An Alarming Incident



The Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Centennial celebration concert, the exactre-creation of its first concert 100 years later, stays in the memory inpart for the wrong reason. The program, same as the one that began theCSO's history in 1891, was:

WAGNER Faust Overture

BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 5

TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto #1

DVORAK Hussite Overture


The CSO arranged to have its three living former (and present) music directors all participate. Barenboim conducted the Faust Overture; Solti the Beethoven; Barenboim played and Solti conducted the Tchaikovsky; and Kubelik ended the concert with the Dvorak. 

Prior to the concert, the CSOhad a dinner for special donors who paid $500 per person (or more), and there were some 400 of them. The dinner was held at the Art Institute. Atdinners of that nature it is customary to give a token gift to those attending, and so the CSO did that. (Remember, this was BEFORE the concert--the diners went from dinner to the concert). The gift was a lovely, specially marked desk clock, an alarm clock to be precise. 

Actually, "precise" is not the word to use here. What happened is that some of the clocks were put in their boxes with the alarm switches on. And all were set to different times (both the clocks and the alarms). 

There were no problems during the Wagner, and during the Beethoven an occasional beep made me and others angry, thinking that some idiot had a beeper that was going off; but it didn't seem too serious. 

After intermission, though, things gathered force -- as more and more clocks came into the position where the set alarm time and the time on the clock matched, and throughout the first movement of the Tchaikovsky we heard this beeping and couldn't figure out what the hell it was. Finally,one of my staff members (for newcomers to this group, I am executive director of the CSO) said "could it be those alarm clocks given out at dinner?" We got one, made the alarm go off (in the lobby, of course), and recognized all to well that it was the same sound. That meant that there may be five or six going off now, but there were four hundred more clocks inside the hall, any number of which might go off during the rest of the concert. 

Barenboim and Solti were looking mighty pissed at the beeping during the first movement of the Tchaikovsky, but they stayed concentrated and kept it going. At the end of the firstmovement, Solti started to address the audience, but I knew that he didn'tknow the real cause, and he was going to yell at people he thought had beepers. In addition, I knew that the people who had the clocks DIDN'TKNOW THAT THEY HAD CLOCKS -- they had gotten a wrapped present and most probably had not unwrapped it. So I walked out on stage, and interruptedSolti's announcement (he told me later that he thought he was losing his mind -- "first I hear beeping, then you walk out on stage and interrupt me-- I thought I was in the loony bin."), and told the audience that there were some 400 randomly set alarm clocks. When the stopped laughing, they dutifully took them outside to the ushers, who kept them in the lobbies until after the concert. The rest of the evening proceeded without incident!


-- (HenryFogel)