then walked off into the wings. Most of us had seen this happen and thought that maybe she wasn’t feeling well or something and wondered what would happen. Unfortunately, I don’t think Valery noticed because he looked up and brought the horn in for the famous opening to the second movement.
Christine, who was feeling fine, probably started to feel a little sick about now as she heard the start of the movement. The problem was that one of the pads on her cor had fallen out and despite the toolkits of 4 oboe players, nobody had any cling film on stage. To bodge a quick repair, you basically have to wrap the offending pad and key in cling film and it sort of works. I imagine that there is a roll of it in her on stage kit now.
At this point I was fast forwarding through the music in my head trying to remember if there was a cor anglais entry. I couldn’t think of one off hand and thought that maybe Valery was making a calculated guess that she would return in time. The next few things happened in slow motion and at exactly the same time.
- I saw Christine walking/running back on stage to get to her chair.
- I remembered that there was a cor anglais solo
- Valery looked over and saw she wasn’t there
- There was no cor anglais solo
Christine looked like she was in shock but continued as if nothing had happened.
At the rehearsal in Paris for Mahler 7, she was ready on stage, probably with cling film, and played the solo to tumultuous applause from the orchestra.
“So, you will be joining us this evening Christine?”
It doesn’t matter how good the orchestra is, anything can happen when it’s live! Over the years of Gareth’s blog, many disasters have befallen the LSO. Read all about what happens when …
… Sir John Eliot Gardiner points a (stage prop!) revolver at the audience
… the shellfish you ate at lunch decides it’s not happy to remain where you put it
… the truck containing most of the instruments gets stuck in a ferry strike in France
… the conductor hints he might need you to step in should the worst happen
… it starts raining at an outdoor concert, the stage isn’t under cover, and you’re live on TV
…you forget that you have pegged you music to the stand and have a quick page turn