Last night I woke up at four A.M. from a typical conductor’s nightmare. I was rehearsing Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 in a bunker with a bored and unresponsive orchestra. When I stopped conducting, they just kept playing. Humiliation turned into a wrestling match with sheets and a duvet. I had forgotten to prepare, and my score—which was the size of a postage stamp—fell to the floor. As I bent down to pick it up, I heard myself say, “You are losing them. You are losing them!” And then I woke up.
It’s never easy to be a conductor. In a way, the pandemic has made it easier. There is no work anywhere in the world. That doesn’t mean we aren’t surrounded by the echoes of music everywhere. My Breville toaster oven signifies that the toast is done by going bee-bee-bee-BEEP, bee-bee-bee-BEEP, which I hear as the opening of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. When I enter one of my passwords each day (nine syllables plus Enter), I type the rhythm of the third phrase from the second theme in Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance No. 4. I have no idea why, except perhaps a longing to make music anywhere, and a 10-syllable tune is rare. The Jura coffee-maker and the microwave play the same pitch when I have them working simultaneously. It’s somewhere between a B-natural and a B-flat—60 cycles per second. You see, this isn’t easy for us.