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  • Print publication year: 2021
  • Online publication date: April 2021

20 - Hitting My Stride

Summary

IN THE SPRING of 1986 the LSO mounted a festival at the Barbican Centre in honour of its president, Leonard Bernstein. The Queen and Prince Philip came to the final evening and heard Aled Jones sing the boy soprano solo in Chichester Psalms. At the reception afterwards the prince was in jocular mood. At the time Aled was the best-known boy soprano in the country. The prince looked him up and down. ‘Well, you haven't got much of a career in front of you,’ he observed cheerily, little dreaming that the adult Aled would become a much-loved presenter of Songs of Praise and a successful disc jockey for Classic FM. The Queen was more diplomatic. ‘Do you do this sort of thing awften?’ she asked LB. Rarely lost for words, LB was flummoxed: did she mean appear in London often, conduct an entire programme of his own music, preside over a Bernstein festival or what? By the time he was ready to respond, maybe three seconds, her majesty had moved on. I am not making this up; I was in the BBC Outside Broadcast van directing the cameras and surreptitiously listening in to the presentations. Earlier, at the concert, the BBC had taped Krystian Zimerman playing the jazzy passages in LB's The Age of Anxiety with phenomenal agility. He shared the soloist's platform with the violinist Gidon Kremer, who dug deep into LB's beautiful Serenade. It was a splendid evening of positive Bernstein.

In July 1986 I was in Bayreuth, not for Wagner but for the centenary of the death of Wagner's father-in-law, Franz Liszt. (Their relationship makes a good quiz question.) Bavarian Television hired me to direct their Liszt memorial concert which would be relayed all over Europe from the festival stage; it was only the second time that music by anybody but Wagner had been heard in those hallowed halls, the first being the post-war reopening of the festival in 1951, when Furtwängler conducted Beethoven's Ninth. It felt a privilege to be ushered into the presence of Wolfgang Wagner, the grandson who had been running the place since the death of his theatrically more gifted brother Wieland twenty years previously.