Ever been barred by security from going on stage?

Dame Sarah Connolly has three wonderful stories to share this morning:

I’d love to hear your stories about tussles with concert hall security when you had to make an entry from somewhere other than the stage, or appear at a later time during a performance. 😀

I have two tales as Brangäne – the Wachruf and two from Gerontius.

Tristan. The orchestral manager didn’t check in advance with the venue management or security that I would be singing from the organ loft for the Wachruf. I actually had a physical tussle with a security guard in a Spanish concert hall and had to LOCK MYSELF IN to stop him dragging me out. The responses from the security guard had been a monosyllabic “NO” with much wagging of his finger. With my basic Spanish it was impossible to persuade him. I knew he understood me but he hadn’t been briefed. I could hear my cue approaching so I just pushed past him and thankfully the door had a bolt. He was yelling in the corridor and banging on the door!! Can you imagine..during the closing bars of the duet?!! Einsam wachend in der Nacht had a dual meaning!! I really was being a bold Branny. Fortunately only the people around the loft looked mildly concerned.

A similar thing happened in the Albert Hall Prom with Sir Simon. When I was allowed in to the hall, finally, I was seated to the upper left of the organ loft, among the audience. As I stood up, preparing to sing I was told by some audience members behind me to sit down and when I started to sing I was shushed by one outraged person!

Gerontius. The festival ushers wouldn’t accept that the Angel enters in Part 2. The door backstage in the giant British cathedral was mysteriously locked, so I ran the length of the building to find the other door. The ushers physically barred me from walking back down a side aisle to the stage. The musicians were waiting for me the other end of course so I pushed past the ushers (second time that day..) and wafted down the aisle with ushers chasing me. I also had food poisoning so could have done without the excitement.
The second Gerontius tale was the same day, earlier in rehearsal where again the ushers were over zealous about who is allowed in front of the roped off space. A rather senile usher tried to argue that if I ‘really was a singer’ why wasn’t I already on stage”. No amount of indignant explanations sufficed so he tried to drag me out! When that failed, he went to the festival director, also seated inside the roped off area and who hadn’t seen my drama in the side aisle, and tried to eject him too!

As an addendum, Paul Nilon, Neal Davies & I were locked out of our changing venue afterwards with no one about. We found someone eventually.

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  • There are wonderful stories about offstage brass who had trouble playing (in Beethoven, Berlioz, Mahler, Strauss…) because of overly zealous security or maintenance staff. Has anyone had to play Heldenleben, the Royal Hunt and Storm or the Grosse Appell while standing on the head of an usher who wouldn’t go away? Would any of our SD colleagues care to share?

    • I’v heard a Mahler 3 trumpeter’s tale of woe when a cleaner had removed his carefully arranged offstage tv monitor, stand and door jamb. It was his first ever major gig.. He managed somehow but was scarred for life.

      • Ah, the cleaner…. that over-helpful, assiduous personnage at the root of many a near-disaster. Bernard Levin in “Conducted Tour” recounts an episode at Wexford Festival’s “La Vestale” (Spontini), where the charlady, unaware that the steeply sloping stage had been deliberately sprunkle with lemon juice to prevent sliding, scrubbed and polished it before the performance. Result: the principals’ entries transformed into helpless slithering downhill only stopped from careening into the orchestra pit by a pillar, followed by the entire chorus, clinging to each other desperately wound round the pillar like a demented daisy chain….. and not missing a note! The audience nearly had to be hospitalose en masse from helpless laughter.
        Levin’s account is worth a read- very funny in itself.

  • I’ve heard many similar incidents involving off-stage trumpeters who are attempting to play their solos in the Leonore Overture No. 3 and Pines of Rome.

    • Yes, Elgar Howarth was once tackled (this could be 40/50 years ago – sorry, Gary!) by an attendant when attempting to play the offstage trumpet in Leonore No. 3 at the Royal Albert Hall: ‘You can’t bring that up here – there’s a concert going on … ‘ or words to that effect.

  • This is really funny, and applause to Dame Sarah for fighting that hard just to do her job!

    For some people, there’s nothing more dangerous than a little bit of power …

    • “But man, proud man,
      Dress’d in a little brief authority”

      There is very particular profile of person who actively seeks rolls of (uniformed?) authority like this, and often in my experience, those who are otherwise disenfranchised or not very well educated. You see it all through life.

      I guess it gives their life meaning and shape in some way.

      • Rather than blaming the poor usher, you might focus your ire on those whose job was to marshal the whole concert for not telling the poor ushers what to expect. Think of the kicking the poor usher would have got if some non-singer had ‘blagged’ (i.e. lied) their way into wherever it was and from there disrupted the performance with some political declaration.

  • The smug privilege of the dame comes right through: security personnel are among those suffering the most from infection, dealing with people like her who think the demands of their profession (whether it be the arts or something else) take precedence over the safety of others.

    “A rather senile usher tried to…” pretty sums up her view of people. Why not just resort to the insult of the old days: “the retard”.

  • Great stories, but very disturbing for the singer.

    A trumpet player once told me his issue with an usher concerning the offstage fanfare in Beethoven’s Leonore Ouverture nr 3:

    “When I carefully neared the door to the hall, an usher rushed-up the stairs to the part of the foyer where I was, loudly whipsering: ‘Are you crazy? There’s a CONCERT going-on in there!’ upon which I said I know and that I was part of it. He got upset, apparently thinking I’m mad, and physically tried to get me from the door I was to open and deliver my little fanfare. A physical tussle resulted and I could only just in time play the bit after I had pushed the usher from the stairs from which he had come, which gave me some time. Afterwards I could explain better but the poor man, much bruised, was not much pleased with Beethoven’s ideas.”

  • Gerontius can be fraught with problems. My favourite Gerontius experience was when I was active as a freelance percussionist

    I was booked for a concert at Southwell Minster. Interestingly, there was a wedding booked for the middle of the afternoon so the rehearsal started early, stopped, and then started again.

    All the way through the first section of the rehearsal we in the percussion section were plagued by volunteers who hadn’t been briefed that the two events had been organised around each. Instructions such as “You can’t hit that” and “you’ll have to move this” punctuated our efforts until a helpful verger eventually smoothed things over.

    Additionally and unfortunately, Gerontius was very late for the rehearsal. It being a time well before mobile phones, eventually I message got through to the conductor: “I’m at Southwark Cathedral. Where are you?” A rapid trip up the M1 ensued with the tenor producing an excellent performance, with an added sense of excitement that only a complete lack of rehearsal can produce!

    I also sang Gerontius a few times as a member of a very well-respected Symphony Chorus. On each occasion we had splendid conductors and largely brilliant soloists. However, on one occasion, a new, up-and-coming operatic Bass joined us. Used to the relative freedom of the operatic stage, he proceeded to pull the entry of the Priest all over the place, requiring our conductor to ignore the 230-odd other people on stage and literally beat time right under the soloist’s nose.

  • This is symptomatic of a wider problem. In too many cases, ushers are not briefed properly about the details of the concert. Offstage performers are an obvious manifestation of this problem, but I would also like to see ushers being briefed more thoroughly about when it is appropriate to permit entry to latecomers — the answer is relatively simple: “once the leader of the orchestra is seated, the doors shall be closed, after which entry shall be permitted only during the applause between different works, assuming the artist decides to take a bow at that point (if the artist runs attacca, it is *not* appropriate to allow latecomers in)”.

    • Indeed. There was a really bad example of this at the Haitink/Vienna Phil Prom last September. People in the gallery were still being let in just as Emanuel Ax starts the Beethoven Fourth Concerto. Of all the works in the repertoire for that to happen!
      Unbelievable.

  • I’m not surprised the security didn’t immediately fold on the first explanation.

    I only briefly worked as a concert hall usher but at almost every performance there was some one with a very desperate reason as to why I had to open the door after the doors were supposed to remain closed.

    If you didn’t say “no” to them you’d have someone walking into the concert and climbing over people to get to their seat every ten minutes or so.

    • I’d like to think that wearing a long dress, holding a music score with Tristan/ Dream of Gerontius on the front would be a giveaway after a polite explanantion. . Secondly the ‘senile’ usher, was indeed mentally unwell and it was perhaps cruel of me to call him senile. An oversight by the festival.
      Grabbing a well dressed woman by the arm during rehearsal and trying drag her out is beyond the call of any usher.

  • Years ago at the Cincinnati May Festival we were rehearsing a program including the War Requiem. The “warmup” piece was the Ballad of Heroes which has offstage brass who were positioned in the larger foyer. Unfortunately the Music Hall was also a wedding venue and a wedding was in progress in the foyer perhaps due to a failure of communication. The Wedding planner was in a state and pointed to the huge ensemble of Chorus, Orchestra and the brass in the foyer saying “Can’t you just stop this, you are ruining a $50,000 wedding!”

  • Splendid stories. A related tale, at a much less exalted artistic level…

    As a teenager I worked as an usher at a local theatre, whose bread and butter during the summer months was always a play for tourists. The star one year was John Inman, then well-known for his role in a BBC sit com about a department store. The play was supposed to be a farce but, as written, it was so short of laughs that Inman arranged for a couple of extras to barge in late and make their way noisily to their stalls seats. This would give him the excuse to stop and recapitulate the first ten minutes for the benefit of the latecomers. The play was so bad that this desperate remedy was an improvement. Unfortunately, on the first night this tactic was deployed, no message was sent to the usher guarding the door to the stalls – me. After managing to hold the fort for a minute or so, I was roughly bundled out of way with the words ‘For Christ’s sake, we’re part of the f***ing show’. Inman, I should say, was very apologetic afterwards, by which time we could all see the funny side.

    • Good yarn, but I think Inman and his colleagues deserve the courtesy of their “BBC sitcom about a department store” being identified in it. It ran for 10 seasons and inspired a spin-off film and a second series years later with some of the same cast, and a remake with a new cast just a few years ago. (The latter less successful).

      The original is one of the BBC’s great successes, at home and internationally. In case you simply did not know it, the title is “Are You Being Served?”

      • And what a superb cast of fine actors it had: as well as John Inman there were Mollie Sugden, Frank Thornton, Arthur English, Harold Bennettand a young Wendy Richard. Vintage BBC comedy scripted by Lloyd and Croft.

      • I remember an interview with Mollie Sugden where she was in a store looking at something or other, and a saleslady came up behind her (not realizing who she was) and said “Are you being served?” She turned around, probably with her trademark “WHAT did you just say” expression on her face, and the poor woman nearly fainted 😀

        • Beautiful story. Makes me think of the experience of conductor Otto Klemperer in Germany who, somewhere in the early sixties, walked – together with his assistant who happened to carry the name of Mendelssohn – into a record store to look whether his recent Beethoven V was already on sale. He asked the staff member, an innocent young man, for the Beethoven V under Klemperer. But the disc had not as yet found that particular store and the young man began to recommend other recordings, of all Klemperer’s rivals: Karajan, Walter, Szell, etc. trying to convince his client that these were much better. But Klemperer dismissed all of them stressing he wanted the Klemperer disc, upon which the young man asked: ‘But Sir, why are you insisting on this Klemperer record when there are so many other more than excellent recordings?’ Klemperer, angrily: ‘Because, you know, I am Klemperer!’ The staff member pointed laughingly at K’s assistant saying: ‘Sure, and that is of course Beethoven!’ upon which Klemperer said, quite truthfully: ‘No, that’s Mendelssohn!’ You couldn’t make-up such story.

  • KANANPOIKA

    I remember 1976…….an appearance by Lady Bird Johnson…

    I knew all the security guards, and they knew me…….I’d forgotten my pass…this toady refused me
    entrance to the hall…I handed him my instrument and said:
    “YOU go out on stage and play my part, and I’ll stay here
    and guard your effen door…”

  • Dame Sarah Connolly makes an unforgettable appearance in 2009 at The Last Night of the Proms attired as Lord Nelson singing “Rule Brittania”with panache and flourish.

  • Liverpool Phil, Mahler 6 many years ago. To give a sense of distance the cowbells had been placed in the foyer with the door to the auditorium slightly ajar. When their turn came an audience member wandered out crying “Shut that bloody row up, there’s a concert going on in here”.

    • Great story.

      Made me think of an incident at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester: during a long and dramatic Mahler symphony an audience member suddenly got a fit of acute psychosis, stood up yelling and screaming and had to be removed with some effort by the staff, during which process the orchestra, who had stopped playing, patiently waited until the noises in the foyer had gradually died-down. It happened at a place where is written in the score: ‘Wie ein Naturlaut!!’ (‘Like a sound of nature’)

  • What a witty piece about situations that must have been very stressful! I remember the composer, Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian, tweeting that she’d been shushed at her own premier in the Barbican when greeting one of the LSO’s patrons before the concert. (Incidentally, Dame Sarah, her first, and dear, music teacher was Elizabeth Donovan.)

  • Back in the 1970s I was singing Messiah with the South Yorkshire Concert Choir under Roger Bullivant in Pitt Street Methodist Church in Barnsley. We had reached the end of “Why do the nations” when doors at the back of the balcony were thrown open and two breathless police officers entered, clearly in pursuit of someone. The looked perplexed for a moment, removed their caps, then ran along the back of the balcony and disappeared through another door. We then launched into “Let us break their bonds asunder”.

    Also in the 70s I recall a CBSO concert ( Mahler 6 or 7 I think) in Birmingham Town Hall where late comers had been admitted after the conductor’s entrance. An exasperated Maurice Handford, presumably with heavy sarcasm, turned and directed them to their seats.

  • I cannot find the reference, but I recall a story about Nixon, in Philadelphia, attending a Philly Orchestra concert with the 1812 on the program. Nobody warned the U.S. Secret Service, and the poor percussionist taking out his shotgun was surprised to feel the end of a service revolver at his temple. He played the part, but with an agent’s firearm trained on him the while.

    I would like to know who the percussionist was or if I’m mis-remembering the incident, if anyone reading here knows.

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