On Defacing Great Art
Now, for a light interlude: the greatest (and I mean greatest) insult I’ve ever gotten from a conductor.
It was my first year at Curtis, and I was playing second bassoon on a reading of Pulcinella and Mozart 39 with the great Otto-Werner Mueller conducting. Now, the slow movement of the Mozart has this itty bitty second bassoon solo (in A-Flat major)…
…which I was playing, shall we say, carefully. Mueller is known for demanding very (some would say absurdly) soft dynamics; meanwhile, I was just trying to adjust to the demands of my new school. So I was taken aback when we stopped and he gestured toward me, saying in his inimitable (actually, highly imitable) German accent, “Mmmmm…a bit more from the second bassooooon.”
I was thrilled. I thought, “Wow! Mueller asked me to play louder—that never happens!” I took my newfound confidence and not only played louder, but juiced up my vibrato as well. I was feeling good.
Then we stopped again. With a twinkle in his eye, Mueller rumbled, “Perfect…” (Awesome!) “…if we were playing Pathétique Symphony of Tchaikovsky. It is like you took the Mona Lisa, painted over it in neon colors, and ATE IT WITH WHIPPED CREAM.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the single greatest insult I’ve ever gotten from a conductor.