Must read: An orchestra player laments her favourite audience member

From Elisabeth Wiklander, cellist in the London Philharmonic Orchestra:

We were playing Britten’s War Requiem in Royal Festival Hall when I first spotted you, my dear friend. You stunned me, sitting there in the audience. A stranger, but looking just like my beloved grandpa who had passed away only a few months before. You looked like a man who had memories from the war, and seeing you moved me to tears through the entire performance. Soon I spotted you in yet another concert. And then another one. You came regularly, always sitting on the end chair of the centre front stalls on row 3.

Soon it was my routine to always look for you when entering the stage. Two years of wondering who you were passed and I thought to myself that I must know you. One day your chair will be forever empty and I’d regret not saying hi to you, not knowing whom I’ve looked for every concert during those years. So one day I went to front of house where the audience dwell during interval. I found you and I introduced myself, sharing the whole strange story with you. We became friends. I became friends with your friends and there wasn’t one time you attended that we didn’t meet in the interval and talked.

For three years we did this and at 99 years old, you were still a faithful concert goer, always looking so presentable… and who went home from our concerts by bus to Dulwich! When you turned 98 I gave you a birthday card signed by many orchestra members, including the conductor Vladimir Jurowski.

You were so happy about that and I was so pleased you treasured it so much you even brought it to hospital when you broke some ribs from a fall, caught pneumonia and still lived it through and came back to concerts! You were bright, witty and passionate about symphonic music and opera.

You were so delightful, so lovely, so knowledgable and I think your memory was better than mine! I was looking forward to our lunch date with your friends in two weeks time to celebrate your 100th birthday, but it seems our Lord has called you home to have the big celebration in a better place. How empty your chair will be. How I’ll miss you. But I’m so privileged to have known you and so happy I went to make your acquaintance! You had an amazingly rich, long life. Rest in peace dearest Paul Steiner.

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  • A lovely tribute. As an orchestral musician, I’ve sometimes wondered if the audience realizes we can see out. We often notice and appreciate the people on the other side of our musical experience.

    • For the same reason, it really does make a difference when audiences make an effort to dress smartly for the occasion (judging by the photograph, the deceased subject of this article evidently did dress up for concerts). A well dressed and well behaved audience can transform a player’s attitude from “just another gig” to something more special.

  • Here are two lovely human beings who have made the world a better place by their presence; and now one of them remains to continue the good work.

  • What a wonderful story! RIP Mr. Steiner and bless you Ms. Wiklander for seeking him out and getting to know him. You obviously gave him so much joy.

  • What a sweet tribute! May we all live to 120 and with all our faculties! With advancements in health and medical care it may well happen in developed countries in the next generation.

  • I found myself sitting next to Paul at a RFH concert and was so impressed by his knowledge and love for life. We always looked out for each other at subsequent concerts for a chat. He was so thrilled about the birthday card and his friendship with Elisabeth and introduced me to her during the interval. I too share her sadness.
    RIP one of life’s true gentlemen.

  • Only 1 thumbs-down for 19 comments (at the time of writing) for this totally wonderful tribute. Must be a first on SD, and so utterly worth it.
    Thank you, Elisabeth, for making this day so much better. You really are a Mensch.

  • Thank you for your wonderfully written story! I,too, am an orchestral musician and cherish the audience members I play for day in & day out!!! Though many of my “family” of listeners have come&gone they are still w/me every performance❤️

  • A beautiful tribute. God rest you merry, Gentleman. Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.”

  • Thank you, Elisabeth, for your warm and touching personal tribute. It brought me to tears.
    As a former performing musician, I know exactly how it is to notice a frequently returning audience member at concerts.
    Sometimes we on stage even smile at them, and they smile back.
    But you took the extra step to meet your friend, and moreover, honor him with the birthday card signed by conductor and musicians.
    Elisabeth, you are a beautiful human being.

  • A marvellous story. In any discipline, but particularly in music, having a shared experience like the one so poignantly described can be so special.

    When I was a more regular concertgoer, at Birmingham Town Hall in my teens, it was always a pleasure to catch the eye of, and acknowledge, particular members of the CBSO who perhaps only knew you as a face that would be in the same basic spot, week after week. Sitting with a regular cohort behind the percussion, we would often exchange verbal greetings with the section, receiving little critiques before the concert – “be prepared, this is ear-splittingly loud” (Scythian Suite) or, sarcastically, “You’ll enjoy this”, referring to the stick technique of the chap on the podium.

    A concert can be every bit an exciting, community activity as going to a football match or watching a game of cricket. What is perhaps allows/enables more than many such experiences, is an opportunity for sharing potentially different attitudes to the same piece, promoting thoughtful conversation, recollections, exciting discoveries and so much more.

    Thank you Elizabeth for giving me the opportunity to stop and think.

  • More than 3 years ago, I was introduced to Paul by Don and Joan, regular concert-goers and intrepid global travellers – despite Don’s near blindness – and it was only last Sunday when we met in the interval of the Philharmonia’s concert that we agreed we had not seen him for a while. 18 months ago, Paul was not to be seen in his usual front stall seat and when, as had become quite coincidental, we met on our homeward-bound ‘bus he told me that he had had pneumonia, I was amazed that at such a great age, he had survived and was back to visiting Malta twice per year and travelling up to Nottingham to attend performances of ENO North. I am sad to have learnt of his recent passing and shall miss our discussions of the concerts we had both just been to.

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