Luckily, both of these incidents took place over a decade ago (I can say that now that it’s 2009.) Everyone who performs publicly for a living has a collection of embarrassing moments – here are a couple that made me cringe for a long time afterwards! Now I can look back and give them a good laugh. Usually.
With a certain professional touring ensemble, I was doing a 3-week stint on principal horn, filling in for a colleague from Berlin who had other engagements. One of our projects involved a series of concerts in the beautiful Teatro in Ferrara, Italy. The lovely and lively Trevor Pinnock was conducting; Kodaly’s Galanta Dances started off the program. For those of you who know this work, you’ll also know that the introduction contains a fanfare for horn alone, very alone, all gutsy and passionate and Spanish. It had gone like a dream in all the rehearsals, and for the concert, I decided to go for it with all I had. Bear in mind this theater is the old opera sort with several stories of seating boxes, looking down upon the stage – this concert was sold out and was being broadcast live on RAI, the Italian national radio. The piece began with a few bars of cellos, then it was my turn. On the last bar of my solo, I missed a note. Not one of those “approximaturas” o little bobbles we horn players are often plagued with, but the sort of overblown-by-several-overtones-at-fortissimo-ohmygodiwannadienow missed notes. The crowd actually gasped. RAI broadcasted everything to the Italian public sitting safely in their living rooms and cars. The Galanta Dances kept on dancing for another 17 minutes, and all I could think about was how convenient it would be if a trap door opened under me, and I plummeted out of sight. After the piece finished, during the applause, Maestro Pinnock came round to my chair and whispered in my ear, “Would you like another shot at that beginning?” So I said yes, and we played the whole piece AGAIN! I got my solo the second time perfectly, also broadcast live for those who hadn’t ended up driving off the road in horror the first time, and received a solo bow to standing ovation to boot. Backstage after the concert, the conductor confided in me that he had recently started a solo harpsichord recital, had a memory slip part way through, and had gone behind the curtain to fetch his music and started from the beginning once again. He said it can happen to anyone. Who ever gets a second chance like that? I love you Trevor Pinnock.
The other incident involved the eminently audible consequences of the previous evening’s tofu dinner, during the second round of an audition playing the Neuling Bagatelle for Low Horn, but I don’t really want to talk about it after all.