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British conductor Francis emerges as maestro from substitute

British conductor Francis emerges as maestro from substitute

Posted November. 04, 2014 05:17,   


I attended a concert of Gewandhausorchester Leipzig in Germany, which was conducted by chief conductor Ricardo Chailly, last month. Then, there had been a crisis prior to the event. Several days after buying a ticket online, I read a news report suggesting that “Chailly suffered arm injury due to an accident.” Fortunately, there was follow-on news on his condition the next day: “He will completely recover in four weeks, and will complete his schedules thereafter.”

It is not uncommon a conductor cancels schedules due to accident or illness. As for a concert conductor or an opera singer, the host often seeks and finds a substitute, and holds the event according to schedules. It could be disappointment to fans eagerly waiting for the performance by the original artist, but not a few musicians have risen to instant stardom through such occasions.

The performing team that was preparing “Aida,” the opera written by Giuseppe Verdi, in Rio de Janeiro in 1886, experienced an emergency situation, in which an incompetent conductor left the podium due to protest by performers. Arturo Toscanini, 19, who was leading chorus as a member of the cello part, took the conductor’s podium, and the concert ended in a huge success. It was possible because he was fully versed with the score of the song in entirety.

In today’s world, a conductor often flies in from a different continent hurriedly, and takes the conductor’s stand. Then, a nightmarish episode, in which the host could not bring in a substitute, happened at the Barbican Center in London in 2007. The London Symphony Orchestra was scheduled to perform new music composed by Sofia Gubaidulina with conductor Valery Gergiev, but the conductor unexpectedly fell ill. As the music was not widely known, the orchestra could not find a substitutive conductor from outside.

Then, a situation similar to the “Miracle of Toscanini” happened. Michael Francis, 33, who was a double bass player of the orchestra, took the podium and successfully completed performance. Francis was deployed again a month later, when John Adams, a composer and conductor, failed to show up for conducting of a new song at another London Symphony concert, and ended up earning acclaims anew.

Now, Francis is considered a next generation maestro, not a "substitute conductor," and will be inaugurated as the musical director of the Florida Orchestra in the U.S. next year. He will conduct the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra at the concert hall in the Seoul Arts Center on Friday next week. He will showcase Ludwig Mendelssohn’s symphony No. 3 and Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, in which Violinist Vadim Gluzman will jointly perform.