David Bruce: Rehearsals Anecdotes

Sir Thomas Beecham once undertook an Australian tour during which he had the opportunity to rehearse a number of times the Australian orchestra he would conduct. He went through the program once, then excused the musicians. He did the same thing the next day and the following day—at which time he announced that there would be no further rehearsals. Because extra rehearsals had already been paid for—six in all—the orchestra manager asked why Sir Thomas would not use them. Sir Thomas replied, “My dear fellow, this orchestra was lousy at the first rehearsal, lousier at the second, and incredibly lousy the third. I can’t let this go on; think what it would be like at the performance!”

Choreographer George Balanchine valued imperfect excitement over correct boredom. In a rehearsal, he criticized a dancer, saying, “No! Not big enough, does not travel enough, feet come together too slowly in assemblé. Do again.” The dancer tried again, with more energy, and Mr. Balanchine told her, “Better, but not good enough.” Again, the dancer tried, this time putting into the steps all the energy she had. She jumped into the air with her feet together in assemblé—and she landed on her rear end in front of Mr. Balanchine, who appreciated her energy and smiled and told her, “That’s right. Now I see something.”

Cellist Mstislav Leopoldovich Rostropovich challenged himself and works hard at his art. Within a few weeks in London, he played 35 cello concertos, most of which he knew but a few of which were unfamiliar to him, One night, he discussed with conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky a concerto that they were to rehearse the following morning. After asking for information about tempi, he confessed that he did not know the concerto. As you would expect, Mr. Rozhdestvensky was concerned about the next morning’s rehearsal, but Mr. Rostropovich played the concertro perfectly—to learn it, he had stayed up all night.

Pierina Legnani was the creator of the role of the Swan Queen in Swan Lake. Before dancing the role, she had astonished Russian balletomanes by performing 32 consecutive fouettés—32 consecutive spins on pointe. She attempted to keep how to perform such a feat secret, but Russian ballerina Mathilde Kchessinska secretly spied on one of her rehearsals and discovered that Ms. Legnani was spotting—looking at a fixed point as long as possible during a spin, then whipping her head around to look at the spot again for as long as possible. Spotting helped her keep her balance and not grow dizzy.

Sergei Rachmaninoff—a very punctual man—was supposed to rehearse with Leopold Stokowski, but the conductor was busy rehearsing a Tchaikovsky symphony. Mr. Rachmaninoff waited a few minutes, then strode to the piano and hit a loud chord. Of course, everything got very quiet very quickly. Mr. Rachmaninoff said, “The piano is here; I am here; it is 11 o’clock. Let us rehearse.” Mr. Stokowski then began to rehearse Mr. Rachmaninoff and let the Tchaikovsky symphony wait.

Early in his career, comedian Don Rickles guest-starred on The Andy Griffith Show. Of course, he was eager to do well alongside such established stars as Mr. Griffith and Don Knotts. They rehearsed for most of an afternoon, and finally Mr. Griffith said, “Well, I think we’ve rehearsed enough. Let’s go home.” Mr. Rickles pleaded, “No, let’s rehearse some more. You guys have millions of feet of film. All I’ve got are home movies of me and my cousin on a swing.”

Sir Thomas Beecham enjoyed conducting the music of Frederick Delius, and he was very particular in how he conducted it. After Sir Thomas died, Sir Malcolm Sargent rehearsed a piece by Delius. A storm formed, complete with lightning and thunder, and amid flashes of lightning, the fuses blew, throwing the rehearsal hall into complete darkness. In the moment of quiet that followed the thunder, Sir Malcolm remarked, “He doesn’t like it.”

Violinist Bronislav Huberman would not rehearse with conductor Pierre Monteux. Just before a rehearsal, he would send Mr. Monteux a telegram saying, “You know it, I know it, the orchestra knows it; will see you at the concert!” Actually, Mr. Huberman was correct. He, Mr. Monteux, and the orchestra had worked together so much that they knew the music they would perform together, and so the concerts always went well.

Early in his career, Walter Midgley worked in a variety program. At the band rehearsal, he went to a lot of trouble to get some of the rough edges smoothed out among the musicians, but at the performance he noticed that the musicians seemed to have forgotten everything he had taught them earlier at the band rehearsal. Therefore, he spoke to the conductor, who told him, “Oh, that was a different band you were rehearsing with.”

Some homosexuals have been devoted to dance, including Sergey Diaghilev, who organized the Ballets Russes. One day, while watching a rehearsal of George Balanchine’s Apollo, he turned to Mr. Balanchine and said, “How beautiful.” Thinking Mr. Diaghilev was talking about the music, Mr. Balanchine agreed, but Mr. Diaghilev said, “No, no. I mean [Serge] Lifar’s [*]ss; it is like a rose.”

Violinist Josef Gingold once found himself in an elevator with an elderly Arturo Toscanini, who was carrying and studying the score of Beethoven’s Eroica, which he would rehearse that day. Mr. Toscanini told Mr. Gingold, “Caro, I’ve studied 55 years this symphony, but is always possible, eh, that I could forget about one sforzando.”

A gay teenager in the early 1980s, Aaron Fricke once surprised his high school drama club by showing up for a dress rehearsal wearing fishnet stockings, an Afro wig, a corset, high heels, and a black cape, even though he was playing the role of a straight cabdriver. His outfit bothered no one—including his drama teacher.

African-American diva Reri Grist insisted on adequate rehearsals before singing. In Vienna, she was once told that there wasn’t time to hold a stage rehearsal for Figaro. She replied, “Then I don’t sing.” Time was found to hold a stage rehearsal.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


David Bruce’s Lulu Bookstore (Paperbacks)


David Bruce’s Amazon Author Bookstore


David Bruce’s Smashwords Bookstore


David Bruce’s Apple iBookstore


David Bruce’s Barnes and Noble Books


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: