About a year ago I wrote an article about the rapturous night that destiny had in store for the young conductor, James Judd, on the occasion of his debut with the London Symphony Orchestra.

The British musician, who ordinarily conducts the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, was called home to substitute for Zubin Mehta for one night. While attacking Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony—it had to be Tchaikovsky—Judd hit his forehead with his own baton and produced a wound that began to bleed like an authentic bullet wound. Nonetheless, he refused to leave the podium and was spattering the public for forty-five minutes. I think the ladies have kept their clothes as a memento.

I am rereading the anecdote—and others that I mentioned at that time—because from then on readers have been sending me news about outrageous situations concerning orchestra conductors and related musicians.

One of them tells about something that happened in Sydney: the conductor, who was Australian, but from Canberra (not to be confused with gamberro, troublemaker), had an attack of heat, heat or sincerity, and in the middle of Sibelius’ Second— with Sibelius’ coolness—he took off his jacket, loosened his bow tie and unbuttoned his shirt.

Before the end of the symphony, his ardor had reached such an extreme that he also took off his shirt, so that his back was left bare—for the public—and his hirsute chest, flecked with grey, was left bare for his friends and subordinates, in other words, the musicians.

He finished his work looking like this, but when it was time to take a bow and acknowledge the applause, a young woman approached him—his daughter, or perhaps his fourth or fifth wife, conductors are lucky—and threw a blanket over him. One of those checkered blankets that they also put on airplanes and that make you look like someone who was shipwrecked and just fished out. The musician must have looked like that: a shipwrecked person returned to life and decorum on the deck of a Finnish whaler.

Something similar insofar as the lack of pretense but not for the blanket or for Sibelius’ Second (Prokofiev’s Sixth was being performed this time) happened to a very prestigious French conductor who was appearing again in a theater in Lisbon. The lady who interrupted him had the tact to take advantage of a pause between the second and third movements. Then she picked up a little boy about three or four years old, went up to the stage and called the conductor by his first, middle and last names. The conductor turned around.

Here he is; this is your son.

She said it in her rudimentary French, although some wag from the side boxes immediately shouted in Portuguese, Lisbon is not silent! — that unfathomable verse by the poet Ary dos Santos.

The episode involving a well-known Chinese orchestra conductor who fell deeply (it was yellow fever) in love with a North American cellist holds much more morbid fascination: she was very tall, a platinum blond getting along in years, divorced, stout and with two children. The musician, who was completely the opposite—short, a bachelor twenty years younger, thin and childless, left love notes on her music stand, next to her scores. They were anonymous notes that the blond woman unfolded with astonishment and resignation, glancing sideways at the personnel.

One day the man gave himself away: he signed in Chinese characters. The cellist, who had patiently saved each of the refined letters, took her collection to the management offices. Since she had seen all these sieges before, which she detested in men, (she had run into each and every rascal in number and in kind) and only wanted to live in peace with her rehearsals, for her the case was clear: harassment.

As this occurred in a North American city and not in Beijing or Minas Gerais, the conductor was called to account. He admitted that he had behaved like an adolescent for all those months, but what was worse, he suggested that he felt incapable of controlling his emotions in the future, for which reason he very respectfully requested the cancellation of his venerable contract. The departure of this brilliant—and I say—famous musician produced a certain commotion; the official version referred to family problems, but members of the orchestra and those close to them knew that the true cause lay in the impossible vivace of his heart.

Finally, since in that article I had mentioned the accidents that some conductors have suffered on falling from the podium, a friend told me in a letter about the strange case of a German conductor, who in his contracts demanded the placement of a complicated mechanism, a type of nylon mesh by means of which he was supported, or I should say, tied and well-tied to the podium.

The public, as is to be expected, was not aware of the trick. The man conducted with the same fervor, but each time he took two or three steps toward the abyss, he bounced on the cords, like a boxer dreaming that he is fighting with his own ghosts.

I have a lot more stories, some unpublishable, I fear. Now I will surely receive other new ones. They come to me from all over, from New York, Tokyo, Vienna. Ah, I know one from Vienna…

March 20, 1994

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