Each of us is prone to having a very personal nightmare, reflecting the stresses of our own particular situations — musicians included.

The music is the thing, of course, but when it’s a question of organizing a concert to present it, there are countless details that must be tended to in order for it to take place. The importance of any of these elements may vary depending upon how greatly it might influence the actual playing; some small points can occasionally be forgiven in the name of the greater good. However, the situation can turn into a logistics nightmare at times, and indeed, when considering the odds of everything’s proceeding as planned, it seems incredible that there are not more mishaps. After all, anything can happen. Many has been the evening I have looked around at my orchestra colleagues on the stage, just before we are about to begin, and thought something along the lines of ‘It looks as if everyone made it. We’ve all got our scores and our black gear and our instruments, in good repair. We’ve done it again; how did we do it?’ And, this is before we have performed one note.

The music’s a beautiful dream; the concert’s a nightmare

Nightmare Becomes Mozart Concerto Poster
Mozart Violin Concerto Manuscript Poster
by missprinteditions

Legend has it that the incomparable Mischa Elman (although it may have been one of his illustrious peers, or the story may be apocryphal) had been engaged at the very last moment to substitute for a solo violinist who suddenly was prevented from appearing. By whatever means possible, Elman arrived in the nick of time at the concert hall, having had no rehearsal or even contact with the conductor before coming out onto the stage. In the expectation that he was about to perform the Brahms concerto — which begins with quite a lengthy orchestral introduction until the soloist enters — Elman had his violin down and was counting on having several minutes before his solo entrance. It was, however, the Mendelssohn concerto that had begun, with its measure-and-a-half wait for the beginning of the solo. Up came the violin, and out came the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, and apparently no one was the wiser — until later on, apparently, when somehow this story entered the annals of music legends.

My teacher, Charles Libove, recounted to me a recurring nightmare of his: he would be standing on a stage in front of a symphony orchestra, ready to perform but somewhat relaxed in the knowledge that there would be a long tutti passage preceding his entrance. The accompaniment goes on and on, and finally, just before he must put bow to string, he realizes that he does not know this piece — has never played it, never even heard it. He supposed, while telling me about this, that it was an alarm from the system of a very quick study, which he certainly was, and a slightly guilty conscience that much of the preparation he had done during his concertizing life was of the last-minute (although concentrated and intense) variety.

The stuff of which a nightmare is made

The stories are innumerable. Just in my own experience, several come to mind.  There was the time, as just one example,a our soloist for the Mozart Clarinet Concerto did not show up and was nowhere to be reached; our first clarinetist, incredibly, saved the day by performing the solo. Even more dramatic than that, however, and a fitting finale, is the by now well-known instance of Maria João Pires’ having been misinformed concerning which Mozart piano concerto she would be playing and the nightmare moment of discovery. With what exquisite grace and beauty did she acquit herself:

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