Rainer Hersch reflects on his inner demons as he prepares for a concert conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
A violinist friend of mine once said that there was a point, about six steps onto the stage of the Festival Hall, when the audience sees you and there is no turning back. It might seem an odd idea that, having done all the stuff it takes to get there, you would want to turn back – but you do. Well, a bit of you does. It’s hard not to stand on any big stage and not have your internal demon wonder what on earth you are doing there as that little voice inside says:
“You shouldn’t be doing this,
SIMON RATTLE should be doing this.”
Sometimes the feeling is mutual: I was once booked for a very well paid corporate concert, conducting the St Petersburg Philharmonic in their ‘Great Hall of the Philharmonia’ – an iconic building in which that same orchestra had premiered Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony while under siege from the Nazis. That I should be doing orchestral comedy there seemed to them like they had been invited to participate in a stand-up routine in the Vatican.
In the end, these feelings do wear off a bit but it never quite goes away. On Friday 10th March I am going back to a favourite of mine: Birmingham Symphony Hall to conduct and do jokes with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Now that will be exciting.
Unlike the Festival Hall, whose acoustics are famously a bit rubbish, Symphony Hall was designed for great sound. There is even a reverberation chamber behind the stage, the doors to which can be specially opened or closed to suit what is going on (I wonder if there is a setting for jokes?). But it is also vast – it’s the same place where they often hold the Conservative Party conference, in fact. At the back the seats seem to rise up at you like a tsunami. And I know that at about six steps out the crowd will have seen me. I hope I’m ready. And for that little voice in my ear: