• André Previn made his debut as a conductor at age 20 in Hollywood. At his first rehearsal, he stood in front of the orchestra, well aware of his youth, and wondering how he would be able to command the respect of the musicians in the orchestra, many of whom were his friends. He asked the oboe player for an A for the orchestra to tune up to, and he was shocked to hear an A-flat. He told the members of the orchestra, “Now everybody transpose a half-tone up.” Everybody laughed, and Maestro Previn had earned the respect of the orchestra.
• Even when he was an old man, conductor Arturo Toscanini was known for his rages when things did not proceed to his satisfaction at rehearsals. After Toscanini flew into a rage at a rehearsal with his last orchestra, the NBC Symphony, one of the musicians asked first trumpet Harry Glantz, who had played under Toscanini when he was conducting the New York Philharmonic, “Was he any worse in his Philharmonic days?” Mr. Glantz significantly pointed out, “He was 15 years younger.”
• Bruno Walter was a guest conductor with the New York Philharmonic when he was distracted by first cellist Alfred Wallenstein, who never looked at him, but instead looked at the walls or other places where Maestro Walter was not to be seen. Maestro Walter spoke later with Mr. Wallenstein and discovered that his ambition was to be a conductor. Maestro Walter replied, “I only hope you don’t have Wallenstein in front of you.”
• In some cities, if you become famous enough, you will be honored with a plaque on the front wall of your house. While strolling through Bergamo, Italy, conductors Gianandrea Gavazzeni and Olivero de Fabritis saw such a plaque on the front wall of the house of opera composer Gaetano Donizetti. Mr. Gavazzeni said, “I wonder what they will write on our houses.” Mr. de Fabritis answered, “FOR RENT.”
• Erich Leinsdorf was a competent conductor, but one fault he had was a small beat. This was a problem for ballet dancers because dancing at a fast pace left little opportunity for catching his small beat. Some of the musicians in his orchestra also thought his beat was too small. At one rehearsal, one musician — a member of a strong union — used a telescope to focus on Mr. Leinsdorf’s beat.
• One advantage of being a prominent conductor is being able occasionally to get advice from the prominent composer whose work you are conducting. Pierre Monteux occasionally worked with Claude Debussy, who used to stand behind him at rehearsals and sometimes shout, “Monteux, that’s a forte, and when I write a forte, I want a forte!”
• Many great conductors have conducted without a score, and many great conductors have conducted with a score. When Hans Knappertsbusch was asked why he conducted with a score, he snapped, “Because I can read music.”
• Atlantic Records’ Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson once combed the backwaters of New Orleans looking for musical talent. They even walked to places where white taxi drivers feared to take them. Eventually, they found Professor Longhair playing in a shack and singing old-time blues. They listened for a while, and then Mr. Ertegun told Mr. Abramson, “My God, we’ve discovered a primitive genius.” They then approached Professor Longhair, and Mr. Ertegun introduced himself and said, “You won’t believe this, but I want to record you.” Professor Longhair replied, “You won’t believe this, but I just signed with Mercury.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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