Maestro is sent home mid-concert with flu

Maestro is sent home mid-concert with flu


norman lebrecht

January 28, 2018

Moments before Jorge Federico Osorio walked onto the Atlanta Symphony Hall stage last night to play Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, he was told of a change of conductor.

Robert Spano, who had conducted Leonard Bernstein’s Jeremiah Symphony in the first half, had been ordered to go home with flu.

His assistant Stephen Mulligan stepped in without having rehearsed with the soloist.

The pair got a standing ovation.


  • Robert Levin says:

    Osorio’s Emperor was truly majestic! The orchestra and audience loved the performance – he received a rousing standing ovation. Stephen Mulligan did a superb job in stepping in at the very last moment. Anyone who is in Atlanta over the next three weekends should not miss Osorio’s Beethoven concerto cycle. This is the very first time that all five Beethoven concerti are being performed as a cycle in Atlanta.

    • Rafael Pacheco says:

      Maestro Osorio is an artist who deserves standing ovations… The fact that there was no rehearsal between soloist and conductor and the concert was a success should be applauded.

  • Jaime Herrera says:

    Everyone gets standing ovations nowadays – that’s why I hate them. If Horowitz or Heifetz or some other top flight player ever gave a truly sensational and unforgettable performance, then I would understand – now, every kid who just graduated from Juilliard gets a standing ovation. One does not open a bottle of very expensive aged wine for every birthday celebration. (To be fair, I was not at this concert in Atlanta so maybe the artists deserved the standing ovation?)

    • Bruce says:

      We actually had a NON-standing ovation this Saturday night, after a fantastic performance by Mira Wang of an ugly new violin concerto by Torsten Rasch. They clapped, but stayed in their seats — I suppose to show approval of the violinist but not the piece? (Sunday’s audience stood up though)

      • Nik says:

        Generally the best predictor of an ovation is not the quality of the performance but whether or not the piece has a loud, rousing finale. Most contemporary pieces fail to trigger a strong audience reaction because they tend to fizzle out awkwardly rather than having a proper ending.

    • MacroV says:

      One of the coolest things I experienced with respect to ovations was when I heard percussionist Martin Grubinger play with the Czech Philharmonic about two years ago. Yes, he’s an international figure now but still not big box-office in Prague (unusually, a visible number of empty seats), and the piece, while intriguing, wasn’t Tchaikovsky. The ovation started off normal but built up over about five curtain calls, by the end of which most people were standing. It wasn’t a mindless reaction to loud-and-fast, but a growing appreciation for an unconventional but masterful performer/performance by what is usually a fairly conservative audience.

    • Timothy says:

      I heartily agree that standing ovations have become excessive; it seems as though almost every performance nowadays ends with one. On the other hand, I recall an Italienisches Liederbuch more than fifty years ago at Carnegie Hall, at which the performers received a standing ovation at the very beginning of the recital, simply by walking out on stage. I have never witnessed a similar tribute since then, and it was fully justified by what was about to transpire. The recipients of this honor were Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and Gerald Moore.

  • Geoff says:

    Yes, there are standing ovations at every concert I have been to recently (last few years). Doesn’t mean so much today, does it? And some people, mostly loud-voiced men, jump up with the “BRAVOS”.

  • Sharon says:

    I was diagnosed with the Influenza A recently which apparently was one of the strains of flu that I had been vaccinated against in October. The flu is mutating so quickly and so many people are getting it who were vaccinated. That said, if Spano was capable of conducting, which is a big if, he should have been able to do it. He probably would not have been too contagious if he had not shaken hands or talked to people after the concert.

    • Mr Oakmountain says:

      If you overstrain while suffering from influenza, you can give yourself all sorts of long term damage, including inflammation of the heart muscle tissue.

    • Bruce says:

      I’m going to go out on a limb and make a wild guess that he didn’t conduct because he was actually too sick to do it, not that he felt OK but thought he might be contagious.

  • herrera says:

    It is not an act of bravery to go to work with the flu, it is an act of contamination of your co-workers, of fellow commuters on public transport, etc.

    Coughing and sneezing is enough to spray droplets around and be contagious within 6 feet.. No one wants to touch the doorknobs you touched, the toilet you flushed, the keyboard you typed on.

    Stay home. No one is irreplaceable, and no one thinks you’re heroic.

    Yes, this is one of the deadliest flu seasons in recent years.

    • Meal says:

      Indeed, the viruses are changing rapidly. In Germany the most used vaccine is missing effectivity against the virus type which causes half of the influenza cases these days. However, it still protects against the other half. Maybe more important: Even if the current virus type is not covered by the vaccine it is good to be vaccinated against influenza. Regular vaccination shows a more beneficial effect ( than one vaccination alone.
      But back to topic: It is only speculation since we do not know the medical records. 1. If it is not just a flue but the real influenza it often developes within very few hours. I remember some years ago going home with the tram (which usually takes 30 min). I did not feel well but was still quite ok when I left my working place and entered the tram. 30 min later I had heavy chills and was no more able to walk. I can fully understand that it is possible to be able to conduct the first half but not the second. 2. If you have influenza you should definitely not do strenuous work. It is not primarly a question of contagiousness but of your own health. Working with influenza might result into serious and permanent (!) damage to your health (e.g. myocarditis followed by heart failure).

  • Mark Gresham says:

    I spoke with Spano early on Saturday by phone, and it was clear he was sick, and I said so. He’s been dealing with a bug for at least a month, on and off. I had gone to the Thursday concert, which I reviewed. (See this link for reference: ) We’ve updated that review at the bottom, to acknowledge Muligan stepping in for the next two concetts, including observations from the stage about Sunday’s concert by Michael Kurth, who wrote the opening work, “Everything Lasts Forever,” and is also a bassist in the orchestra. Spano’s bug must have seriously worsened between Thursday night and Saturday. He didn’t seem sick on Thursday, though he was definitely suffering early in the month when we sat down together for a one-on-one conversation.

    Also, reviewer William Ford was present on Saturday at Symphony Hall when the passing of baton took place, and again at Sunday’s concert at Hodgson Hall in Athens, Georgia, when the young Stephen Mulligan led the entire program. Ford wrote a review about those concerts for Bachtrack. (You should be able to search and find that one easily as well.)

    I was unable to be at Sunday’s concert mysrlf, as I was at another concert celebrating the music of composer Charles Knoxwhich took plsce at the same time.

    ~Mark Gresham, ArtsATL

  • Mark Gresham says:

    Apologies to the Spelling Police: Consider it a combination of small tablet. fat fingers, and not-so-great eyesight. This is why copy editors exist. You can intuit what the few misspelled words ought to be in my long post above. 😉

  • Mark Gresham says:

    And if I may intrude once more (from the desktop this time), if you want to learn more about Stephen Mulligan, who covered for Spano over the weekend, try this Q&A: