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Danes in uproar over maestro who missed the opera

May 9, 2017 by norman lebrecht

55 comments.


At 7.20 at the Royal Opera in Copenhagen, musicians asked if anyone had seen the conductor.

At 7.30, the start-time, the orchestra were all tuned up in the pit and still no sign of a maestro.

A flak announced from the stage that there were ‘technical problems’.

At 8pm someone in the audience shouted, ‘Is there no management at all in this house?’.

Members of the Royal Danish Orchestra shouted back ‘No!’.

Malene Truelsen, head of admin and a non-musician, called in and ordered the concertmaster to start the performance. It broke down in the overture, with brass players complaining they received no cue.

Moments later the designated conductor burst in and took over.

We have withheld his name, but we understand the conductor issued a full apology later, saying he had mistaken the time zone.

C’est la vie.

 


Comments (55)

  1. Jonathan Dunsby says:

    What was the opera? Why was concertmaster not able to conduct the overture properly ?

    1. Emil says:

      I would guess because conducting takes skill, that to conduct something on no rehearsal (without being a conductor!) and without having an orchestral score might be a bit tricky.

      Concertmasters can’t be expected to just step up at random when a conductor doesn’t show up. They are violinists, not conductors-in-waiting.

      1. Gary says:

        Actually, that is their job.

        1. Emil says:

          What? In what world are concertmasters routinely expected to conduct? I’ve seen one case of this – it was the Royal Northern Sinfonia, after a conductor pulled out at the last minute, and they had a rehearsal (also, it was not opera but a symphony which they had rehearsed with the conductor as well).

          So to say that it is a concertmaster’s job to conduct a whole opera without rehearsal – indeed, to conduct the orchestra at all – is plainly ludicrous. They lead the orchestra – they don’t conduct it.

          1. Tweettweet says:

            In the Dutch Collective Labour Agreement of orchestras it is described in their function description that they should conduct in case of emergency. However, it depends on the complexity of the music of course if they should be able to conduct the piece.

        2. Brian Fieldhouse says:

          Actually, no it isn’t, as you ought to know.

        3. Craig says:

          Actually, you’re an idiot.

        4. Old School says:

          That’s accurate.

  2. Peter says:

    Everybody calm down. That’s standard operating procedure for Gergiev. Apperently other conductors follow the role model now.
    There was a similar incident in Berlin, State opera, a few years ago, Siegfried under Barenboim, no Siegfried in house at the beginning. Lance Ryan had forgotten the early beginning.
    It being in Berlin, there was another tenor of the ‘fach’ in the house, Schager, who sang from the side, a director’s assistant doing the acting. Ryan showed up after Act 1.

    They have no assistant conductors or repiteurs in Copenhagen, who could step in? Every provincial house has them.

    1. Gary says:

      I was at that performance.

  3. herrera says:

    “Is there a conductor in the house?”

    Surely there was *someone* in the audience who was a conductor.

    1. Emil says:

      Not sure you’d want to give responsibility over a performance to any random audience member (however competent and experienced) who has never seen the orchestra, the soloists, the staging, and has no preparation whatsoever.

  4. Alexander says:

    what a nice anecdote … I like Peter’s remarks … as for Gergiev, once I witnessed the case he was late about an hour ( not with the appearance, but performance) and some ( apparently) rich foreign lady from the audience (ironically we sat in the same row next to each other during the concert) asked me arrogantly and persistently “where is he ?” when we were waiting for the event at the buffet drinking . First I wanted to answer “Are you totally crazy about him or what?” but just decided to be polite to an old hag 😉 … The concert was perfect ( with Kavakos and some famous pianist ) … other time it was Guleghina’s “Tosca” and that young prodigy I told you before ( Elina Stikhina) had to substitute her at a last minute call. She brought the house down and I was the ever happiest man after the evening…. Hopefully the Danes were satisfied at the end of your story, Norman 😉

  5. Nick says:

    Surely someone in the company had the responsibility for being in touch with the conductor an hour or so before the start of the performance to ensure he was on his way. But then if was arriving in a private jet and was late, not much anyone could do, I expect – except never book him again!

  6. Andrew Bennett says:

    I have known two occasions when singers didn’t turn up. Both concern matinee performances. One was a soprano back in the late 80s / early 90s who had been singing quite a good run of Anna Bolena. She said her contract noted an evening performance , but the opera house management when they were berating her pointed to posters all around the town with the correct time – who knows? I don’t believe for a moment she did it on purpose. She had just eaten a copious meal in a seafront restaurant in the South of France. When she was located she was rushed off to the opera house and was literally stuffed into her costume, wig and make up. Thankfully she had sung her morning warm up routine so she got through the show.
    Second missing singer was a tenor who had been singing Radames in the 1990s. There had been series of performances in three towns. At the Sunday matinee he was missing. Staff were sent to his apartment where the light was still on. Not being able to get a telephone response they got the landlord to open up – still no tenor. The show was cancelled and refunds given. At about 5pm , his regular evening performance make up call time, our Radames strolled calmly into the opera house to be met by the Stage Manager who asked where he had been. He had spent the afternoon in the municipal swimming baths blissfully unaware he had an afternoon show.
    Poor fellow he paid for his error- lost his fee and had to reimburse the coaches for several groups that were being bussed to that performance . A replacement performance was given on the statutory day off, but at the last performance the Aida , Amneris and Amonasro had great fun modifying their set stage moves during the triumph scene while Radames was stuck on a pedestal in the middle of the stage wondering what on earth was going on!

  7. Paul says:

    all of these comments about it being “him” or “maestro” do not take into consideration the possibility that it may have been a “her” or “maestro”, and the secrecy of the identity of the conductor does not help. Perhaps if “they” will not be revealed here, at least the pronouns could be updated to reflect instead of deflect the truth. Or am I mistaken?

    1. Paul says:

      sorry, typo: that was supposed to be “her” or “maestrA”

      1. Andrew says:

        MaestrA would mean school teacher in Italian so its always maestro, man or woman.

        1. Paul says:

          Thank you for that tip. I am probably just accustomed to seeing “maestra” printed here by Norman on Slippedisc. A search for that spelling turns up dozens of results even as recently as last week:
          http://slippedisc.com/2017/04/maestra-move-alsop-protegee-gets-london-agent/
          In general, I find that the redacting and hiding of details such as exact names of people or specific opera houses leads to speculation and gives reign to rumors and even fake news. For instances “I once saw a performance of … at the … opera, where such and such happened.” If something actually happened, then there should be no harm in publishing the facts.

    2. Spongeringer says:

      The majority of conductors are men. An even larger majority of opera conductors are men. Whether or not you like that fact, it is still a fact. If one didn’t know who the conductor in this instance was, the chances are heavily favoured for it being a man. Get off your high horse and grow up.

      Secondly, clearly everyone here knows who the subject of this article is about, or could easily find it with a cursory Google.

  8. John Borstlap says:

    We all know about the unusual incident where [redacted], notorious for his absentions, did again not turn up at an opera performance because he had been engaged twice at the same evening somewhere else in two different concert halls. (These other two concerts seem to have been excellent, though.) In the opera house of [redacted] everybody waited patiently untill 01:45 midnight when X finally turned-up and started Tosca with fervour, only to drop from the rostrum at the scene where Tosca murders the governer, apparently as a result of utter emotional exhaustion.

  9. Peter says:

    So… (ghasp) … orchestras DO need conductors apparently.

    1. Adam Stern says:

      There is a favorite riddle amongst musicians:

      Q: What do (1) having Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat” led by a conductor and (2) using a condom during sex have in common?

      A: Safer with, but more fun without.

    2. Simone says:

      After all, your comment seems to be the real breaking news here. 🙂

  10. JOHN MCLAUGHLIN WILLIAMS says:

    While there are concertmasters who are perfectly able to conduct a performance upon demand (I certainly can), that ability is nowhere in a concertmaster’s job description nor routinely expected, and such execution would never be required of a concertmaster unless he was officially a designated associate or assistant conductor.

  11. Kostis Protopapas says:

    The Royal Danish Opera did not have an assistant conductor on hand who can hold the fort down?

  12. Simon says:

    Gergiev’s idea of punctuality was well demonstrated during the Mariinsky ring cycle at Covent garden in 2009

  13. Anna says:

    Im a bit surprised they didn’t make it beyond the ouverture. Am I the only one thinking it’s a bit embarrassing for any professional orchestra not to be able to play an ouverture without a pro conductor in front? I perfectly understand that a whole performance is near impossible, but already falling apart because of a missing cue? Don’t they know the music, or at least how to count bars? Anyone knows what opera it was?

    1. Moldu says:

      It didn’t break down in the ouverture, but it started to break down somewhere in a recitative-like passage. Tales of Hoffmann doesn’t have an overture fyi.

      1. Paul says:

        Many people are writing about Tales of Hoffman here, but the website operabase lists that night’s performance as Macbeth. May 8, not may 9.

        1. Moldu says:

          I should know; I played in the pit that night. It was Tales of Hoffmann.

  14. Moldu says:

    Dear Norman! From where did you hear that the brass section complained about missing cues? That’s not true. I was playing in the string section right in front of them.

    1. norman lebrecht says:

      From the same people who supplied the information in the first place. They talked to the brass, apparently.

      1. Observer says:

        That can’t be right. Any brass section worth its mettle can play without cues. Especially when they are doing the same performance nite after nite. They usually love to lead. It’s a pretty embarrassing commentary about this orch’s brass section if that actually happened.

        I’m racking my brain trying to think of an opera overture where a prof. brass section
        could lose it like that. Maybe if it was something modern & unfamiliar, but it looks like they’re doing Tales of Hoffman. Really???

        And yes, it unequivocally is part of any concertmaster’s job to be able to conduct the orch. That’s why concertmasters are called “leaders” in the UK

        1. Craig says:

          No, it isn’t part of their job. That’s why you have an assistant conductor (or at least you should). And they are called concertmasters in the UK just the same. It is not the job of an opera orchestra concertmaster to be prepared at any moment to conduct a large orchestra plus however many singers on stage, having not been present throughout the entire rehearsal process. It’s a vast amount of people to control.

          Do some research.

          1. Observer says:

            Craig, this is my profession. I don’t work in the UK, however so I just googled LSO, LPO & BBC. All 3 have LEADERS not Concertmasters.

            Sorry but if there’s no Asst. Conductor – which there should be for any opera – the responsibility falls on the Concertmaster. You’re right, it’s a big job – but that’s how it works.

            I’ve seen it done a lot when the conductor has to leave the pit for bows while the orch. is still playing. It would be impossible to do the whole opera, but the Concertmaster should be able to get thru an overture with no singers involved.

          2. Craig says:

            And this is my profession too. Not sure what country you work in where you’d expect a concertmaster to be able to conduct recitative with no training, but hey ho, seems like you’ve never worked in a pit band in your life.

            As has been stated in other comments, troubles started when the recits did – Hoffmann has all of 20s introduction, and the recits are after the first chorus. So as it turns out that an orchestra directed by a violinist with zero conducting experience CAN actually get pretty far in an opera like this.

            And if you’re going to drag this into professional pedantry, Covent Garden calls them concertmasters and ENO calls them leaders, it’s an interchangeable term.

          3. Observer says:

            Craig, every musician who goes thru conservatory training (at least in the US) is required to study conducting. We all have a basic knowledge and at least classroom experience doing it.

            In theory any professionally trained player in the orch. should be able to get up there and give a downbeat, keep the tempo and keep an overture going. What planet did this Concertmaster fall from if he/she is not able to do that? And what planet are you from if you are not aware of that?

            As far as pit bands, I’ve done my time, and since pit bands in the US have the connotation of being. for musicals, shows. operettas, and lighter fare, I will remind you that that’s exactly where I’ve seen concertmasters stepping up to conduct the most often. Shows usually have bow music, during which time the conductor leaves the pit to go onstage. The concertmaster often takes the baton at that time.

          4. Craig says:

            OK it’s very clear you’re not reading what I’m writing, so keep thinking that this is the concertmaster’s fault I guess.

          5. Observer says:

            Craig, it’s not the Concertmaster’s fault. It’s just that you’re throwing standard orch. protocol out the window when you make the blanket statement that concertmasters are not supposed to conduct.

            In an opera, you’re right, it’s not practical. But in an emergency that’s the protocol. It’s along the same lines as passing a violin up to a front stand player or soloist during a performance if their string breaks. Or string players moving up to fill in a spot if someone takes ill during a performance.

            I am not even a string player but I have seen this happen many, many times. It’s not in their job description, there’s no written rule that says to do this, but this is protocol that all
            professional orch. players are aware of and usually respect.

            What I object to is that you are making a blanket statement that concertmasters are not supposed to conduct, which is outright wrong. It may not be practical in an opera, but it’s standard orch. protocol that they should be able to.

            I think we need a new thread here about concertmasters’ obligation/ability to conduct, People seem really confused about it.

      2. Moldu says:

        By the way: It didn’t break down in the ouverture, but it started to break down somewhere in a recitative-like passage. Tales of Hoffmann doesn’t have an overture fyi.

        1. Moldu says:

          It would be nice of you to correct the part about the ouverture in the article, Norman.

          1. Spongeringer says:

            Why would he start writing accurate stories now…he’s gotten away with spreading fake news for years!

  15. john humphreys says:

    Gergiev – a story (from two separate sources): Mariinsky orchestra has a 10.00am rehearsal. No Gergiev so they sit around until he arrives at 10.00pm and insists of rehearsing. Not the first time this has happened so a delegation from the orchestra meets him and respectfully asks if he might let them know of any significant delay so that they can devote their day to more profitable activities. The answer was a resounding NO and they were promptly sacked.

    1. Spongeringer says:

      Sure, like an orchestra would wait 12 hours for that. Nonsense.

  16. Anna says:

    As i understand it, the opera house doesn’t even use prompters in all their performances any more (due to cuts in the funding). If that is true I would say that an assistant conductor would be a luxury for them.

    1. timbits says:

      I am baffled, isn’t this what a cover conductor is for? Bizarre.

  17. Alexander says:

    having read all your comments I reminisce of that movie named “Il giovane Toscanini” 😉 … and that stunning Elizabeth Taylor as Aida ( as far as I could remember Aprile Millo sang for her?)

  18. Palestrina says:

    Gergiev? A scheduled rehearsal for 2pm and he turns up at 5pm? Meanwhile the orchestra sits there in silence. This is common policy for him. No respect at all. As for a leader/concertmaster conducting an opera, it’s not their job!

  19. Ole Jensen says:

    The real scandal is that no responsible person from the opera management was present to take action, to walk on the stage to explain what was going on, to make excuses, and to offer drinks in the bar – not on the house of course but on the missing conductor.

    It is utterly amateurish to let people wait without information, and the shouting match between the audience and the orchestra is utterly embarrassing to the opera house.

    That a bean counter from her comfy home in the suburbs lets the concert master down with an impossible task just confirms that the organization in that house is pathetic.

    According to the website of Danmarks Radio, the conductor – Frédéric Chaslin by the way – has apologized and offered beer to the staff – but not to the audience.

    The website of the opera house does not mention the incident. Indeed: They are amateurs.

    1. Janks says:

      You clearly don’t know what you are talking about, Ole. It was the concertmaster that proposed to begin the opera. I will leave it to others to correct your other inconsistencies.

  20. Techie says:

    Another small correction: it was never announced as “technical problems”, but only “a problem we have to solve before we can start”. And yes, I worked that night, I am a technician, and our departement often gets the blame for whatever problems that might occur in a show, but not this time.

    1. norman lebrecht says:

      thank you!


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