A couple of years ago, the Houston Symphony was doing Beethoven's Ninth under the baton of Milton Batter at a special post-season fundraiser concert. Graf Hilsenrod, an old friend of the maestro's, was visiting from Europe and was in attendence, and just prior to the concert had gorged himself on a vast multi-course meal of southwestern delights.
On this particular extraordinary day in late June the outside temperature had already climbed into the triple digits, and the hall they were playing in was quite old and stuffy and had large ceiling fans rather than a more modern air conditioning system. Maestro Batter insisted that the fans not be turned on during the performance so that the music could be heard in all its splendor, in spite of the climbing temperatures. Knowing how this might affect him, the maestro had a carafe of cold water placed by his stand so that he could refresh himself during the performance. At this point, you must understand two things:
- Bass players hate playing Beethoven's Ninth. There's a long segment in the middle where they don't have a thing to do... not a single note, page after page!
- There's a tavern right across the street, rather favored by local musicians when the temperatures headed north as they often do in Houston.
It had been decided that during this performance, after the bass players had played their parts in the opening of the Ninth, they were to quietly lay down their instruments and leave the stage, rather than sit on their stools looking and feeling dumb for twenty minutes. Well, of course, once they got backstage, someone suggested that they trot across the street and have a few brews.
They had quickly downed the first couple rounds when one said, "Shouldn't we be getting back? It'd be awfully embarassing if we were late."
Another (presumably the same one who'd suggested this excursion in the first place) replied, "Oh, I figured we could use a little more time, so I tied a string around the last pages of the conductor's score. When he gets down to there, Batter's going to have to slow the tempo way down while he waves the baton with one hand and tries to untie the string with the other!"
So, they all laughed, had another round, and finally returned to the Opera House, a little tipsy by now. When they came back on stage, one look at their conductor's face told them they were in serious trouble. The temperature inside the hall had become almost unbearable. In the audience, Graf Hilsenrod was in such gastronomic distress from the heat and bloated meal that he was moaning out loud. Both first-stand violinists were looking very iffy and the hall manager made a final decision that enough was enough - and turned on the hall's ceiling fans full bore to try to bring the temperature down, making quite a racket!
If you thought things couldn't get any worse... Batter was furious, and on the verge of completely losing it: While trying to finish the piece and flip tied pages, he tossed his carafe of water at the bass section with incredible vehemence. But one of the back stand cellists thought it was going to hit the priceless bass being played by the assistant principal bass player, and so got up quickly, grabbed the instrument and ran out of the hall. This was too much - with the heat and all the excitement, both first-stand violinists just passed out right on their chairs! But the absolute WORST part of it: (brace yourself):
Batter was up at the bottom of the Ninth,
the score was tied with the basses loaded,
there was a full count with two men out,
the pitcher was thrown out,
2nd bass was being stolen,
and the fans were going wild.