My first concert with the CBSO in 1970 had been conducted by Hugo Rignold. It turned out that my first concert was Hugo Rignold’s last. His contract had finished the previous year and this last concert completed that contract.
Louis Fremaux had impressed the orchestra and was accordingly appointed the principal conductor. Some conductors have a special insight into the works of a particular composer and/or style of music. This was the case with Louis Fremaux: he brought an inspired feel to French music, such as Debussy and Ravel. Spanish music, for instance de Falla, was also part of his repertoire. However some in the orchestra thought that Brahms, Beethoven, etc. the meat of our repertoire were not a strong point for him.
The relationship between an orchestra and its conductor is often fraught. Some individuals just cannot get on. This was the case with Tony Moroney and Louis Fremaux. In a steeply tiered Birmingham Town hall Tony Moroney was at eye level and not too distant from the conductor. Tony Moroney had a flute stand in which he rested his flute when not playing. Tony customarily tested conductors when there was a flute solo coming up by sitting with his arms crossed staring at the conductor. At the very last minute he tossed his flute in the air, caught it and started playing the solo as always brilliantly. The fun was to watch the conductor panicking with a flute solo coming up and the flute player with no flute in sight. Would the conductor know which beat the solo started on?
Whether it was this challenging behaviour by Tony Moroney combined with built insecurity on the part of Louis Fremaux or not, the two of them just did not get on.
On one occasion Linda Coffin, another brilliant flute player, came in on trial as number two. Louis Fremaux insisted she played first flute in one piece while Tony played piccolo. This was perceived by Tony as an attempt to humiliate him. However Louis Fremaux clearly did not know Tony’s reputation as the best piccolo player around. Tony, despite hating the piccolo, rose to the occasion and played the piccolo in a way that knocked everyone’s socks off – we all shuffled our feet, the musicians sign of approval. Tony smiled. Louis Fremaux looked grim.
After a time Maurice Handford was appointed associate conductor. Maurice Handford had made the mistake of being tough on the students when he conducted the orchestra each week at the royal college of music – or was it the royal academy. Consequently in every professional orchestra that he conducted there were a significant number of ex students looking for ways of getting their own back. The CBSO was no exception. Maurice Handford did not help himself by pulling faces at the horn players if they cracked a note in a difficult passage – Maurice Sandford being an ex horn player himself knew all the difficult parts for horn. It would have been so much better for him if he had helped the players through those passages – perhaps with sympathy or encouragement, perhaps with praise when things went well.
In the slow movement of rachmaninov second symphony there is a deeply sad cello passage. We played the symphony on three successive evenings. Maurice Handford was the conductor. Each time just before this cello passage Maurice Handford turned to face the cellos and then turned a little extra so that the audience was able to see his face. As the cellos played their tune a tear rolled down his cheek. This happened every time. Cruelly, as he turned that extra bit, the bass section started to sniff loudly. Still the tears came.
The relationship between the orchestra and Maurice Handford became so bad that I noticed at one concert Maurice Handford standing at the edge of the stage just out of sight of the audience unable to walk on to start the concert.
Vilem Tauski who was known as the bouncing Czech (he was round, he bounced as he conducted and he came originally from Czechoslovakia ) conducted us at Tchaikovsky nights at the Albert hall. Sometimes for a change we did Beethoven nights or Viennese nights. Victor hochhauser was the impresario who put on these concerts. It was John Charles, the orchestral manager, who asked victor hochhauser why he employed two soloists for these concerts. Much cheaper to have one soloist John Charles suggested. I doubt however whether the soloists were paid very much if at all. Cutting out one concerto however meant there were some chance of the orchestra coaches arriving back at Birmingham Airport by midnight and thus saving the after midnight payment of five Shillings for each musician.
Vilem Tauski did almost collapse with laughter in one performance. It was a Beethoven night and victor hochhauser had decided to put on Beethoven’s battle symphony. This was a first. Instead of canons as for the 1812 overture, victor hochhauser had booked some real red coated soldiers. The first we knew of this was during the performance when, to shouted commands from an NCO, the soldiers marched in, shouldered their rifles and fired Blanks into the air. At this point in the music the orchestra was in full battle mode roaring away with Beethoven’s notes. Vilem Tauski could be seen amongst the smoke of battle shaking with laughter with tears pouring down his cheeks.
The concert finished and as usual we were being driven away on the coach within 10 minutea playing three card brag, chess or bridge. Perhaps reading inch thick books.