Life and Death

Of course, it is an absolute certainty that on a big project one will always have things come up: cancellations, crisis and so on. Most of them are the results of either good things that get in the way like Amy’s big break in New York, or flaky behavior, like the horn guy. What is harder to deal with is the logistical problem that is the result of a genuine life emergency. Today was our first, and hopefully last of those.

This evening was the first rehearsal of concert week. Things are looking great, and about 5PM Peter arrives from PDX with our new horn player, one of my old college friends who is a wonderful violinist and my wife, Suzanne, in tow. My lucky wife is spending her vacation from her orchestra in the UK playing in my orchestra in the US. We all grab a very pleasant bite and then I head over to the hall.

About 20 minutes before the rehearsal one of our players arrives. He’s one of my very favorite people and musicians in the orchestra, and we’ve worked together for many years in more than just this group. I’m leaving his name and instrument out of this since what follows involves his family. Instead of his usual greeting, he comes up to me, and after a long, deep breath says “I’ve got a big, big problem, and it’s about to become yours.”It turns out that his son has to have open heart surgery on Friday several hundred miles away. He’ll have to be there for the surgery and the morning after. He and his wife have to come back on Saturday night, so, if we can’t find another player, he could play just the concert, but he can’t be at any more rehearsals. Since he’s a wind player, he’s playing an independent part, which makes the whole thing tougher. Of course, if the surgery goes badly, he won’t be back at all. My first thought is that no parent should ever have to see their child have open heart surgery, least of all him. We can certainly engage another player, but he’s invested a lot of energy and time and ability in the orchestra, and I know he wanted very much to play this piece. The whole thing is awful.

We have a little conference with his section mates. We all decide that we should accept the risk and let him play- I know his preparation will be first rate, and he’s very reliable in concerts. We can always have a list of names to call on hand in an emergency. The issue is resolved, but my mood has sunk.

Rehearsal goes very well, except we don’t cover as much as I wanted to. Horns are going to be great.


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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

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