Why the conductor tipped a jug of water on his concertmaster's head

Why the conductor tipped a jug of water on his concertmaster's head


norman lebrecht

August 24, 2011

Among many reminiscences received of the late Inge Tennstedt, one brought me out in tears of laughter. Inge had a lot to put up with as Mrs Maestro, but this night in Paris, remembered by former EMI man John Pattrick, was a bit special – even in the Tennstedt legend. Here’s John’s story:
Klaus was on tour with the Hamburg Radio Orchestra in Paris. Martha Argerich played Chopin 1 beautifully and received a massive ovation from the French audience who rightly worshipped her.

After this, Klaus conducted Mahler 1. The orchestra had one of those evenings when the playing was pretty average to say the least.

Klaus and the orchestra got a predictably bad reception and he went ballistic once he got to the green room. I went with Martha to see him but  Inge came out looking nervous and worried – not normal characteristics for her –  saying that this was not the right time!  For good reason because what had happened was that Klaus had apparently picked up a pitcher of water and drenched the Leader and then told the Hamburg management that he was quitting the tour with immediate effect.

Kirill Kondrashin was then drafted in to complete the remaining concerts but then died on the rostrum during a rehearsal in Amsterdam. Klaus was, of course, mortified when he heard what had happened.

Worse still, EMI France had lined up, following the concert, the pick of every journalist in Paris for a dinner which Klaus never turned up to!   I dread to think what Inge went through that night to calm him down!  Klaus never sold in France even before this incident.

I am releasing on ICA Classics, Klaus’s 1986 broadcast of Mahler 3 from the RFH on CD as well as a DVD of Mahler 5 from 1988 (again RFH). Both are sensational – I have added a short interview which Klaus gives about Mahler 6 and you can hear Inge chuckling in the background!


  • Duvidl says:

    I’m still trying to figure-out why all this is funny.

  • NIgel SImeone says:

    Great story.

    One small point about Kondrashin, though. I’m pretty certain that he died not on the rostrum and not at a rehearsal, but in his hotel room an hour or so after finishing conducting this performance of Mahler 1 in Amsterdam:

    Norman, those new ICA Tennstedt releases both came today and they are, indeed, sensational. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more visceral last movement of No. 5 – even from Tennstedt – and this extraordinary performance was only a year or so after Lenny B’s Vienna Phil Prom of the same piece which I’m sure you remember too. Those, it seems, were the days.