The Show Must Go On: On Tour with the LSO in 1912 & 2012

The Show Must Go On: On Tour with the LSO in 1912 & 2012

by Gareth Davies


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781908739803
Publisher: Elliott & Thompson
Publication date: 10/01/2013
Pages: 156
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Gareth Davies has been principal flute with the London Symphony Orchestra since 2000. He performs more than 100 concerts a year and can be heard on hundreds of recordings with the LSO as well as some of the best-loved film soundtracks such as Star Wars and Harry Potter. He has written articles for Classic FM Magazine and BBC Music Magazine.

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The Show must Go On

On tour with the LSO in 1912 and 2012

By Gareth Davies

Elliott and Thompson Limited

Copyright © 2013 Gareth Davies
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-908739-81-0


Upbeat Before the Downbeat 1912

It's 1.30 p.m. on Thursday 28th March, 1912. Euston Station is unusually crowded as the one hundred musicians of the London Symphony Orchestra stand around saying their goodbyes to friends and family before embarking on a historic tour to the United States of America.

No European orchestra has ever travelled across the Atlantic before, and this departure is the beginning of an adventure that has been two years in the planning. The newspapers in London and New York have been full of articles publicizing the tour, pictures of the conductor Arthur Nikisch have been plastered on the front page of the New York Times, and gossip columns have whispered about his alleged fee of $1,000 a night. The headline in an article published in New York on that day boldly describes the tour as 'An American Conquest' and even the King himself has given it his seal of approval. For a fledgling orchestra, born out of rebellion only eight years earlier, it is an early statement of intent that the LSO is forging its own path; it is a young, ambitious newcomer. Sit down, be quiet, and listen.

Sir Thomas Beecham had planned to take the Queen's Hall Orchestra to America a few years before – plans that came to nothing – and perhaps it was his failure that galvanized the board of directors at the time to make sure the LSO made the first move. However, the name of the London Symphony Orchestra on its own was not enough. In the last few months before commercial recording of the symphonic repertoire really took off, only people who had travelled had heard the legendary ensembles of central Europe, and the mythology of these great performers loomed large in people's minds. The Berlin Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus and America's own Boston Symphony Orchestra were the Holy Grail for an orchestral enthusiast. However, surely this dynamic ensemble with an already turbulent history was going to be welcomed in the land of the free.

From his offices on 42nd Street, the New York-based promoter Howard Pew had been bringing musical acts of varying sorts to American audiences since 1885. He had had great success persuading Presidents Harrison and McKinley to allow him to take the US Marine Band around the country, as well as bringing a host of Italian opera stars to sing for the eager American public. A long-held dream of his was to bring a premier European ensemble across. Nobody had done it before, and he was a man with a shrewd business sense as well as high artistic standards, so the LSO was not his first point of call in 1910. He knew that to sell tickets and encourage other rich benefactors to help him make it happen he needed a big name on the rostrum; and so, before he could decide on an ensemble, the first piece of the jigsaw was to secure the services of the conductor Arthur Nikisch.

Nikisch was revered in America, thanks to his highly successful tenure as principal conductor with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. His performances were still being talked about 19 years later, especially as he hadn't returned to the USA; audiences were desperate to see him again. Before the advent of the jet-setting conductor, audiences had to wait a long time between appearances, which only increased the mystique surrounding Nikisch and consequently his draw at the box office. The combination of high artistic standards and box office receipts was what attracted Pew.

From the outset, Nikisch made it clear that he was interested in coming on one condition: that he could bring the orchestra of his choice. Knowing that it would always be the conductor rather than the orchestra that would sell tickets, and also aware that Nikisch would hardly agree to come all the way back to the States with a second-rate band, Pew agreed immediately. Nikisch then proudly announced that the only orchestra he would consider accompanying across the Atlantic was the London Symphony Orchestra.

Pew must have been delighted. He knew that bringing Nikisch back for a triumphant return was going to generate huge press interest. It would also attract some of the musically-minded philanthropists he had in mind to help pay for the small matter of bringing an entire orchestra and their instruments across the sea, not to mention insuring their instruments and paying for food, hotels, travel, and music hire. The costs were going to be high, the risks even higher; everything had to be right for the tour to be a success. However, as Henry Kniebel wrote in the New York Tribune in 1912 shortly before the tour began:

In the highest form of instrumental art, as in the hybrid form of opera which chiefly lives on in affectation and fad, it is the singer and not the song that challenges attention from the multitude. We used to have prima donnas in New York whose names on a program ensured financial success for the performance ... for prima donna ... read conductor, and a parallel is established in orchestral art which is even more humiliating than that pervading our opera house.

Kniebel's disapproving remarks suggested a future in which a new world of superstar conductors travelled the globe, commanding adoration and large fees: exactly what Pew wanted. Negotiations began.

As plans progressed for the 1912 tour, LSO managing director Thomas Busby realized that if it was to become a reality, financial support would be needed – preferably from both sides of the Atlantic. Howard Pew was constantly sending letters to the board of the LSO about ways to keep down costs, which were beginning to spiral out of control owing to the sheer scale of the tour. At a meeting, the orchestra had agreed to the trip and sent a list of requirements to Pew. He was to provide

All meals, three a day and accommodation in which not more than two should occupy a room. Mr Pew should provide a capable baggage and instrument porter in addition to the LSO porter and that $20,000 to be deposited with Brown and Shipley and Co. prior to the departure from England.

Ultimately, most of these demands were met, but in a more creative way than perhaps the board had imagined. Accommodation was indeed provided, a hotel in New York being the first port of call; although, as Charles Turner reveals in his 1912 diary, this was not quite what they were expecting: 'Go to Hotel Victoria, Broadway. A giant place but more trouble. They have put 3 or 4 beds in one room. Large, beautiful rooms but the fellows don't like it. Beautiful lunch anyhow at 12 o'clock.'

The player-to-room ratio was not as per the contract (although a stationary hotel was a temporary measure in any case), but at least Turner's lunch was satisfactory. After leaving New York on April 9th, the players would not sleep in a hotel room again until the end of their trip, on April 28th. To save costs whilst still keeping his end of the agreement, Howard Pew had come up with the idea of sending the orchestra around America on a specially chartered train. The fly in the ointment was that the players' accommodation during the trip would consist solely of several shared sleeping cars on the train. Turner's diary reveals that immediately after most concerts the band would trudge back to their train, drink, smoke, and play cards until the early morning, and then catch a little sleep in their bunks. This was not the accommodation they might have hoped for, but then, as now, in the arts world, every penny counted.

At a board meeting in November 1911, Thomas Busby had presented a piece of paper that would be of great help in securing funding for the tour. He had come directly from a meeting at Buckingham Palace, where he had asked the King to consider giving his patronage to the LSO, pointing out that this would greatly benefit the special relationship between Britain and America. There was an ulterior motive to his request, in that 18 members of the LSO were also members of the King's Private Band, and as such were contracted to be available to perform at the palace at all times. Many were key players, and so by gaining the King's patronage, Busby ensured that these players would be released to play in the concert tour. There was one small condition: all 18 members were required to wear three King's Medals at every engagement in America, so that members of the public could pick them out from the rest of the orchestra. Busby and Pew must have been delighted; the letter from the King was proudly displayed at the front of the souvenir programme.

In one of the many pre-tour articles that appeared in the American press, Busby, when asked about the repertoire for the tour, declined to reveal it, but boasted that the audience was in for a treat and a surprise. The truth was that there were huge arguments going on between Pew and the LSO board about what should be played, and who should pay for it. Busby therefore had no clear idea of the intended programme.

In a 1911 board meeting, a letter from Pew was read out in which he complained that he 'didn't see why he should share in the royalty charged for the Richard Strauss works'. One reason why the LSO thought that he should pay was that he had requested that they play Strauss in the first place. The board had come up with a series of programmes that was at first rejected on the basis that, with so much travelling, it would be better to concentrate on two or three programmes and repeat them around the country, thereby saving on rehearsal time and costs. At this time, the orchestra was associated with the music of Sir Edward Elgar, and the board was keen to programme some of his works; however, Howard Pew's representative in London – a Mr Blumenburg – made his feelings clear on the matter at a meeting in July 1911:

Mr Blumenburg was dissatisfied with the programme as arranged and [said] that more Brahms, Strauss, Mozart and Bach music should be included and that if any Elgar items were included he would fire the whole scheme up as far as he was concerned.

Busby was asked at the same meeting to draw up some new programmes fairly swiftly, with no Elgar.

Once the patronage of the King had been secured, funding and sponsorship from sources on both sides of the Atlantic followed. Towards the end of 1911, the musical instrument manufacturers Boosey and Hawkes offered to donate trumpets, horns, and trombones to the orchestra with the proviso that the players actually played on them throughout the tour, which seemed a reasonable request. A financial compromise was made that required the musicians themselves to insure their own instruments, something that Busby boasted in the New York Times made the value of $500,000 the 'most valuable set of instruments ever to make the journey across by boat'. No publicity opportunity was missed. Finally, Howard Pew managed to secure a private donor whose patronage and substantial investment would make the whole trip possible, in the form of one Warren Fales.

Warren R. Fales of Providence, Rhode Island, was well known across the country as a patron of good music. He claimed to own the biggest manufacturing plant in the world, making machinery for the cotton mills. As a result, he was very wealthy indeed, and spent a lot of his free time and money on the arts. He was conductor of the American Brass Band of Providence, which was a famous ensemble at the time and claimed to have the 'most notable bass drum in the USA'. Very well travelled in Europe, he even boasted of having made a complete circuit of the globe several times.

One thing is certain. The LSO would not have been able to make the trip if it hadn't been for the financial help Fales provided. Howard Pew had the ideas; Fales the money to realize them.


International Commuters 2012

Super Mario goes to Sonic City

After our first concert in Osaka, we all piled onto a bullet train, which is always one of the highlights of touring Japan. Unlike the trains on which I am normally incarcerated, these ones are fast and clean, leave on time, and look cool. The efficiency with which everything runs in Japan extends to the railways, and to keep to their tight schedule there is a time limit for the opening of the doors. When you get on or off a bullet train there's a sort of high-pitched electronic whistle, and a very twitchy guard stands and waves a torch down the platform to signal that it's time to shut the doors and move off. There is a guard on every door, whereas in Britain we have one guard for every train – strikes, leaves, and weather permitting.

You can imagine that for a two-week tour of the London Symphony Orchestra, suitcases are on the large side. So that we don't bring the Japanese transport system to its knees, our cases are transported for us on a separate truck, leaving us relatively unencumbered and ready for the frantic race that is disembarking. On the first day we arrived it was chucking it down with rain, prompting many of us to buy cheap umbrellas. The only ones we could easily find were old-fashioned long umbrellas, the kind British businessmen used to swing briskly on their way to work in the days when everyone dressed as an extra from Mary Poppins. Because of this, we were a large group of Westerners all looking terribly English indeed. All we needed was a copy of the Financial Times under our arms and the cliché would have been complete.

The train pulled into the station, with most of the orchestra poised to get off as quickly as possible. The doors opened and we jumped off one by one, opening our automatic umbrellas with a click, whump sound. The scene was reminiscent of a parachute regiment being flung out of a plane. We leapt onto the platform as the guard was gradually becoming frantic: his door was obviously going to be the last to give the green light in the chain of command. All the other guards along the platform were giving him evil looks. He started to sweat and shout. This would normally have been the point at which Sue Mallet, our director of planning, joined in with the shouting until the guard was shocked into submission. However, she was in London, and this tour was being run by Mario de Sa, our tour manager and one of the coolest customers there is. He often greeted us in the morning with a cheery 'Morning, chaps!' I expect in a former life he was a pipe-smoking World War II fighter pilot and a thoroughly good egg.

Mario remained calm under the increasing pressure being exerted by the guard. The high-pitched whistling was replaced with a lower beeping noise, sending the guard into a silent rage; perhaps we were affecting his targets for the week. Realizing that the doors were soon to shut, Mario raised his long umbrella and, without taking his eyes off the guard, smilingly jammed the end of it into the door's way, preventing it from closing. It began beeping more loudly. The last of the jumpers appeared on the platform, and Mario leaned forward and looked into the carriage, which was empty apart from a shocked-looking elderly couple wondering what had happened to their normally prompt and reliable train service. Just as the guard spotted the umbrella jammed in the door, Mario removed it with another smile and said, 'Thank you very much.' The door closed, relieved, and the train moved off one minute late. Mario ran to the front of the group, holding his umbrella up. 'This way, chaps!'

We were in Omiya, at the fantastically named Sonic City, to play Mussorgsky/Ravel, Pictures at an Exhibition. I hate this piece. I don't really know why. Maybe it's because I've played it in so many education concerts in my time, or outdoors in fields. I often find it a bitty piece – lots of disjointed pictures – and it's tricky to play. I should have seen it coming, of course: Valery Gergiev, our principal conductor, started pulling it to pieces in the rehearsal just before the concert. He wanted more extremes of dynamics and sound, more theatre, more effort in general.

As Phil Cobb, our principal trumpet, threw the opening volley out into the hall, the majestic sound of the LSO brass filled the room, but there was no pause between pictures for Valery as he plunged straight into the low, aggressive burble of 'Gnomus'. I saw a lady in the front row jump in her seat. Valery has the ability to pluck details from the music that no one else seems to pick up on; almost as if he has access to a different score from everyone else. He takes well-known pieces and breathes new life into them. The pauses in this movement were long and ominous before Lorenzo Iosco's sinuous bass clarinet gurgled around the bass section. But it was 'Baba Yaga' that took my breath away.

I have become used to playing 'Baba Yaga' in Discovery concerts for eight-year-olds at which, during the pause bars, a presenter on stage talks, describing the terrifying image of a hut on chicken's legs going round eating kids. They always seem to conclude by saying, '... and he swallowed the children: yum, yum.' I suppose we don't want to send the kids home scared, but this has spoiled the piece somewhat for me. Until, that is, Valery launched into the most awesome, abrasive version I have ever heard. There was no need for talking: the full might of the orchestra screamed from the stage and grabbed people from their seats, rendering 'Baba Yaga' truly nightmare-inducing. As we finally reached the 'Great Gate of Kiev', the whole orchestra was in full flight, and it was over all too quickly.


Excerpted from The Show must Go On by Gareth Davies. Copyright © 2013 Gareth Davies. Excerpted by permission of Elliott and Thompson Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 9

1 1912: Upbeat Before the Downbeat 13

2 2012: International Commuters 22

3 1912: Travel Arrangements 47

4 2012: A Long Way From Home 51

5 1912: The Men and Woman of the London Symphony Orchestra 62

6 2012: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (and Bicycles, and Running) 68

7 1912: The First Concerts 79

8 1912: First Impressions 83

9 2012: America 89

10 1912: A Party in Boston? 120

11 2012: The Universal Language of Mankind 125

12 1912: Arthur Nikisch: 12 October 1855 - 23 January 1922 147

13 2012: Conducting a Conversation 152

14 1912: A Plague of Locusts 181

15 2012: FAME 191

16 1912: Bad News 209

17 2012: The Show Must Go On 213

18 1912: Almost There 230

1912 London Symphony Orchestra 240

2012 London Symphony Orchestra 243

London Symphony Orchestra, Conducted by Arthur Nikisch, Tour to USA and Canada 1912 246

Acknowledgements 249

Index 250

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