Performance disasters, riddles, insults, the only funny list of student errors I've ever seen...
My favorite anecdote:
Comments on modern music from Jonathan West
When I was a postgrad student at the Royal College of Music in London, one of the professors strongly held the opinion that no potential professional musician should go through college without having played some "modern" music. Like the music or loathe it, I think he had a good general point, in that musicians owe it to the composer to give a new piece the best possible performance, and to be appropriately trained to do so.
Anyway, one term, he managed to arrange for the college symphony orchestra to play Stockhausen's Carré. The word, as I'm sure those of you who did French at school already know, means "squared". This was a square piece, for 4 orchestras, positioned in the 4 corners of the hall. The conductors stood right in the corners facing inwards so they could see each other and coordinate the beat, and the orchestras faced outwards each towards their own conductor, with the audience in the middle. Each orchestra was a couple of desks of each of the strings, a varied selection of woodwind & brass, an 8-voice chamber choir, and pretty much a full symphonic percussion section. Maybe a keyboard or two thrown in for good & useless measure.
The piece hadn't been performed in London for 35 years. We soon discovered why. I can honestly say that this is the only piece I have ever played, where I couldn't actually tell, for the entire duration of the music, whether I was playing the right notes or not. The singers had tuning forks more or less permanently to their ears to try and pitch their notes. There were really no cues you could take from the players around you.
The students rapidly took a fairly lighthearted approach to rehearsals, to the annoyance of the professors. There was a harpsichord player in the 4th orchestra, who rapidly cottoned on to the fact that nobody could hear her over the percussion, and practised Bach throughout the rehearsals. She was never found out. (Later she became my wife. Unfortunately this means that we can never enter a restaurant and say "Darling, they're playing our tune!", because it doesn't have any.)
We all assumed that nobody would want to come & hear this junk, even though RCM concerts were free for the public. We were astonished when we filed into the hall for the concert, to find the place absolutely packed, with people standing in the gallery.
We later discovered that someone had publicised the concert, and because it was so long since the piece had been played in London, all the atonal music junkies had come to hear it. (In London, there are just enough such people to fill a medium sized concert hall, if they all turn up on the same night.)
Anyway, all went fine in the performance, we made a raucous din for about 30 minutes. The problem came towards the end. The conductor of the 4th orchestra got lost, and out of time with the other three. As a result, in the 4th orchestra, we finished about 30 seconds early. Nobody noticed. We got a standing ovation and a rave review from the Times music critic.
I have never believed a critic's opinion of a concert since. Nor have I believed anyone who tells me I ought to like & understand Stockhausen or any composer of a similar nature.
And one for people who like a little physics mixed into their musical disasters:
Paolo Esperanza, bass-trombonist with the Simphonica Mayor de Uruguay, in a misplaced moment of inspiration decided to make his own contribution to the cannon shots fired as part of the orchestra's performance of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture at an outdoor children's concert. In complete seriousness he placed a large, ignited firecracker, which was equivalent in strength to a quarter stick of dynamite, into his aluminum straight mute and then stuck the mute into the bell of his quite new Yamaha in-line double-valve bass trombone.
Later, from his hospital bed he explained to a reporter through bandages on his mouth, "I thought that the bell of my trombone would shield me from the explosion and instead, would focus the energy of the blast outward and away from me, propelling the mute high above the orchestra, like a rocket." However, Paolo was not up on his propulsion physics nor qualified to use high-powered artillery and in his haste to get the horn up before the firecracker went off, he failed to raise the bell of the horn high enough so as to give the mute enough arc to clear the orchestra.
What actually happened should serve as a lesson to us all during those delirious moments of divine inspiration. First, because he failed to sufficiently elevate the bell of his horn, the blast propelled the mute between rows of players in the woodwind and viola sections of the orchestra, missing the players and straight into the stomach of the conductor, driving him off the podium and directly into the front row of the audience. Fortunately, the audience were sitting in folding chairs and thus they were protected from serious injury, for the chairs collapsed under them passing the energy of the impact of the flying conductor backwards into row of people sitting behind them, who in turn were driven back into the people in the row behind and so on, like a row of dominos. The sound of collapsing wooden chairs and grunts of people falling on their behinds increased logarithmically, adding to the overall sound of brass cannons and brass playing as constitutes the closing measures of the Overture.
Meanwhile, all of this unplanned choreography not withstanding, back on stage Paolo's Waterloo was still unfolding. According to Paolo, "Just as I heard the sound of the blast, time seemed to stand still. Everything moved in slow motion. Just before I felt searing pain to my mouth, I could swear I heard a voice with a Austrian accent say "Fur every akshon zer iz un eekvul un opposeet reakshon!" Well, this should come as no surprise, for Paolo had set himself up for a textbook demonstration of this fundamental law of physics. Having failed to plug the lead pipe of his trombone, he allowed the energy of the blast to send a super heated jet of gas backwards through the mouth pipe of the trombone which exited the mouthpiece burning his lips and face.
The pyrotechnic ballet wasn't over yet. The force of the blast was so great it split the bell of his shiny Yamaha right down the middle, turning it inside out while at the same time propelling Paolo backwards off the riser. And for the grand finale, as Paolo fell backwards he lost his grip on the slide of the trombone allowing the pressure of the hot gases coursing through the horn to propel the trombone's slide like a double golden spear into the head of the 3rd clarinetist, knocking him unconscious.
The moral of the story? Beware the next time you hear someone in the trombone section yell out "Hey, everyone, watch this!"
Michele D. Hirt