In normal life, it’s a regular occurrence that someone phones up in the morning to say he or she can’t come in to work. Sick. The work has to be put on hold for a while. But in the performing arts, it hardly even happens that a performance is cancelled due to illness. Apparently, a lot has to happen for the body to capitulate when 1600 people have bought tickets to see you at work. That’s why, for example, a standby conductor is never hired ‘in case’ the real maestro becomes ill. He just never falls ill! While epidemics are laying low the country as regularly as clockwork, the artists just get back up on stage every night.
But of course something can happen once in a while. When I was still young (and promising) and working with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, there was a phone call one day from the conductor’s hotel. The maestro had been taken ill. A touch of flu, we were told. We, however, were inclined to suspect a rather too liberal dose of spirits, but never mind. It was four o’clock in the afternoon and we had no conductor for the concert due to begin at eight fifteen that evening.
What was to be done? As a rule, the artistic leader of the orchestra would spring into action. Only he was abroad. And the director? He was on holiday. So it was up to me – the financial lad – and my colleague from marketing to save the evening.
We frantically started phoning all the Dutch conductors and impresarios. But most of the good conductors were abroad. And it didn’t help that there was a work on the repertoire that appeared never to have been conducted by anyone. The couple of young conductors who were around didn’t dare stand in front of this top orchestra with no preparation whatsoever. A failure could mean enormous damage to their career. So we couldn’t find anyone.
Meanwhile, the clock was ticking and tension was mounting. Six o’clock. Where on earth could we find a conductor who could conduct Beethoven’s complete Egmont works in two hours’ time? But an impresario acquaintance had a brainwave. One of the artists on his books, an experienced English conductor, just happened to be over here working in Hilversum. And it was quite likely that he could have done that piece once. But before the impresario could get hold of his conductor in those pre-mobile days, the tension had aged us a hundred years. Yet it was worth the wait, because yes – he knew the music and by chance this was his free evening. The conductor jumped straight into a taxi in Hilversum. But then he got stuck in the traffic, and it was five past eight before I could welcome him at the stage door of De Doelen. Ten minutes later, he walked on stage as if it was the most normal thing in the world. I’ve never felt so relieved in my life.
Replacing Cédric last Wednesday was much simpler, as ballet companies are familiar with the phenomenon of several casts. Every piece is rehearsed simultaneously with several casts, most of whom also dance the performance on different nights. So last Wednesday, things were ‘just’ shifted around a bit, and another couple danced Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. No problem. Fortunately for me, because as chance would have it that was exactly the night when our artistic director Ted Brandsen was abroad...