SpectersIn the places and in the ensembles where I’ve lived and played, there seemed to always be a number of followers, people that were just there, day to day and year to year. It didn’t seem to be important where or what the ensemble was; it was almost as though it was the same people, whether it was Rochester in the 50s, Amsterdam in the 60s, Los Angeles in the late 60s, 70s and 80s or Florence in the 90’s. They sat in the hall and listened to the rehearsals, usually in the same seat, and usually they wore the same clothes. There was the elegant old woman who would move to the music, whatever it was she was listening to, as though she had conducted it numerous times. There was the old man with an intense, brooding, Beethovenesque expression on his face, looking always very critical, and there was the attractive young girl holding a single rose with a look and demeanor from generations passed.
Generally, there was very little communication between these groupie specters and the musicians in the orchestra. When the rehearsal was over these followers and the orchestra musicians found there own exits into their own worlds, and most of the time we never saw these people other than from our seat in the orchestra.
In my years with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra between the 56/57 season and the 61/62 seasons, there was such a man. Although totally benign, he had that look of intensity and concentration, like the busts of a brooding Beethoven that I’ve seen in concert halls where I’ve played all over the world. He was present at most of the rehearsals during those 6 years I played in Rochester, and as he listened he was always writing; he had a score and he had manuscript paper.
One morning in rehearsal, when I wasn’t playing the concerto, I went into the hall to listen to the soloist and by chance sat directly behind the old man. Quickly, I lost interest in the rehearsal and found myself completely captivated by what this old man was writing. Basically, he was crossing certain things out of the score, but it wasn’t clear what or why. When the break arrived I introduced myself and asked what he was doing. He was very surprised, it may have been the first time he had ever talked to an orchestra member, and he was quite excited that someone was interested.
I was amazed as he told me of his lifetime project. For the past 20 years this old man had been attending rehearsals, listening and crossing out all the orchestration that was not audible. He would cross out what he couldn’t hear and go home and rewrite the score without all the superfluous and inaudible passages. At this point he reached into his old, worn briefcase and handed me a complete handwritten score to Brahms 2nd Symphony with all the passages he couldn’t hear deleted.
Of course, the easy reaction to this story is to envision it as the crazy ideas of an eccentric old man. But wait! Wouldn’t it be interesting to spend a day with an orchestra reading this man’s modifications and give his 20-year project a moment of consideration? Who knows for sure what we would hear. Surely we would be a little smarter by the end of that day.
It’s sad in a way. Nobody knows this mans name. Nobody knows where he lived, and nobody knows where the material of this 20-year project is. What we would have learned is probably lost forever.
A symphony orchestra tubist is blessed or damned, depending on your point of view on any particular day, with an embarrassment of inactive time; the most difficult part of the job was to remember where you are and to know where to come in. Symphony orchestra tubists have lots of time to observe, to think and to dream. I used to joke that I was the highest paid symphony orchestra musician in the USA per note! Maybe it was even true. I wonder how many kilometers I walked in my 35 years of full time orchestra playing, while I paced back and forth back stage during tacit tuba parts?
During my years in Los Angeles, after returning from two years with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, an incredibly similar old man to the one that deleted inaudible orchestration was still visible; he was there all the time, year after year, brooding and intensely listening. It was in the Hollywood Bowl, which was the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.
I had seen him out in the amphitheater of Hollywood Bowl for a couple of years before the day came when we found ourselves walking from the parking lot together for a morning rehearsal. We greeted each other; I heard that he had a thick Eastern Europe accent and I asked him where he was from.
“Russia, I was born in Moscow.”
“What’s your connection with symphonic music? I’ve seen you out in the audience almost every rehearsal for a couple of years.”
“I’m a musician. I used to play percussion. I played in the Moscow Youth Symphony when I was a boy.”
Like the old man in Rochester, it seemed this was the first time he had had contact with anyone in the orchestra; this is not because of rudeness of orchestra musicians but simply because the paths almost never crossed. I listened and as we walked toward the stage. I began wishing it was a lot further away, wishing that walk would last a very long time and wishing the rehearsal wasn’t going to start in five minutes.
“I played in the Moscow Youth Orchestra in my teen age years. We used to rehearse every Saturday. I played timpani. I loved playing, and I still miss it even today. We had great conductors come and work with us. Sometimes Tchaikovsky would come and play something he wrote with us, just to see how it sounded with the orchestration. Once he brought in the Andante Cantabile from the 5th Symphony. Oh, you should have heard that boy who played 1st horn, oh; he was such a wonderful player. I think Tchaikovsky loved him; after the reading of the part with the horn solo Tchaikovsky stopped the orchestra; he was crying and he walked through the orchestra to the boy who played the solo and gave him a big kiss on the lips… Well, I’ll go take my seat now, I enjoyed talking to you, have a good rehearsal. Goodbye.”
I couldn’t wait to meet him again. I saw him a couple of more times that week from the stage but I was preoccupied with other things, and then I never saw him again. I had never even asked his name.
In the 70,s there were two strange women who became almost a peripheral part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. One was young and in her 20’s. She usually dressed in white and held a red rose in her hands. At performances, during the applause, she would stand up and hold the rose to her heart with a haunted look on her face. She reminded me of a young girl who I remember having seen in a film, or perhaps films, who was in love with a young Beethoven or some other classical superstar; she was essentially a nineteenth century groupie following her object of infatuation from concert to concert. I talked to this girl several times and found her very attractive; she was intelligent, multi lingual and the personification of how I would imagine a 19th century girl. Even with my proclivity to younger women this girl in fact was about 100 years too old for me and my 20th century 60’s fads and fashions. The last I heard she had fallen in love with a fencing master. Perhaps she had found her compatible time zone.
During the same period there was another misplaced person from another time. This woman was old, surely in her 80’s, and dressed in the high fashion style of Europe in the 1920’s. Who was she and why was she following us on our tours throughout the United States and Europe? She had a chronic smile, as if painted on her face, which was very disconcerting as she moved with the music, every phrase and every note! She was a true specter.
Neither of these chronologically misplaced women were ever seen at the same time and in my science fiction, Star Trek episode imagination I mused that these two women were the same entity, a time traveler that for some reason was attracted to the symphony orchestras of the 20th century. I wonder if she (they) is (are) ever seen anymore. I hope she has found what she was looking for.
Edinburgh, Scotland. April, 2004.