Young maestro’s national debut goes unnoticed

Young maestro’s national debut goes unnoticed


norman lebrecht

June 12, 2015

On Sunday morning, November 14, 1943, Bruno Walter called in sick with flu and the New York Philharmonic had to find an instant replacement, without rehearsal, for its nationally broadcast afternoon concert.

Assistant conductor Leonard Bernstein had been out partying all night. He took the call, dropped by Walter’s sickbed to check his score markings and ripped into the concert as if life itself depended on it.

Next morning, Leonard Bernstein made the front page of the New York Times.


A star was born.

Yesterday, a major conductor came down with an ear infection, hours before a concert that was to be broadcast nationally on BBC Radio 3. A young assistant stepped in ‘at very short notice’.

The concert went out last night. Nobody noticed.

We hear from musicians that Alpesh Chauhan, 25, did extremely well in Andris Nelson’s place, never having studied the Strauss horn concerto before and leading unflappably through Schubert’s Unfinished and Dvorak 7th symphony.

There are no reviews this morning, no media excitement.

What has changed? In 1943, radio was the only domestic entertainment and there were few available channels. The nation huddled around the receiver on a Sunday afternoon for whatever it might yield. A change of maestro was big news.

In 2015, there are so many other things we can do at home, and very little attention to live concerts on Radio 3, a background burble at best. A sign of our times, perhaps, but a sad one for new talent.

Bookmark the name: Alpesh Chauhan. He used to be principal cello in Birmingham’s youth orchestra and he’s yet to make his official debut with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. That will come on June 25.



I wonder if Andris was able to hear the concert?

You can hear the broadcast here (for 30 days).


  • herrera says:

    In 1943, 25 year old conductors were prodigies.
    In 2015, 25 year old conductors are over-the-hill.

  • David Ward says:

    Listening to the live BBC Radio 3 broadcast, I was impressed by the way the orchestra under this young maestro accompanied the outstanding performance by soloist Elspeth Dutch of the notoriously – terrifyingly – difficult Strauss 2nd Horn Concerto.

    It augers well for the future of Alpesh Chauhan.

  • Malcolm James says:

    He also deputised for Donald Runnicles in a broadcast concert with BBCSSO a few weeks ago.

  • Richard Townson says:

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Now all I hope is that the broadcast is available for download from the BBC.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Someone like this deserves the best possible accolades… and proper invitations. To be able to step-in in such way is a performer’s nightmare. He must be really brilliant.

  • will says:

    You say “There are no reviews this morning” … of course not!
    I can’t remember a time when there were ever any reviews the very next day, certainly not in my lifetime.
    Maybe tomorrow, though?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Overnight was standard practice when I was Assistant Editor of the London Evening Standard, as recently as 2002-09.

  • Tim Walton says:

    I was at the concert last night and Alpesh was exceptional. To do what he did at such short notice augers really well for his future career.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    Yes, reviews were overnight–still are in some places. The upshot of all of this is, if he is destined to have a career, he will, which will be due to word of mouth, social networking and respect. I hope this comes for him, even though there are countless of big talents out there, as always. One just needs to have the fortitude and determination, good friends, and sheer luck. The rest is hard–very hard–work and work ethic, which I am sure he has. Opposite to the ‘old days’, there are no Cinderella stories. Careers are built like tall buildings over time, with solid foundations.

  • RW2013 says:

    He needs more photos of himself on his website.

  • Tim Walton says:

    Apart from the concert, mentioned above, on June 25, he has a CBSO Concert next season on 9 March 2016 – This includes the UK premiere of Golijov’s Azul and a relatively rare performance of Shostakovich Symphony 15, last heard in Birmingham with Simon Rattle in 1998.

    More details of Alpesh, including some video of him conducting the CBSO can be found on:-

  • Steve Beauchampe says:

    The Birmingham Press website, which I write for, has been following Alpesh’s career for several years, highlighting his work conducting the Bournville Strings, his appointment as Fellowship Conductor at the CBSO in 2013, whilst he also wrote a tour diary for us during the CBSO’s 2014 European Tour. We will be carrying an extended interview with him on the website early next week. I also attended Thursday’s concert would concur that he is indeed a very special talent.

    • Tim Walton says:

      I hope Steve’s article goes online because recently this once proud newspaper has been absolutely pathetic for posting concert reviews.

      There’s hardly been a review put online for the last three weeks and when there are good concerts in Birmingham reviewers don’t even bother to attend!

      • Halldor says:

        Tim, I think you may be confusing the website The Birmingham Press with the newspaper The Birmingham Post, which – despite financial difficulties and constant staff-cuts, publishes more live classical music reviews than almost any other weekly newspaper in the UK. Every CBSO concert, every operatic performance, most touring ensembles and a wide range of the amateur and student performances in Birmingham are covered as a matter of course.

        But – whatever the general assumption in today’s “something for nothing” online world – the paper is under no obligation to distribute its content online for free. Its not expensive: simply buy a copy and you’ll get all the reviews.

        • Tim Walton says:

          Yes, I am confusing the two. I have not come across Birmingham Press before. I presumed, wrongly, that it was a ‘typo’

          90% of reviews do not go online on the Birmingham Post Website, the website is pathetic.

          As a pensioner, paying nearly £2 for a weekly paper, 75% of which is either adverts or about business, but with very little local news at all for half a page of reviews is expensive and regrettably un-economic for me.

          For me a local weekly paper should be a round up of everything that has happened over the past week in the local area. The Birmingham Post is certainly NOT that.

  • Malcolm Kottler says:

    The facts of Leonard Bernstein’s celebrated debut are not the purpose of Norman’s posting. But maybe some readers would like a little more detail.

    Bernstein first heard about the possibility that he might have to substitute for Bruno Walter, on November 13, the day before the concert. On the evening of the 13th, Bernstein, with his parents and younger brother, were at Town Hall for a concert by Jennie Tourel who included Bernstein’s song “I Hate Music” on her program. Tourel had already performed this song, with Bernstein as accompanist, the previous summer at Tanglewood.

    After the concert Bernstein was at an all-night party at Tourel’s apartment until the wee hours of the morning of the 14th. Bernstein, later in life, corrected stories that he had stayed up all night studying the scores for the Sunday afternoon concert. In fact during the party he did not yet know for sure that he would be substituting for Walter.

    However, around 9 AM the morning of the 14th, he was informed that Walter could not conduct and so Bernstein was on.

    Why did Bernstein conduct, and not the orchestra’s conductor Artur Rodzinski? When Bruno Zirato, the Philharmonic’s manager, first learned on the 13th that Walter might not be able to conduct, he contacted Artur Rodzinski, who was at his farm in Connecticut, four hours from New York. Zirato asked Rodzinski to return to New York to conduct in Walter’s place. Rodzinski said Bernstein should take Walter’s place.

    The concert on November 14 was a national broadcast by CBS radio. Bernstein’s mentor Serge Koussevitzky was listening on the radio and sent a telegram to Bernstein during the concert. Rodzinski, who would not drive back to New York to conduct the concert, did drive back to New York in time to hear the end of the concert.

    The concert is available on cd. You can listen to the radio announcer informing the audience of Bernstein’s substitution for Walter here:

  • 110 says:

    Careers are built like tall buildings over time,with solid foundations,lots of money and at the end ….great opportunity for dogs to…..

  • Jos Vos says:

    We got the same programme in Oxford last night, once again with Alpesh Chauhan conducting. He made us hear Schubert and Dvorak as we’d never heard them before – a real triumph.

  • Becky Dawson says:

    Hello Norman: we at Music at Oxford were delighted to have Alpesh conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra the day after, too. It was exactly the same programme as was broadcast the evening before from Birmingham, and Alpesh was marvellous the second time around, too. He was dynamic, exciting, friendly and engaging, and provided Music at Oxford with a stunning finale to our season. Most of our audience left the Sheldonian on a high, so bravo Alpesh, and bravo CBSO! As for any press presence, I fear there was none. Not even the Oxford Times…! All the best, Becky

  • Robin Barker says:

    I, too, was at the Sheldonian on Friday evening. What an incredible occasion! From the moment Rebecca Dawson, Music at Oxford’s General Manager stood before the audience to apologise for Andris Nelson’s indisposition and introduced Alpesh Chauhan there was a real buzz from the packed house. Little nuances in the familiar Schubert were appreciated but it was not until the Strauss Horn Concerto and the wonderful rapport with the soloist Elspeth Dutch that one really appreciated the talent of this young star! His Dvorak’s 7th is still ringing in my ear! Bravo!