Getting Jascha grounded in Florida
In response to reader demand, here’s a second exclusive extract from the new memoir by John Georgiadis, former leader of the London Symphony Orchestra:
Daytona Beach International Festival 1966
Austin O. Combs, self-made Real Estate tycoon and enthusiastic patron of the Daytona Beach International Festivals, good friend to me personally and to many in the LSO, always enjoyed his Festival duties, being a host to the artists and conductors, to the full. A big man in every sense with a broad Southern and/or Texan accent, he was not given to small things. He thought big, he acted big, he spoke big, he did big – he was big! The great Floridian greeting, “Howw y’awl dooin!” seemed to originate from him.
I was asked if I minded going with Austin to the airport to meet maestro Jascha Horenstein, as Austin, who was the chosen festival host for this particular conductor, had never met and didn’t know what the maestro looked like. As I was fond of Jascha and always enjoyed travelling in Austin’s luxurious cars, full to the brim with the latest technology, I agreed to give up a couple of hours of ‘beach’ time for this errand. The opportunity to try the in-car mobile phone (in the ‘60s!) and to test the ‘Fuzz-Buster’ police radar detector, proved a great temptation!
This eminent, if rather serious, very European conductor, descended from the plane and stepped onto the airport tarmac, into a temperature well up in the 90’s (high 30’s C˚), still wearing his black Homburg hat and heavy black overcoat, which coupled to his frail physique and usual extreme pallid complexion, gave him the appearance of an undertaker coming to his own funeral!
On seeing me, his face registered a shift from that of extreme agony (his usual look) to one of merely deep suffering, which I understood to be the nearest his chiselled features would permit towards a smile. I moved forward to greet him with Austin in deep pursuit, bade him a quiet warm European welcome and then turned and said, “May I introduce Mr. Austin O. Combs who will be your chauffeur to the hotel and look after your needs for the duration of your stay”. Before Mr. Horenstein’s face could resume its original misery, his hand was grabbed by Austin with such vigour and energy that he seemed to disappear down inside his overcoat and for a moment I really feared that he might be dragged physically through the right sleeve or, worse, be separated from his conducting arm altogether.
“Hi theyrre my liddle ole buddy, howw yawl dooin?”, was the outrageous fortissimo greeting, followed instantly by a mighty blow to the centre of the fragile back from Austin’s gigantic left hand which threatened to decapitate the maestro or at least inflict severe whip-lash injuries. A gasped pianissimo, “’Ow do you do,” was all that the completely overpowered and by now totally submissive Jascha Horenstein could manage.
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