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Claudio Abbado


LSO French Revolution


The Théâtre des Champs-Élysées is a theatre at 15 avenue Montaigne in Paris.  It's where they threw rotten tomatoes at the first performance of the Rite Of Spring by Stravinsky.

My story is about a concert that happened shortly after I joined the orchestra in 1979. 

The first half of the concert had passed quietly enough.  But when we were leaving the stage for the interval someone called out "Mahler".  And then someone else, then another. By the time we had returned to the stage after the interval the Parisien audience had turned into a mob.  They were chanting like a football crowd.  Mahler! Mahler! Mahler!  There was no stopping them.


Claudio Abbado came on stage and defiantly, we started to play. The mob still shouting. 

Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony has a fanfare opening. Our trumpets raised their bells and didn't hold back.  The mob still wanted Mahler! Mahler!.

For the first 20 bars or so, it was no competition.   Heckles raised, I've never heard our brass play louder. The audience didn't stand a chance. We drowned them out.

... but then there's a diminuendo ... and the mob took over.

Eventually Claudio Abbado gave up, put his baton down, left the stage and beckoned us follow.

The mob were in full flood now.  They had won ... Mahler! Mahler! Mahler! Mahler!

Years later I became friends with the composer Bechara El Khoury.  He was in the audience that night and continues the story from his seat in the stalls. Apparently the impresario came onto the empty stage to plead with the crowd.  Claudio also came on and sat with his legs dangling over the edge.

Six weeks prior to the concert the programme had been changed from the advertised Mahler 5 to Tchaikovsky 4.  He said he quite understood if people were upset.  He was prepared to give them a full refund but only if they left the auditorium. Six people left.

Eventually we all came back on stage.  There was a hush.  Yes we started at the beginning again.  (Sid Coulter, our first violin section comedian in residence, had asked if we would be continuing from Bar 26.)

It was an emotionally charged performance. Energies were high and we got through it without further interruption.

The audience went mad and were all on their feet for the applause.

As an impromptu encore we then and only then played some Mahler.  It was the Adagio from the fifth symphony

After the concert Claudio took the entire orchestra out to dinner.  Unfortunately I missed it as John Lawley and I took a sleeper down to the south west of France to call in on my wife's grandparents near Bordeaux.


They get Le Canard enchainé a french satirical newspaper.  The review of the previous night's concert ... "Sometimes one goes to the theatre and hears music.  Last night I went to a concert and saw theatre!". It continued " ... they obviously knew they were going to play Mahler because the harp was already on stage."

Wrong. There's a harp in our other encore Stravinsky's Firebird too.