New video: Berlin Philharmonic hoaxes its concertmaster with wrong concerto opening

New video: Berlin Philharmonic hoaxes its concertmaster with wrong concerto opening


norman lebrecht

November 19, 2013

After reading about Maria Joao Pires and the wrong Mozart concerto, players in the Berlin Philharmonic pulled a fast one on their soloist, concertmaster, Daishin Kashimoto, by playing the opening to the Mendelssohn concerto instead of the Prokofiev. Was he bothered? Just watch here.



  • An old gag that is still funny!

  • Martin Bookspan says:

    The following story is not a gag, it really happened.

    It seems a pianist was rushed in at the last moment as a substitute for an ill colleague to play a Beethoven Concerto, with of course no rehearsal. He thought it was to be the “Emperor”….but it was the Fourth.

    So he’s sitting there waiting for the orchestra to play the opening chord of the “Emperor” and the orchestra is waiting for him to play the solo piano opening of the 4th. After many awkward moments of soloist and conductor looking at each other, the pianist gets up, goes to the podium and consults with the conductor. He goes back to the piano bench, and the conductor gives the downbeat for the opening of the “Emperor”, which then is performed without a hitch!

    • any idea where, Martin?

      • Martin Bookspan says:

        I’ve been scratching my head trying to recall who were those involved—but the details are fuzzy in my memory bank. (The pianist might have been Jerome Lowenthal in a concert at the Hollywood Bowl.)

        But here’s one that happened just a few weeks ago in Boston at one of the games of the baseball World Series. It has become customary for a singer, prominent or otherwise, to perform the National Anthem before the start of the game and another to sing “God Bless America” in the interval between the halves of the 7th inning.

        On this particular evening James Taylor was chosen to do both. Apparently he was a wee bit flustered, and his rendition of the National Anthem before the start of the game went like this: “Oh beautiful for spacious skies, oh say can you see…..”

      • Doug says:

        Obviously it was an orchestra that keeps a set of parts for both concertos on everyone’s stands. Not to mention all the players on hand. Let’s hope the additional flute was on stage too.

        • Michael Schaffer says:

          Yes, indeed – the 4th piano concerto only has one flute (like the 4th symphony). Well spotted! Ten points for Gryffindor!

    • PJ says:

      That wouldn’t be possible without the orchestra actually having the parts ready on their stands – or a librarian going out to look for them, which takes more than five minutes. The contrary would have been a lot more plausible.

  • pianessa says:

    I was told this story many years ago. I’m not sure if it’s true but it’s very possible. A pianist had prepared two concertos to play with one orchestra – the Grieg and the Schumann concertos. Rehearsals went well. The two concertos were going to be played on different nights, except, the pianist got the dates mixed up. Imagine when she expected the opening tremolos for the Grieg and instead got the single opening eighth note of the Schumann instead! She only had a second to switch gears and play it.

    Someone may have elaborated the story to include that she played the opening chords to the Schumann all the way down the keyboard and promptly threw up. This may have taken the story too far though.

  • derfs says:

    How is it that that orchestra “suddenly” had the score of the “Emperor” on the music stands when they were slated to play the Fourth?

    • Marioara says:

      Hah! Before I scrolled down and saw your comment, I was thinking the exact same thing. And never mind the score (brave conductor might and would have done it from memory) but what about the ORCHESTRA PARTS??

  • MacroV says:

    Harry Ellis Dickson’s treasurable (but out of print) “Gentlemen, More Dolce, Please” tells of Jacques Thibaud coming to the Boston Symphony to play, he thinks, the Beethoven Concerto. Evidently without rehearsal. The orchestra starts in on the Mendelssohn and he quickly reacts and starts playing, supposedly saying to the conductor “You didn’t tell me we were playing the Mendelssohn!” Conductor replies “You didn’t ask.” Of course in a later book he tells the same anecdote with a different soloist, so who knows if it’s true?

  • George Gluek says:

    There’s a story that Albert Coates once gave the downbeat to open the Meistersinger Overture, and fainted when he got two flutes opening Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Deam!

    • michaela says:

      Priceless, George! What a great story!

      • This is wonderful to imagine, like bracing oneself for a sip of vodka, only to get fizzy soda – though also hard to believe since surely the conductor would’ve noticed that the full orchestra wasn’t ready to go. Strangely enough, two flutes open Midsummer Night, while the flutes (and harp) are the only tacet instruments at the beginning of Meistersinger.

  • m2n2k says:

    Whoever wrote the story on Berliners’ blog apparently did not know that the orchestral introduction in the Mendelssohn lasts one measure and a half only – not two measures. In any case this beginning is so well known to all violinists that most section members in good orchestras would be able and delighted to react the same way. The story of orchestra playing a non-scheduled concerto cannot possibly be true, as noted by several commenters above – no parts on the stands.

    The story I heard about Schumann’s Piano Concerto went as follows: the conductor jumps on the podium and immediately gives the downbeat without checking that his soloist is ready – orchestra plays the first chord and the poor pianist is understandably a little bit late with his entry; in order to get even, when the first movement is finished, the soloist smiles, looks innocently at the conductor and without any delay quickly plays the first four notes of the second movement – naturally it is too late for the conductor to bring the orchestra in properly. So, it’s a 1 : 1 draw.

  • TomUSAA+ says:

    I think it’s all the so called urban legend. In the cello circles the famous Wierzbiłłowicz, a heavy drinker himself, asked the conductor: what key we are in? a minor, came the reply. Unfortunately, it was Schumann, not Saint-Seans.

  • Gary Graffman, on the liner notes to an old LP of Rachmaninoff 2 and the Paganini Rhapsody, tells of arriving at a rehearsal for the former and expecting to play the latter – with predictable results. I can’t but wonder if that’s the story that turned into Beethoven above. I think Graffman may also tell this story in his autobiographical “I Really Should Be Practicing,” but I don’t have my copy of that book handy.

    That was one of my favorite LPs and I probably read the back cover at least 100 times. I also don’t have it handy, but I found it on Ebay and copied the story from the image there:

    “What a coincidence that these two Rachmaninoff works are on the same record,” Graffman remarked. “They are the subject of one of my most perplexing experiences. Years ago in Los Angeles I was scheduled to perform the Piano Concerto No 2. Unfortunately, my manager had told me it was the Variations. Having just arrived in the city, I dashed to the rehearsal in the morning, took my place, and waited for the downbeat of the conductor. He turned around expectantly, stared at me quizzically, and waited. I waited. He waited. I waited. Where were the violins stating the familiar theme? Finally, in a burst of excitement and confusion we untangled the misunderstanding. ‘If you are set to play the Variations we can change our program,’ the conductor soothed. ‘Oh no, it really doesn’t matter to me at all,’ I stubbornly countered, ‘I know them both equally well.’ A few hours later we performed the Concerto.”

    The result of Graffman’s decision? “He took the house by storm,” exclaimed The Los Angeles Times.

    I also have heard several times the story of a pianist/conductor pair (Mehta/Barenboim, I believe) which involved the conductor giving the Schumann’s opening chord before the pianist was ready. The pianist exacted revenge by starting in on the 2nd movement before the conductor was ready.

  • a·poc·ry·phal




    of doubtful authorship or authenticity.


    Ecclesiastical .


    of or pertaining to the Apocrypha.


    of doubtful sanction; uncanonical.


    false; spurious: He told an apocryphal story about the sword, but the truth was later revealed.

    The stories are quite fun, though…

  • bob blossom says:

    I detect a trend here.

    We should start to do this on every concert! Or maybe just on some concerts and not others. Keep em guessing! The soloist wouldn’t know what he or she was playing until the first measure of the piece! If they don’t know the piece, they would have to make something up.

    Or start one concerto and the next movement…etc…The possibilities are endless!

    Endless hilarity!

  • JL says:

    I remember hearing the Beethoven 4th/5th Piano Concerto story told many years ago on BBC TV’s “Face the Music” by the conductor Erich Leinsdorf, talking about himself and the pianist Artur Rubenstein.

  • Ben Lea says:

    Never destroy such a good story just for the sake of the truth! It has become a kind of tradition!