60 YEARS IN MUSIC
A MEMOIR BY
“OK, next one please”.
The stage of the Royal Albert Hall one morning in 1954. The huge
auditorium is empty except for a few middle-aged men sitting in the front row
of the stalls immediately below the stage, which is also empty, except for a
music stand set rather high, and a tall stool. The lighting is sufficient, but not
Down the long entry tunnel comes a young man carrying a double bass
and some music. He seats himself on the stool, lays out music on the music
stand, and makes ready to play.
“What are you going to play for us?” asks one of the men in the stalls.
He’s George Yates, one of the auditioning examiners.
“I thought I’d play part of the Kapuzzi concerto, George, if that’s all
“Fine. Go ahead in your own time.”
Giving an audition is one of the unavoidable trials that every musician and
actor must endure if they wish to prosper. The auditioning panel of the
London Symphony Orchestra choose to hold their auditions in the Albert Hall
of all places. It makes the experience utterly stressful and many applicants fall
apart and play far below their true standard.
I was well aware of this as I turned my attention to the opening of this
curiosity, “The Concerto in F for Double Bass and Orchestra” by Signor
Kapuzzi. The double bass, as its name implies spends much of its time in the
orchestra doubling other instruments such as the cello or the bassoon, adding
that extra octave which gives such richness to the sound of an orchestra.
Kapuzzi is not a well-known composer, but like Dragonetti and Koussevitsky,
two other composers who wrote concerti for the double bass, he was himself a
bass-player virtuoso and liked to write things he could play to show off before
an admiring audience.
I plough my way through the audition piece, which lasts about five
minutes. Then come some sight reading tests and I’m handed an excerpt from
“Electra”, an opera by Richard Strauss whom the panel know writes very
difficult parts. (To such an extent that each instrument of the orchestra has its
own study book specially compiled from Strauss’s works.)
With the audition over, I am about to leave the stage when George Yates
(who by the way was my teacher at that time), comes up and claps me on the
“Well, done! You’re in.”
Wow! I’ve got the job. And not only that… I’ve played a solo at the Royal