George Prêtre

George Prêtre

When a boxer enters the ring he enters with a certain confidence and is ready for combat.

Sparkle in his hooded eyes and sporting a pre-broken nose as badge of honour.

The ring in today's trot down the memory lane of my funniest moments in the LSO was not a boxing ring.  It was a Portugese bullfighting ring converted into a concert hall.

In the blue corner, the LSO.

In the red corner, Maestro George Prêtre.


Now the LSO needs no introduction, but I feel I must explain that in the 1980's the LSO was a slightly different animal to the one you see today.

In those days players sometimes actually spoke to each other during rehearsals just like regular humans.  And on occasions if a conductor spoke to them they might even talk back.

Prêtre with Callas

Prêtre with Callas

George Prêtre was a conductor famous for his collaborations with Maria Callas.  He also was an ex boxer.

A happy life on stage depends largely on a mutual respect between the maestro and the players. 

Rehearsals start with an expectant silence. You can always tell how much respect players have for conductors by how long it takes before they start talking among themselves.

Perhaps its just the need to get some bowings sorted. Or even something like "what time did you get home last night?"

As soon as the players smell that a conductor is saying something that he/she decided to say before hearing a note, then he/she is on a slippery slope.

There is a difference between a beat that is a command as opposed to a gesture which is an invitation to play.  Invitations engender respect where as commands tend to be only dutifully executed.  The difference in sound is enormous.  That could be the subject of an entire book!

On the afternoon in question the silence wasn't long-lived.  The level of respect mutually low.  Sparring began.  It soon got a bit out of hand.  Ducking and diving. Jab jab, upper cut. Dance dance dance.


At the break our chairman Anthony Camden called an emergency meeting of the orchestra.

"OK I understand that he's not being nice, but please, please, we must be professional about this.  We dont have to work with him again but please remain quiet."

Suitably reprimanded, tails between our legs, we returned to the stage and waited.

Eventually the maestro returned to the podium. He liked to wear a white towel bunched round his neck. He had a fresh one.

The silence was complete.

What happened next I'll never forget.

Have you ever heard the LSO suddenly explode in unreserved laughter?

Its amazing the effect that a lone triangle can have.


Ding ding ....