New horror video: Conductor starts concerto before his soloist is on stage

New horror video: Conductor starts concerto before his soloist is on stage


norman lebrecht

November 12, 2013

This is about as dumb as it gets.

A composer, Jake Runestad, tells the audience about the concerto he was commissioned to write by the  pianist Jeffrey Biegel. After three and a half minutes of mangled clichés, the composer steps down. The conductor, James Paul, then starts up the Louisiana Philharmonic – without bothering to check that the pianist who commissioned the work is on stage and ready for action. When Biegel rushes on, the conductor shrugs.

Happens all the time, no doubt. The music starts at 3:50, followed by the soloist’s embarrassed entry.

h/t: Allen Sinclair




  • Magic. What IS the conductor smoking this week?!

  • Gritenez says:

    I could tell it was an epic fail from the beginning: orchestra wasn’t tuned before the conductor walked in, the piano wasn’t even open, the conductor didn’t receive any applause when walking on stage, NO ONE in the orchestra noticed that the soloist wasn’t there… and even when he was there, it still sounded like crap.

  • Tim Benjamin says:

    Shame we don’t get to hear the rest of the piece as it sounds pretty good. Is whoever made this video only interested in showing us the “EPIC FAIL LOL” ?? It’s either an intriguing opening or a very short piano concerto.

    I guess the conductor fell asleep during the awful speech by the composer. Is that kind of guff normal in America? Stick to writing music mate!!! (or possibly the conductor just assumed that the person doing the tuning up on the piano in white tie and tails behind him was indeed the soloist)

  • George Kennaway says:

    I’ve already heard more than enough.

  • CA says:

    There couldn’t possibly have been anyone from the production team around backstage now could there have?

  • The composer’s speech seemed like ‘hearing instructions’, as with a manual for domestic utensils. It is a variation on the ‘pre-concert talk’ tradition which has become necessary since so much new music left the normative context of the concert format. While in former times life experience was supposed to be ‘sublimated’ into the music and therefore needed no further explanation, now a new piece has to be related again to real life experience because audiences expect it utterly unrelated to it.

    Imagine Beethoven explaining his ‘Eroica’ at the première: ‘Ladies & gentlemen, the piece you gonna hear – rather than myself – is about my fervent obsession with Napoleon, with whom I wholeheartedly identified UNTILL…’ etc. etc. It would all distract from the music instead of ‘explaining’ it.

    In the 19th century, when some composers began to depict ‘real life experience’ in rather unsymphonic works, ‘programme notes’ became fashionable, but they always were accompanied by discussions about the question whether they really contributed to understanding of the music or not. A discussion which has not been decisively reached a cunclusion to this day.

  • mbhaub says:

    The conductor was stressed and that messes with your brain – it happens. The “horror” wasn’t that the pianist was missing – the horror was the “music” that was unleashed. Can’t anyone write tunes anymore?

    • Tim Benjamin says:

      I am amazed at the ability of some on this thread to judge an entire piano concerto on the basis of a single bar. Or perhaps I should say, I am amazed that classical music still has to deal with Philistines who like to bash what is new for the simple crime of being new.

      You can say what you like about MY music but you can hardly accuse Jake Runestead of being a tuneless avant-gardist. Those of you who have made snide remarks to that effect are clearly lazy, or trolls, or maybe both. Check out his YouTube channel on:

      A fair few “tunes” there to keep you happy, if you only bothered to look. His choral music could probably make John Rutter or Paul Mealor run for their money and his instrumental music is very skilfully orchestrated apart from any other merits it might have. His public speaking on the other hand is best avoided, I agree…

      And until Norman shared this viral video of this sad accident I had never heard of him!

  • Nurhan Arman says:

    Clearly it is a sad, embarassing but funny mistake but I can’t see how anyone can judge from such a short excerpt the artistic merit of the concerto. Jeffrey Biegel is a fine musician and it would be interesting to hear him in this premiere.

  • Raul Gomez says:

    It was actually a very cool piece, and also well performed, despite the unfortunate mix-up at the beginning. These things happen folks, I’m sure it wasn’t a fun moment for anybody involved….

  • John Clark says:

    I’m a long time LPO fan and have never seen this clown conduct them before. Their usual music director, Carlos Prieto, is much better!

    • MacroV says:

      James Paul is a very good conductor who led the Chicago Symphony, among other groups, a few times (ok, apparently not so great that he became a regular guest). But he’s no clown. So there’s a little communications mess-up here; kinda funny but no big deal.

  • Allen says:

    You can watch the whole concert here:

    That complete video begins with over 1 hour of set-up preparation, however, the concerto is actually very good. Excellently performed and well written. Later, you even get to see the famous comedian John Goodman narrate Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait too!

    • Martin says:

      The link doesn’t work for me. Not even after creating an account.

      As I think, that I’m not the only one who’d like to judge this new piece by more than just the 1st few tunes, I’d appreciate if you could let me know how to access the video.

  • joe salerno says:

    It would be worth a few minnits to hear the entire concerto. What surprised me about this event is that the conductor walked onstage and stepped up on the podium before the orchestra was even tuned. The concerto starts with soloist and orchestra, and the conductor didn’t even seem to realize that there was an important member of the ensemble missing.

    Just the soloist, nothing inconsequential. Nothing like that.

  • Jan Mezzo says:

    Gee, and we all wonder why Joe Q. Public doesn’t want to come to orchestra concerts! Give it a rest. Stuff happens! Why didn’t the ops manager get the soloist onstage, on time? It happens. Let’s try to be just a tad more forgiving and understanding instead of instantly criticizing people who are trying to keep this art alive. Critics (pro or otherwise) need to get their cans onstage sometime and see how challenging it can sometimes be. Just try to be a bit more forgiving and accepting. Geez…..

    • Pianist says:

      I absolutely agree with everything you say Jan Mezzo. If we should judge who was responsible for that mistake, it seems the LPO operations/stage manager played an important role in that awkward situation. The conductor always needs green light to walk to the stage…

  • bermane says:

    How do we know this wasn’t in the vein of Mozart’s “Musical Joke”? As a teacher, my recurring nightmare is arriving late for a lecture or a test I am to give–I wouldn’t doubt the same is true of musicians, so part of the event could be this cognitive dissonance.

    • sixtus says:

      It could have been a publicity stunt, as with many outrageous YouTube videos. It certainly has turned into one by now. I never would have heard of the composer, conductor or pianist without this incident. I am glad, though, that Louisiana seems to be able to keep its orchestra going, unlike a major city much closer to the Canadian border.

  • I’d love to hear more. It sound fantastic.

  • Kat says:

    This is why you need a stage manager.

  • There was more music in the two bars of the video than there is in the whole of the first act of something I’m having to work on at the moment…

    Taking bermane’s ball and running with the ‘Musical Joke’ idea, how about the notion that the concerto started at 19.39 and the American arrived at 19.42?

  • Incredible. We all make mistakes, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one quite as fundamental as this. (…unless it was deliberate, as mentioned above). And we still pay these people?!

  • Hart Linker says:

    What I find most offensive about this cursory review are Norman Lebrecht’s characterization of Jake Runestad’s comments as “mangled clichés” and the missed opportunity to critique the real musical content of Runestad’s work, The Dreams of the Fallen. Furthermore, I also find it ironic that Professor Lebrecht is so quick to publicly find fault with Runestad’s presentation because Lebrecht has himself been on the receiving end of such thoughtless public criticisms. (Most recently by Philip Kennicott of the New Republic and the Washington Post)

  • Hart Linker says:


  • LPO Patron says:

    Not what our wonderful orchestra, the LPO, should be known for. Too bad all the great things they have done have not been reported in this blog, like how they saved themselves after Katrina, how they manage on pitiful salaries (all have second jobs), and how they create world class concerts. They have endured and given New Orleans music at the highest and lowest moments. Mistakes happen. Sigh.

    • Janey says:

      @LPO Patron – Thank you. I would like to hear more about the orchestra’s work in the community since Katrina. I have no doubt they have had to endure and do extraordinary things.

  • MJH says:

    I don’t know if a “musical joke” was on the agenda, to provide comic relief to the tragedy of loss of life that no serving U.S. soldier will ever forget. I take issue with Mr. Lebrecht’s phrase, “mangled cliches” and the snide tone of his text. This musical piece, Dreams of the Fallen, was envisioned and performed for the purpose of honoring United States veterans. And in particular, those returning from recent combat deployments. From Runestad’s addressing this audience on Veterans Day (“honoring you”) we may assume that there were a fair number of servicemen and women in the audience. It may have been assumed that those recently returned from combat tours in Afghanistan might not have been familiar with the evolution of the composer’s idea or the general process of composing orchestral and choral music. (One does not have many opportunities to do that in Helmand Province). I used to enjoy this column. When words like “horror video” and “as dumb as it gets” are used to describe the sincere efforts to do something artistic and good on Veterans Day for returning U.S. troops (women and men in harm’s way on our behalf) I begin to wonder why Mr. Lebrecht needs to take such a cheap shot.

  • Matt Wright says:

    Have you been to a concert where a composer speaks before a premiere? This is no different than any other. Lay off. There’s no need for hyperbole.

  • jim says:

    Let me just say how impressed I am that Norman Lebrecht, Master Observer of All Things in The Classical Music World, was watching our streamed concert from New Orleans last night. I guess it’s true what they say: You never know who’s in the audience!

    I was playing in the orchestra last night and Maestro James Paul’s premature downbeat was an awkward moment to be sure but really not such a big deal. After he stepped on the podium there was a lot of arranging of music and piano lid and stool and whatnot behind the conductor while the orchestra was tuning so I’m sure he just assumed the soloist was the one giving the tuning note. The orchestra definitely saw there was no one at the piano but I believe most of us thought it was some sort of dramatic staging thing that had been newly hatched since the dress rehearsal. Everyone, audience included, just chuckled and the evening proceeded apace. No lives were lost, no one was injured, no laws of physics were broken and editors did not shout “Stop the Presses!!”

    The thing I’m most surprised at is all the attention this is garnering in the blogosphere. Those that have spent their lives in a professional orchestra giving hundreds of concerts of all sorts (or indeed, professionals in any performing genre) know that audiences see only a tiny percentage of all the various unforeseen, sometimes dramatic, sometimes hilarious, things that go on from season to season. This one just happened to be caught on video…our official “YouTube Moment”. But ultimately it will just be another one of the many tales we’ll enjoy sharing years from now when someone starts in with “Remember the time that…?”, and we’ll get to counter with, “Oh that’s nothing; one time in New Orleans during a live streamed concert…”

    • Kat says:

      Chastening for us all to remember that when we all pile on in a situation like this, real people are involved…Great of you to weigh in, with such a light hand and sense of humour.

    • A 40 year verteran says:

      How true Jim! The concert going public has no idea!

  • Amused Bouche says:

    I blame Obama.

  • Stefan says:

    Wow, I used to hold this site in high esteem. Way to go for the lowest common denominator, Norman. I’m sure this orchestra is working hard to maintain relevance in their community, but using your platform to strip them of some of that is worth it for a few yuks, right? SMH…

  • Maria Muller says:

    Norman, thanks for inspiring such an entertaining chain of comments. Wonderful!

  • May we assume that this writer has some personal association with Mr Runestad?

  • Warren Cohen says:

    I spoke to a friend of the composer who said that Jake thought it was no big deal,

    and that he was very pleased with the performance, that he was not upset even in the moment, and he was very surprised at the attention this got. And pretty happy too-because now many more people have heard of him and have heard at least a few seconds of his piece! As for James Paul- we have all had nightmares about doing something like that, but weird things happen, and everyone with a busy career has had something like this occur to them.

  • back desk 2nd violinist says:

    All I can say is that the most basic conducting classes teach that the conductor should ensure his/her orchestra is ready before starting the piece and that when a soloist or soloists are concerned, she/he should also glance in their direction to ensure everything is OK, or indeed that they are present on-stage…

    Unfortunately, given this is the same conductor who turned up an hour late for his first rehearsal with a certain European orchestra, due to “misreading the rehearsal schedule”, I’m afraid I wasn’t totally surprised. Does anyone else agree that it would have been better (and more respectful to soloist and composer) to stop and start the work again?