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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  • Great stuff. I’m sure there’s a limit re: how much SD can quote from the book (so that potential readers might still go out and by it) but it would be great if you could please give a bit more. Thanks

  • The passus about Mo Horenstein always looking the way described isn’t totally true. I vividly remember once in the mid-60’s, when Helmer Envall, the Swedish concert agency tycoon, called me up, asking me, if I could pick up Mo. Horenstein at the Stockholm-Arlanda airport and bring him to his hotel. At the time, I was working as a recording engineer for the Stockholm Phil, taping every concert, parallel to my university studies. I, of course, accepted, parked the car, and stood at the gate, waiting for him. When he arrived, we had a quite nice talk on the way to the car. How I wish that someone had had a camera, when we arrived to it. You see, I had then a rather decrepit Volkswagen Beetle and, to make it worse, in order not to have to pay theft insurance, I had painted it flamboyantly pink – I tell you, it stood out. Mo Horenstein stood stock still, totally aghast, just looking at the thing, not believing his eyes – this was his reception in Stockholm??? Then his face cracked up, and he stood there, laughing uncontrollably for what seemed an eternity, before entering. We had the nicest of time during the trip, and he invited me to the conductor’s room during rehearsals. The recording (Mahler, of course) is still very much existing and rather formidable.

    • That would be JG himself. The book is self-published via Amazon’s CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. The cost is a few cents under $50 for this paperback in Canada, so unless one of the libraries I use acquires it…

    • I must correct my earlier response to Steve re cost. The price I cited is the U.S. cost. Amazon Canada doesn’t list JG’s book at all.

        • Searching from here in Vancouver, Amazon.com gives the price as $49.73 with no discount indicated. A search in the ‘Books’ section of Amazon.ca produced only hiking equipment, baseball bats, etc., which is certainly odd.

  • For those in the US, some might prefer to order the book from the US Amazon site. Norman’s link is to the UK site.

    At the moment, the book is a little cheaper when ordered on the UK site. But some in the US might be reluctant to order that way.

    If Norman will permit it, here is a link to the US Amazon site:

    https://www.amazon.com/Bow-Baton-LSO-Leaders-Life/dp/1727426649/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Bow+to+Baton%3A+LSO+Leader%27s+Life&qid=1553346804&s=books&sr=1-1

  • Georgiadis, or perhaps Austin Coombs, has a rather odd idea of where and how “y’all” is used. Once over the Florida border, it is heard less and less moving south, and only circa 1% of its use in Texas, whence apparently Coombs may have come, or any other part of the South is in addressing a single person. Certainly, it is not a “great Floridian greeting.” But with memoirs we must allow for memory and time passing. Maureen Forrester told her ghost writer she remembered Barbirolli’s “Mancunian accent”. Her memoirs are insubstantial, and I wondered if the ‘ghost’ just made that up as filler. I may read Georgiadis’ book, but after I’ve read the biographies of Mitropoulos, Serkin, Munch, Schnabel, Reiner and Piatigorsky now awaiting me at the local parcel delivery depot, so it’ll be a while, y’all.

  • Spent a couple of hours with the book today. It seems almost perfectly timed for the topical issue of conductors’ faults and frailties, though John Georgiadis seems to have known this through his career. It’s quite strikingly honest, and often funny – I laughed at the anecdote about Svetlanov’s requirement for how the violin solo in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade is to be played.

    JG does honour to those conductors and soloists who collaborated with collegiality, modesty and genuine talent. Otherwise, though, and he tends to admit it, there’s a sense of how bullish – how macho – the LSO must have been in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of the evaluations, respect as one must his personal experiences and his clearly superb musicality, seem a little cynical. Maybe I’m too caught up in old-fashioned, superficial narratives about the ‘great’ conductors, but I winced to read JG’s withering disdain for how Giulini started the Brahms 4th Symphony (and the deteriorating relations which followed), not least because I’ve seen Giulini conduct Brahms 4 live and cherish the recordings: I wouldn’t be silly enough to question JG’s technical viewpoint, but would beg to differ on his interpretation of Giulini here being falsely theatrical.

    And so on throughout the book. It’s fascinating.

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