BBC cancels tonight’s concert. Conductor is unwell.

BBC cancels tonight’s concert. Conductor is unwell.


norman lebrecht

January 20, 2017

Oliver Knussen called in sick, which is sad.

But couldn’t they find a replacement, even if it meant dropping the one new work on the programme – the world premiere of Philip Cashian’s piano concerto?

Show must go on, and all that.


  • Rosana Martins says:

    Doesn’t the orchestra have an assistant conductor who was present during the rehearsals? How strange that the BBC doesn’t have any backup.

    • Halldor says:

      You, because state-subsidised UK orchestras have so much money that they can afford to pay conductors to sit round listening to rehearsals 24/7, on the off-chance…

      • Halldor says:

        Sorry, meant to type “yes” rather than “you”. And I didn’t mean to sound so sarcastic…it’s just that so much comment about classical music seems to exist in a world divorced from economic reality.

        The reality is that if he cancelled only today, the odds of finding any available conductor in time for them to rehearse even a more conventional programme will have been very tough. Knussen is a very committed artist; he won’t have cried off lightly. Cancelling a concert is always an absolute last resort. I experienced it only once, in 18 years as a concert manager.

  • Andrew Morris says:

    I’m sure they had, you know, some reasons.

  • Noah Weill says:

    Which bbc? Isn’t there a few of them?

  • A Massey says:

    Backing up standard rep is one thing. Doing what Olly does is not short order cooking.

  • Eric says:

    The programme was to have consisted of:

    Strauss – Macbeth
    Cashian – Piano Concerto (world premiere)
    Busoni – Nocturne symphonique
    Elgar – Falstaff

    Not sure who could have stood in at short notice.

  • Jonathan Dunsby says:

    Ollie needs to lose some weight, bless him.
    He is morbidly obese.

    • will says:

      That comment is beneath contempt.

    • Stephen Llewellyn says:

      Oh, nice.Perhaps you could leave that sort of advice to his medical team and at this stage just consider his well-being, huh?

    • Bruce says:

      “Rudeness disguised as honesty is still rudeness.”

      – Miss Manners

    • Robert King says:

      There was an article in one of the UK nationals the other day on the lines that people, behind their computers, will put onto blogs and suchlike comments that they would not say in public, often using a pen-name or other anonymising device. In this instance there was no such hiding. Dr Dunsby uses Mr Knussen’s first name, so is presumably a friend and maybe knows some direct connection between this distinguished musician’s impressive physique and his cancelling conducting a concert. To me, this comment reads as the sort of aside that one could imagine an Oxbridge don making to a colleague in the Senior Common Room after a couple of glasses of college port, but maybe wouldn’t repeat in front of his assembled students next morning (so maybe SD readers were invited en-masse into the SCR by Dr Dunsby – but even there he might still have generated in some of us a swift intake of breath). More earthbound SD readers may simply have assumed the cancellation was due to one of the gruesome winter 2017 bugs that are causing freelance musicians to fall sick enough for them to have to cancel – we don’t do that willingly.

      • Robert King says:

        And on the BBC website indeed it says:
        “We are very sorry to let you know that Oliver Knussen has developed pneumonia and is unable to conduct tonight’s concert. It has not been possible to find a replacement conductor at this short notice, and as a result, the concert has had to be cancelled. We wish him a speedy recovery”.

        So now we know. He presumably struggled through first rehearsals feeling increasingly flu-y and awful, dosed up to the eyeballs with paracetamol etc to keep himself going – we’ve all done that – but finally succumbed and realised he simply couldn’t make it through a big programme with what turned out to be pneumonia (around 8 people in 1000 get it each year). Miserable for him. Here’s to his making a rapid recovery (and thank heavens for antibiotics).

  • Daniel F. says:

    The rest of the program was hardly familiar, standard-rep on auto-pilot fare either! I’m sure they made the only call they could have made, but it’s really rotten luck for Philip Cashian. Hope they can re-schedule. More and more conductor cancellations in recent years–all, I’m sure, legit, but what to make of it??

  • Brian B says:

    I’m sure a little delayed gratification isn’t out of place here. I would guess this can be rescheduled and ticketholders places honored.

    • Jonathan Zoob says:

      “Ticket holders places honoured”. I would be surprised if that was necessary. BBCSO concerts at the Barbican draw notoriously small audiences and with that programme I would have been surprised if it had drawn a 50% house.

      Jonathan Z

  • Joel Lazar says:

    A properly vetted and assigned cover conductor or two seems to be an integral part of the artistic team of most major orchestras. With all due respect, except for the world premiere, the other repertoire is challenging but hardly impossible, particularly if the back-up conductor is forewarned of the possibility of conducting the program. We do this in the US, and given the pool of aspiring maestri and maestrae in London, I can’t see why it’s not routine with the BBCSO.

    • bratschegirl says:


      Also, Captcha needs to learn that “signs that are visible from the street” are not the same thing as “street signs,” but I digress.