Memorable unscheduled incidents in concerts.

Edited: April 13, 2018, 11:06 AM · Today, I went to a lunchtime recital at a local high street church ( The hour-long violin-piano recital was given by two local professionals, both conservatory graduates.

The opening of the recital was memorable, never seen anything like it. The violinist started with a solo sonata by Telemann, and she had been playing for only a minute when her youngest, a two-year old boy, came toddling down the aisle and hugged Mum round her knees for the duration. Being a seasoned pro, Mum was quite unfazed. The second movement - the little boy now gave the music stand the hug treatment, meanwhile staring at the audience with his mouth open as if mesmerised . The stand wobbled a bit but mercifully didn't fall over and nothing fell off. The third movement, a jig - the infant decided to dance to the music until he got tired and then returned to Mum.

For the rest of the recital the child was kept out of the way at the back of the church - but not necessarily quite out of earshot ;).

Keep an eye open on YouTube for this 'cos smart phones were very much in evidence.

Any more memorable incidents in concerts out there to relate? I'd like to place one restriction, though - it should be something personally witnessed or experienced.

Replies (23)

April 13, 2018, 11:13 AM · 1. I was sitting in the audience during the 2014 Primrose International Viola Competition, while one competitor was playing the 1st movement of the Bartok concerto. It started out great, and then, around the third page, she had the biggest memory slip I had ever witnessed. She forgot the entire 3rd and 4th page. After trying to improvise, she eventually stopped and restarted. At the end, she exited the stage with tears visibly streaming down her face.

2.I was playing at the Kennedy Center with NYO-USA, when the assistant principal violist abruptly stood up and sprinted offstage during Shostakovich Symphony No. 10. We discovered that she had likely gotten food poisoning from the half-done chicken we had been accidentally served earlier that day. She ended up playing for the second half.

3. When I was on a school field trip to see the LA Phil, one of my classmates ended up vomiting all over the aisle on the balcony, during Romeo and Juliet after repeatedly asking the parent volunteer chaperone to use the bathroom.

4. When I went to see Camerata Pacifica, I sat next to a very drunk man who kept shouting “There’s Richard!”, whenever violist Richard O’ Neil entered and exited the stage. In between these exclamations, he would talk loudly in incoherent German about the alcohol he had consumed. Throughout, his wife looked embarrassed and kept trying to keep him quiet.

5. When I played this one rock concert, at the end of the last song at a rather poorly attended performance, the rhythm guitarist/lead singer’s instrument went noticeably out of tune. I could see his face growing more red as he tried to tune it. He became so angry that he aggressively threw the instrument down on stage, and ran out of the venue, slamming the door. The rest of the band, and family members spent an hour looking for him, and one colleague ended up discovering him sobbing behind a bush in a park.

I also have quite a few memorable unscheduled rehearsal incidents.

April 13, 2018, 11:23 AM · Trevor, that's hilarious. That is also why, when my 2-year-old attends my concerts, my husband has a firm hold on him. :-)

(I also don't normally let my son into my practice room. He'll come and do exactly that -- hug my knees and look up at what I'm doing.)

April 13, 2018, 11:26 AM · I'll bet that it was cute, if not frustrating for the mother.

One time music fell into a piano I was playing and detuned everything. I joked, looked inside the piano, removed the music and carried on.

Once something went wrong with the click track in my IEM's I was using to play along with backing tracks. It sounded like a horse galloping in my ears. The only thing I could do was look at the drummer and watch his hands.All I could hear was cloppity cloppity clop with an echo effect.

I have said some awkward things. It's best if I don't talk. One time I commented on a person who had died in an airplane crash by saying, "It would be like the scariest amusement ride ever". Public speaking isn't one of my strong suits. For that reason I keep my public comments to a bare minimum.Just the basics.

Edited: April 13, 2018, 9:58 PM · The most memorable incidents I've witnessed during concerts were both tragedies; one a public mental breakdown and the other a death (in the audience, not onstage). That's all I'm going to say.
April 13, 2018, 10:21 PM · I have a few; one; I was doing the solo for Vivaldi Winter. A winter storm blew through. During one of the those symbolic lighting bolts in the music, there was an actual lightning strike. The lights went out. We kept playing.
Edited: April 14, 2018, 1:48 AM · I once played in a concert where music fell into the piano while a young soloist was playing. (He wasn't really using the music, but it was there as a safety net.) The conductor stopped and fished the music out, and joked, "It's a Haydn concerto for prepared piano now." And then we carried on.

When I was playing the Elk Grove Strauss Festival two years ago, the lights went out just before the last waltz (Blue Danube), when one group of dancers had just left the stage and another was about to enter. There was silence for about a minute -- none of us had stand lights because we were on stage behind the dancers and it was normally quite well lit -- then someone quietly suggested that we could play by cellphone light. So we all put our phones on our stands and started playing, members of the audience got the gist and pointed cellphone flashlights toward the stage, and we got through Blue Danube and the Radetzky March, with the dancers bathed in an almost surreal LED glow. Most memorable Strauss Festival in decades, some of the audience said later.

A year ago, I accidentally threw my bow in the air while turning a page in the finale of Tchaikovsky's 5th. The bow went straight up, and my stand partner also stopped playing, sort of transfixed by the bow in the air above our heads. Fortunately it stayed vertical the whole time because tried to catch it as it came down and missed. The bow screw hit my music stand, avoiding damage to the stick, and again fortunately, it hit exactly in time with a timpani hit. I was able to grab the bow by the frog just as it bounced up, only about an inch away from the stand, so there were no other impacts.

April 14, 2018, 7:38 AM · I was playing tutti violin during a piano concerto performance in one of our college orchestra concerts some 65 years ago when the soloist suddenly stopped playing and I saw him rise with his arms up just in time to catch the conductor who was falling forward from his podium. The conductor had fainted, but recovered after a short time and resumed the concert.

About 10 years later the community orchestra I was playing in gave an all-Beethoven concert including a symphony, the "Emperor piano Concerto" and the Op. 50 "Romance" for violin. The conductor was a really fine pianist and conductor finishing his PhD at UCLA who went on to spend his life in the profession) and the violinist continued his life's work on the instrument (that summer he went on to be the concertmaster at the Ojai Festival, that the conductor led - although checking on line recently I found he became a rock and jazz violinist). The recording of that Op.50 from our concert is the best violin performance of it I have every heard (bar none!), but the orchestra's reentrance on the final 3 chords (in tune within the orchestra) was seriously out of tune with the soloist. It was not until 20 years later, when I was preparing to perform the Op. 50 as soloist with the same orchestra that I realized that wonderful violinist had gradually gone out of tune on the penultimate solo scale passages so that HE was out of tune on his final C7-A6-F6. So I made a special effort in all my practice not to repeat his error - and I didn't.

Many years later during a community orchestra performance of a Mendelssohn piano concert it became obvious within a few measures of his entrance that our piano soloist was not together with the orchestra. So the conductor stopped us and we all restarted what became a fine performance. Of course it was the soloist's fault (and he knew it) but it was amusing that the local newspaper's "music critic" blamed it on the orchestra.

April 14, 2018, 7:43 AM · It was probably about 1976 and I'd been hugely looking forward to Pinchas Zukerman's first UK performance of the Elgar concerto, Barenboim conducting. A piece like that can take a bit of drama!

Toward the end of the first movement Barenboim made an energetic downbeat and hit his finger on the desk with an audible thwack. He stuck it into his armpit and carried on conducting with the other hand. At the break Zukerman came over to make sure his friend's pianistic career hadn't come to a premature end.

Then during the finale Zukerman broke a string. The "awww" from the audience had hardly died away before he'd swapped fiddles with the leader and launched straight back into the solo triple-stopped passage. After five minutes Zukerman's Strad had made its way to the back of the section, had a new string attached and been passed forward again in time for him to take it back in a brief orchestral tutti.

Edited: April 14, 2018, 8:01 AM · I had a gig accompanying on the piano for big show that a local singer was doing, with a plated dinner, and we had rehearsed probably 15 songs (show-tunes) with comedic interludes that she does, she's a real entertainer and she sings well. And then the power went out about halfway through dinner. Suddenly, no bassist because he only brought his electric bass, and worse, no microphone for the soloist. So we hushed the audience a little, asked them to finish their dinners and draw their chairs close, and she belted out her songs with the room lit only by emergency lighting, and I pounded out as many octaves on the piano as I could manage while squinting at my poorly lit music and program notes. We brought it off but I was incredibly stressed out. What amazed me is that the singer, she just took it in stride like it was just another day at the office. I wish I could have that kind of cast-iron temperament.

At a local Suzuki group recital, there is one tune "Allegro" where often a grand pause is taken. The guitar teacher arranged for his wife to call him on his cell phone on stage at that moment, and he took the call, saying a few funny things about how he was busy at the moment, etc. After the piece the friend sitting next to me whispered to me, "F minus, buddy!" I had to tell her the incident was staged.

Finally, no discussion of this type is complete without this:

April 14, 2018, 9:59 AM · incident #2, Mariachi ____ got a traditional Serenata job; 6 am on a dark winter weekday morning, Boyle Heights, East L.A. The client hires proxy musicians to serenade his fiance on her birthday, traditionally at first light. We meet him on the street, he pays cash, points to the window of a house, then he leaves. We start playing, outside, in the dark, with 2 trumpets blasting on a residential street. The architecture was perfect; interior court yard, second floor balcony with french doors. Nothing happens. After about 10 minutes, someone opens the door; Another man was with the clients' fiance that night! As best as I can remember, in Spanish; "Do you have the right house"-"Yes" "Who hired you" - "We don't know his name" Where is he? -He left. Well, you don't have to play here--Yes, we do, we have been paid for one hour" I thought-- this could get dangerous-Have we walked into a lost scene from Don Giovanni? He closes the door. We play , still in the cold darkness, for the rest of the hour. The neighbors don't seem to notice--does this happen all the time in this neighborhood? Not done yet--the mother opens the first floor kitchen door and invites us in for breakfast! - complete with fried nopales/cactus and tequila. Then we drive back to west L.A. to try to have a normal school day. ~jq
April 14, 2018, 4:31 PM · I hate to say this, but there was a conducting lesson in that for Barenboim and it is clear even today that he did not learn it!!!
Do all pianists turned conductor have this problem?
Don't they know their hands should be high enough to be visible at all times?
(Why would they, they never had to watch a conductor and when they did it was always from behind!)

Actually, Steve, your story made me feel good! I have had to play in front of some pianist-conductors who have yet to learn that lesson (fortunately not all of them).

April 15, 2018, 3:20 AM · Performer walks on, plays first note, string snaps into her face. Round of applause!
April 15, 2018, 5:30 AM · There was a medical emergency of sorts in the audience during a performance of Schoenberg's chamber version of Das Lied von der Erde last fall in Oxford. Someone down on the floor level seemed to have passed out cold. People around her moved a bit, there was a ring of spectators looking down to see what was going on. The Sheldonian called in some emergency medical people, and, because the situation hadn't been resolved as far as anyone could see (and because it was Oxford) every few minutes after that a doctor got up from a different section of the hall and went down to see if he/she could assist. The group kept performing through all of this, and I remember thinking that if you've got to go unexpectedly, the 4th movement of Das Lied isn't bad background music.

As it happened, she was fine, and had spent the bulk of that time lying across two or three chairs with her head in her partner's lap.

April 15, 2018, 6:57 AM · Famous conductor comes onto platform and signals for the timp roll for British national Anthem. Nothing happens and on the downbeat the Welsh anthem is played in a different key and time signature. Famous conductor is thrown and sort of follows the orchestra to the end. Next thing the number two first fiddle's string breaks very loudly - he goes off and fits new string whilst the conductor sits there listening to the string rising in pitch.

So far, so good ...

Edited: April 15, 2018, 9:18 AM · Back in the day our uni orchestra did a number of runouts to more rural areas. One time we were playing Janacek in a small-town hall. Hot, so the doors were all open. Part way thru, a small red dog trotted down the center aisle and sat looking intelligently at the conductor. After several minutes, he stood, shook himself, lifted his leg against the maestro's impeccable formal trousers, turned and trotted out again. Everyone's a critic.
April 15, 2018, 9:36 AM · Thanks Joel - that's a good one!
April 15, 2018, 4:04 PM · I can recall being at a concert where the soloist (who was very good but who was noticeably overweight) walked out onstage and someone behind where we were sitting was heard to say, "Which chin will he put it under?"
April 15, 2018, 9:13 PM · at the all county this year, the concert master and asst. princp. forgot every piece of music...leaving 7/8th chair to bail them out. We played cappriccio solos as well.
April 15, 2018, 9:13 PM · at the all county this year, the concert master and asst. princp. forgot every piece of music...leaving 7/8th chair to bail them out. We played cappriccio solos as well.
Edited: April 15, 2018, 10:34 PM · Incident #3 We got hired to play at a private party after a VIP movie preview. The party was at the old Brown Derby, Hollywood, which was set up as a series of small rooms, not fully open. We are very portable, on our feet, moving room to room playing a few songs at each table. We get to the last room, turn right. I look down at the table and just freeze up; Yoko Ono, Bianca Jagger, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, sharing a booth. What do we play for these guys? At least it wasn't as bad as a symphony audition.
April 16, 2018, 12:14 AM · Was playing in a public chamber music class with Yo-Yo Ma coaching, and someone in the audience was in medical distress (his wife was freaking out, people literally calling "Is there a doctor in the house"...) Yo-Yo Ma pretended nothing was going on and kept talking...

Hired to sub for an university student orchestra playing Brahms Haydn-Variations. Got to the movement with the viola section solo. The principal viola's phone starts ringing. He reaches into his pocket but can't get it out. It keeps ringing until he finally dug it out of his pocket. I couldn't believe the timing, it was too good to be true.

April 16, 2018, 7:20 AM · I was attending an outdoor orchestral concert where the guest conductor was doing a horrific job. Tempos were all over the place, and he was issuing miscues which resulted in a lot of confused looks on the players faces. While the concert was going on, a storm started brewing and a bolt of lightning flew out of the sky and hit the conductor. But it didn't seem to phase him at all; he just kept going on in his misguided way. We were wondering why grounding a sudden massive jolt of electricity didn't seem to bother him at all, when we realized it was because he was such a poor conductor...
Edited: April 17, 2018, 3:11 PM · 1. What I am about to relate mercifully didn't happen at a symphony concert but at the rehearsal two days before, a Thursday. We arrived at the rehearsal to find a stand-in conductor in charge - our regular conductor was suddenly unavailable for the concert on the Saturday because his wife had gone into labour unexpectedly early. The replacement was elderly, affable and claimed to have known virtually everyone in the orchestra from way back when, something our collective memory couldn't quite swallow. The first warning that something was amiss was when he spent the first five minutes of the rehearsal telling us enthusiastically about a major dog show to which he had taken his dogs earlier in the day. He only stopped when the CM got up and whispered loudly to him to get on with it.

Things went from bad to worse. He had little idea about cues, tried to conduct 8/4 in a 4/4 allegro, didn't spot one or two obvious wrong entries by the brass (which were a direct result of his misconducting), and attack and dynamics certainly weren't at the top of his list. Wasting time in a variety of ways because he evidently had little idea of time control he managed to do only about half of what we should have rehearsed.

Later that evening the CM called our real conductor, explained the situation, said he was prepared to conduct the Saturday concert and that he had in mind a good deputy to do his CM's job. I'm sure more must have been said, but the upshot was that our CM did an excellent job of conducting on the day (he now conducts his own orchestra), which was just as well since we had an international piano soloist. The concert turned out to be a success on all fronts.

We heard later that our stand-in conductor had been taken to hospital on the Friday with some sort of cerebral condition, so he evidently wasn't at all a well man when he took that Thursday rehearsal.

2. Talking about stand-ins, some years ago in my cello days I was in the pit orchestra for a performance of Nabucco. On the opening night, a few minutes before the start the conductor sent a message to say he couldn’t take the performance because he was abed with a severe gastric complaint. Panic! In the audience a retired conductor of one the BBC’s regional orchestras became aware of the panic and offered to conduct the performance, even though he had never conducted that opera. He took advice from the CM on tempi, timings and the like, saved the day and everything worked out well with no disasters, although the overall performance was perhaps about 10 minutes longer than expected. The next day, our regular conductor returned, looking a little pale but otherwise OK, and there were no problems with that performance and the rest of the run.

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