Goodness gracious, it must have been seventeen years ago….
I had cute short sea green hair and I was playing in the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. At the helm were Haydn and Nicolaus Harnoncourt and at the heart was a mammoth love. From the person listening in the back row of the stalls to the principal violin, to the 5th cello to the folk up in the Gods to the second trumpet, and through the coaxing of our conductor, it was clear from the outset of the project that EVERYONE, at every moment, was equal in creating this happening. We were all in service.
Rehearsals were like magic shows: In the third variation the first fiddles had a series of showy but impossible runs in prickly E flat, and they were falling off the fingerboard in embarrassment at their dire intonation. Harnoncourt ignored them and went straight to the violas and second violins, who carried a babyish theme which could have been featured in ‘Tune a Day’. He spent the next hour making them pump it out, not like fourteen frustrated inner parts but like two proud classical trumpets. The first violinists meanwhile twiddled the heads of their instruments wondering when it would be their turn (after all they surely had a much more important part…?). When he had finished with the theme, the conductor added the firsts. Like a delicate trellis around a bouncy castle, they threw their perfectly tuned scales up into the ether, watched them linger and caught them on the way down, weaving in and out of the theme with sudden technical perfection and a lyricism the likes of which is near impossible from twenty prime donne in unison.
Did he secretly steal away their egos? Was it just a matter of getting priorities right - of making them drink from the source rather than snatch from the air?
When egos come knocking, mine of course included; when a flourish feels like a square, when violins are struggling with intonation and a conductor is getting cross, I try to remember these moments, so vivid, so precious, and to remind myself that, if we are lucky, they come once in a life time, but that they are with us for ever and they can always quench our thirst. Would that everyone could have such a moment to treasure.