Washington calls Baltimore for emergency conductor

Washington calls Baltimore for emergency conductor


norman lebrecht

April 13, 2019

Major drama in DC.

The National Symphony Orchestra had to cancel Thursday’s concert when Yan Pascal Tortelier called in sick. Friday’s repeat was in imminent jeopardy.

The solution? Call Baltimore, where associate conductor Nicholas Hersh was ready and willing to take on Debussy and Ravel.

We hear it went rather well.

UPDATE: Maestro must remain in DC

photo: Yupeng Gu

The Baltimore Symphony musicians posted: ‘We couldn’t be prouder of our assistant conductor, Nicholas Hersh, who jumped in on short notice last night to replace our dear friend, conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier, for the National Symphony Orchestra’s concert in the Kennedy Center.
His performance was terrific and the audience went nuts, as you might imagine!
History repeated itself, as many of you might remember, as Nick also replaced Tortelier in 2016, to make a stunning debut on the BSO’s subscription series. He has been an audience favorite ever since.’

Review here.



  • Chuck Stark says:

    For what it’s worth, Tortelier didn’t “call in sick”; he conducted the Thursday morning dress rehearsal, but had to terminate it a bit early as he clearly had begun to feel unwell (I was there). I don’t know anything further about his condition.

  • Michael says:

    I hope all is well as he also had to cancel 3 weeks ago in Iceland. Tortelier is a very fine conductor.

  • Madeline Adkins says:

    Bravo, Nick!! I remember those 2016 performances well, including YPT’s own arrangement of Ravel Piano Trio.

  • Mel Cooper says:

    And once upon a time an assistant conductor named Leonard Bernstein took over from an ailing Bruno Walter and hit the headlines! Mel

    • David K. Nelson says:

      And Boston assistant Michael Tilson Thomas took over from an ailing William Steinberg and a career was born. It has happened elsewhere, too (Toscanini is another example). BUT one of the tasks of a genuine assistant conductor is to learn the scores their orchestra is playing and be prepared to step in immediately (and admittedly, Steinberg was known to be in failing health, so MTT likely almost expected to conduct). Does Washington have no assistant? Hersh had no reason to learn and prepare the scores for any orchestra other than Baltimore’s, which adds to the impressive nature of this appearance.

  • Anson says:

    Bravo to Maestro Hersh. If Norman will allow me to be a bit cheeky, though, I’m surprised that this post didn’t mention that the *original* conductor was slated to be perennial Slipped Disc favorite and Norman Lebrecht admiree….Mirga!

  • Karl says:

    I always like to sit in the front row. That way if a conductor gets sick I can jump up on stage and conduct. The truth is that a good orchestra could do a decent job without a conductor. I found a quote from Hannu Lintu ” most of the orchestras in the world can play together without any conductor.” I wonder if someday in an emergency an orchestra actually plays without one…