Thought I'd digress from my usual modes of impertinent information by sharing a number of moments of humor which are, indeed, embedded among the more important aspects of the world's leading musicians. Some of you may already know a portion of what I am about to relate to you:
One of my teachers had played under the baton of Fabian Sevitzky, a nephew of the fabled Serge Koussevitzky of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Founder of Tanglewood. Now, according to this teacher of mine, Fabian Sevitsky was known as a kind of martinet (you know, the kind of strutting rooster who would make sure that his wife walked three steps behind him wherever they went). And, periodically, our martinet would berate various members of his orchestra for the purported infractions the orchestra member of the moment might have created. Well, on a particular day, Sevitzky lit into the tuba player for whatever the issue might have been. My teacher then told me that Sevitsky and the tuba player had never formed a magically bucolic chemistry, and there was a history of clashes between the two of them over a period of time. On this occasion, the tuba player had, evidently, "had it," and after the rehearsal was over, knowing that the next rehearsal would be the day AFTER tomorrow, he visited a fish market near the rehearsal hall, bought a moderately sized fish, went back to his tuba, placed the fish in the tuba, making sure that it had been shoved far enough into the instrument to evade discovery; then left.
On the Day After Tomorrow, my teacher was part of a saga initiated by a rehearsal that never took place, because of the consternation caused by an odor so powerful that it utterly dessicated any artistic desires of anyone in that hall. My teacher said that it was a day never forgotten. He then proceeded (I cannot know if the following is apocryphal), to describe the roiling color of red suffusing the face of Sevitsky...
Jesus Maria Sanroma, the brilliant pianist from Puerto Rico, was the first pianist, I believe, to become the official pianist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and was associated with that vaunted group for 20 odd years.
Sanroma was also the owner of a decided and, at times, an unpredictable sense of humor - an example:
This was told to me by a musician a generation or so older than I was, who was a witness to the following incident involving this pianist: On a hot day during the off-season of concerts (July or August of that particular year), Sanroma, in town for a reason I have no knowledge of, gave an informal recital in a small hall. There was no printed program. Sanroma appeared, lugging a large floor fan, which upon his placing it near the piano, was plugged into an electrical connection by an individual who appeared just long enough to do the plugging in. Sanroma turned the fan on at top speed setting, then sat down and commenced playing something that was so soft that nothing could be heard except the roaring of the fan. He continued to play for a minute or so, while the heads of the audience were wagging in bewilderment and consternation.
He then stopped, turned the fan off, and announced that the recital would continue along with his announcing the title of each piece he was to play. He then 'broke the ice' by emitting a roar of laughter, followed by a rather brief recital; brief, possibly, because of the heat of the day.
I could not elicit from the teller of this incident whether the hall had an air conditioner; and if so, was it then turned on?
Arturo Toscanini has been called by many the greatest conductor of the 20th century, and his recordings are certainly certification of his towering position among the greats. He was also feared as a tyrant, proven countless times, during periods of lashing into musicians of his orchestra that didn't meet with his expectations. Breaking his baton in a fit and heaving the fragments at the nearest musician; cursing in both Italian and English; storming off his podium and disappearing - just some of the methods of his form of totalitarianism that he utilized in order for his demands to be met.
On one occasion, he altered his usual form of fear production by stopping the orchestra after an apparent misstep taken by an orchestral member; by putting down his baton gently(!), pausing a few seconds, and quietly(!) uttering a few words to the orchestra, all of whom at this period, were men:
"in my second life, I shall return as the owner of a bordello, and will make sure that not ONE of you will ever gain entrance into this place."...
What about Victor Borge, whose humor can never be replicated?
He was about to conduct the orchestra in a performance of a tune from "The Bartered Bride" by Bedrich Smetana, the nationalist Czech composer, when he stopped, went over to the concertmaster, and asked how he should pronounce the composer's name, which the violinist did. Borge listened, then asked to hear the name once again; then after a few seconds he leaned down, put his hand on the concertmaster's shoulder, and asked in a worried tone. "you don't feel well??"
On another occasion, he had both hands poised above the keyboard as if the first crashing chords were about to be played, but after a pregnant second or two, put his hands down, looking absolutely atrabilious, and muttered "I don't know that one..."
Just a few of my favorites in Humor among the Honored -
Labels: a laugh or two...