Saturday, 4 October 2008

Old Deuteronomy

I was not particularly looking forward, yesterday, to turning out for my third concert on consecutive evenings. But it was terrific. We went to Cheltenham Town Hall to hear the Philharmonia Orchestra play three warhorses: the Meistersinger Prelude, Brahms' 1st Piano Concerto (with Boris Berezovsky) and the Pathétique. All were thrillingly performed, we thought, particularly the Tchaikovsky.

Leif Segerstam was the conductor: sitting quite far away, it seemed to us quite hard to imagine him getting through such a demanding programme, as he tottered onto the stage at the beginning, appearing to creak when rising to the podium. Ernestine Schumann-Heink was apparently of a similar build: once, at a rehearsal, she knocked over several music stands as she approached the front of he stage. "Walk sideways," urged the conductor, to which came the response: "Maestro, vith Madame Schumann-Heink der iss no sidevays."

Caroline was worried that the guard on the rostrum might be dangerously low, but Maestro Segerstam had no difficulty holding his own once installed. He even completed a stately 360 degree turn to ensure we were all enjoying ourselves as the great Allegro molto vivace approached its climax - the orchestra "still together, conductified," to use one of his own eccentric English expressions.

Sitting closer for the second half of the concert, it was clear I was wrong to think that this composer/conductor's flowing white hair and beard were evidence of great age, for his face looked remarkably young. I have now learnt that he is younger than I am; but I have yet to compose one symphony, let alone 208.

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