Simon Simmons, the Radio Three presenter, looked forward to the rest of the day. He had enjoyed a pleasant lunch and he was on time for the afternoon rehearsal. Another town, another concert hall, another orchestra and a conductor he had never met before; Ukrainian, Polish or Scandinavian? It didn’t matter; one of those brilliant young polymaths who spoke several European languages perfectly and had studied in all the major cities.
The music was well known to Simon, he had his notes ready for the seven thirty pm live broadcast; all he had to remember was the conductor’s name and how to pronounce it.
The conductor looked older, shorter than he expected and if he dressed that flamboyantly for a rehearsal, the audience could look forward to a colourful concert. He was checking the music on the stands, a punctual and efficient man thought Simon as he approached him with arm outstretched.
But the conductor did not shake his hand, instead he peered arrogantly at him and spoke volubly in German. Perhaps he had forgotten what country he was in, not surprising the way these maestros charged around the globe.
‘Welcome to England.’
The conductor ignored him and stepped up onto the rostrum to examine the music. They both turned to the sound of approaching footsteps. A young man in jeans and T-shirt appeared from backstage, he spoke in perfect English with a precise East European accent.
‘Good afternoon, you are from the BBC? I am glad you could come to the rehearsal.’ He lowered his voice. ‘Is that your sound man on my rostrum?’
‘No, I thought he was the…’ Simon did not want to offend the world famous conductor. ‘He’s not with us, so he is obviously not meant to be here, though he does look familiar, shall I call someone…’
Before he could finish they were interrupted by the sharp guttural tones of the stranger. The conductor looked puzzled, but replied in German and approached him. The two engaged in lively conversation; the conductor patted the man’s arm and turned to Simon.
‘I presume he can’t understand English, I think he’s German, but I can’t grasp his accent. We may have a, how do you say, ‘nutter’ on our hands, he thinks he is Beethoven.’
Simon felt a lurch in his stomach, that’s where he had seen the man before, in paintings.
The conductor laughed. ‘He does look like him.’
The stranger scowled, well aware they were laughing at him.
Simon had an idea, it seemed a shame not to harvest the situation for future broadcast anecdotes, especially if they let him do The Proms this year. He motioned to the Steinway piano at the side of the stage.
The conductor smiled in agreement. ‘Let Beethoven prove by playing to us.’
He turned and spoke in German to the stranger, who strode over to the piano, then halted. He examined the instrument, lifted the lid carefully and propped it open, then fingered the keys as if they were a lover’s body. He played a few chords, held his ears, then nodded in approval.
As he played exquisitely, both men recognised a Beethoven sonata, though the tempo was faster than they expected and he added extra flourishes.
‘So he’s a brilliant musician,’ said Simon ‘as are many visiting soloists. Ask him what today’s date is.’
A few brief words were exchanged.
‘Twenty Seventh of February’
‘That’s today’s date.’
An extract from Maestro, one of the short stories in Times and Tides.