Andre Previn’s great concert disastersmain
John Georgiadis, former leader (concertmaster) of the London Symphony Orchestra, has just brought out a book on the great and not-so-good conductors with whom he worked. John was not a fan of Andrew Preview.
Here’s an extract, exclusive to Slipped Disc:
“What?” This word echoed around the room in utter disbelief, emanating from 80 or 90 incredulous LSO musicians who had just heard from their Chairman, Principal Bass player Stuart Knussen, who would be the new Principal Conductor. Knussen had just delivered a lengthy monologue explaining to us all why a dozen or more other conductors could not, for one reason or another, accept the post. One by one the names had been read out, something along the lines of: Bernstein, Solti, Giulini, Haitink, Davis, etc., etc., with us all either breathing sighs of relief or groans of disappointment, depending on who you personally favoured. But then Knussen said, “However, it is with great pleasure that I can tell you that André Previn has accepted the position”.
After the initial utterances of disbelief followed by a stunned silence I think I was the first to speak up, “I greet this news with utter dismay!” Others joined in with similar sentiments which must have severely shaken the confidence of the board who tried to raise morale by suggesting that it would be up to the members to help and guide Mr. Previn in order to maintain artistic standards. They pointed out all his good points, in particular his commercial value as it seemed that there might be a lot of interest in him from recording companies and television. But with the LSO members largely unimpressed the meeting came to a demoralised end…..
.….The most serious musical calamity that we experienced under his baton was in his early days with us and happened in Columbus, Ohio. It was the initial concert of our first US tour with him and featured that wonderful old warhorse Beethoven’s 5th. During rehearsals, when Previn was completely relaxed, instinct would have helped him give just the right amount of weight to that troublesome starting beat so that there would have been no doubt in the orchestra’s mind where to begin.
As we sat there with mixed anticipation, André, determined to impress on his home soil, stood in front of us with something akin to a John Wayne swagger. Instead of the careful upbeat that is so necessary for this problematic start, we got a gesture resembling the quick-drawing of two six-gun revolvers, as his arms rushed from his hips to mid air with great impact. Astonished at this unexpected violence of movement, the orchestra had to make an instant decision as to whether this was an upbeat or the downbeat. And so it did! Unfortunately, it was a split decision – about 50-50, I’d say – with my side of the orchestra opting for it as an upbeat and deciding to wait a further beat before playing. You can therefore imagine how astonished and shattered we were to hear our colleagues opposite start up immediately! Despite the shock of hearing the piece start without us, we were so committed to our own version of the events that we felt compelled to stand by our judgment, and so made as forceful an entrance as possible, but one bar later than them!
John’s book, Bow to Baton, is available from today on Amazon here.