April 1, 2019

April 1, 2019
April 1, 2019 leonard slatkin

It is usual at the beginning of the month for me to write a lengthy piece about what I have been doing, along with a bit of travel news. Indeed, that will occur in a couple days, as I am traveling and have not had the chance to put keystrokes to computer in a meaningful way.

The reason I am posting this is because of the extraordinary occurrences that took place over the past 24 hours. Some of it was expected, but most came as a shock and surprise to me.

It all started as routine, with breakfast in the restaurant at my hotel in Shanghai. As usual, I perused the local English newspaper, the Shanghai Daily. There were two headlines that caught my attention, but I moved on to other, seemingly more important articles. The first read, “Local temple acts to comply with garbage management regulations,” and the other, “Robot has power to perform.”

Perhaps I should have read the whole pieces, but I certainly could not have anticipated how these two stories would impact me later that day. The dress rehearsal for the concert I was leading with the wonderful Shanghai Symphony Orchestra went very well. There was no need to be concerned about the performance. The violin soloist, Noah Bendix-Balgley, was in great form, and I was very excited to play in the new hall, completed just four years ago.

One could sense some anxiety from the staff, as they were moving around furtively backstage. One of them came to my dressing room about 15 minutes before the start of the concert to tell me that there had been a problem at the theater where the Shanghai acrobats perform. Apparently, some refuse from a temple had been left outside, while negotiators were trying to solve a dilemma regarding where the waste would be deposited. There was a discernible stench, and this had led to the cancellation of the contortionists’ show.

I did not see how that affected our concert, but nonetheless, some of the employees of the orchestra were upset. We started the program with a Bach transcription. This was followed by the Second Prokofiev Violin Concerto. It was during the slow movement that I understood what was making the workers nervous. Appearing from the wings, in full costume, was the acrobatic troupe—juggling, twisting and showing off every gymnastic move possible.

Noah and I were equally disarmed, especially when one member of the troupe grabbed his violin, then snared my baton and tossed them to his colleagues. In the meantime, the orchestra and audience seemed to take it all in stride, giving the agile performers a standing ovation. Eventually our instruments were thrown back to us. With fiddle and stick back in hand, we gamely went straight into the finale without further incident.

I thought there would be no further turmoil during the remainder of the concert, but I was wrong. As I stood waiting for my cue to enter the stage after the intermission, the orchestra began playing the Second Symphony by Rachmaninov without me. The door opened, and I walked out. To my astonishment, an automaton that bore a striking resemblance to me was conducting! As I approached the podium, it was apparent that the droid was not about to let me take my place. Not only that, but it had some very good ideas about how the piece should go. I did not agree with the decision to take the exposition repeat, but the bot made it convincing.

There was no way I was going to let it do the slow movement, with its stunning clarinet solo. And during rehearsals the principal of the orchestra had played it beautifully. The robot stood aside and let me resume my conductorial duties. However, when I gave the cue for the entrance, I saw that the clarinetist had been replaced by another machine. Now I understood the true meaning of those newspaper headlines from the morning.

With a sigh, I gave up and let Metalico finish the performance. It even signed autographs for my fans after the concert. In order not to be totally upstaged, I began a series of tumbling routines that I had performed as a child, all to no avail. The ride back to the hotel was depressing, to say the least.

That evening, in my hotel room, I made an important decision: no longer will I read any newspapers in the morning. However, I will continue to have breakfast as long as a real human is serving.

***

This journal will return in its usual format the week of April 8.

Until then,

Leonard