Alex James

Slow Life | 28 June 2008

Up for it

Brad is cool. He was clearly demonstrating his ability to retain grace under pressure and I suppose that’s what conductors get paid for. The traffic on the A40 was at a standstill at Gypsy Corner and he was due to conduct Verdi’s Il trovatore in Holland Park very shortly. I was much more scared about being late than he was. I gingerly invoked the unthinkable. ‘What’s going to happen if we’re, you know, er, not there in time?’ ‘The conductor is the one person they have to wait for,’ he said, and lit a Marlboro. ‘Have you learnt the words?’

I’m learning how to conduct as part of an experiment for television and Brad thought it would be good for me to help him out at Holland Park. The nuns sing a number offstage where they can’t see the orchestra or the conductor, so it would be a good technical exercise, he said, to surround me with singing nuns in front of a full house on the last night and see how I coped bringing them in and out of the music on time. I knew the tune now, but the words were still really hard to swallow. ‘Wouldn’t it be easier to learn Italian than memorise these endless lists of gobbledygook?’ I asked him. ‘I conducted an opera in Mandarin last year,’ he said. ‘You soon get the hang of it.’ The traffic started to move and we started to sing again, like nuns.

We arrived bang on time. He knew we would. It was the third time I’d been to the production and each time it was getting more intriguing. I was getting to know some of the orchestra, the cast, the stage hands, but particularly the music.

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