It was the last concert of the tour. Thirty North American cities in 40 days with a symphony orchestra performing works by Debussy and Satie, and The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky as the pièce de résistance.
The conductor would have leaned towards works by Berlioz, Boulez, Varèse, Schœnberg, or any of the younger 20th century composers but the public preferred middle-of-the-road music, and the promoters knew that by playing it safe they would sell out all venues, so that was that.
For all that mattered, the conductor did not mind. At 53 he did not feel like rocking the boat anymore. During his career he had risen to many challenges and he knew he had nothing else to prove.
The conductor did mind however that, as years went by, his tuxedo was getting harder to fit into. He blamed it on the many receptions his duties called him to attend, too many bottles of fine wine, and soft, fat but tasty cheeses.
So for this tour he decided to stick to vegetables – carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, as well as all leafy vegetables – and to stay away from the ranch dressing fountain. Instead of wine, he drank carbonated water.
Vegetables are necessary to a healthy diet. The Canadian Food Guide recommends that a 53 year old male eat 6-8 portions of fruit and vegetable per day. However, balance is the key. Too much greens and not enough fiber might open the gates of Hell. Image: winnond / FreeDigitalPhotos.netThis change of diet made him lose a couple of inches around the waist and he felt lighter throughout the gruesome travelling schedule.
However, there were unwelcome side effects.
As food travels through the eight or so metres of digestive tract, its nutrients are transformed into energy and the rest is turned into waste and gas. To cushion the passage of stool the anal canal is equipped with a network of vascular structures, called hemorrhoids, that facilitates a smooth transition.
A diet composed mostly of fruit and vegetable – compounded with mineral water – means that the soft excrement produced gets processed quickly yet unpredictably. Such rapid, frequent and brutal excretion of waste and gas imposes a great deal of stress on the hemorrhoids that tend to react by bleeding, hurting and itching.
For the last ten days, the conductor had been bearing the cross of his attempt at healthy eating.
There were uncomfortable moments, near-incidents, but overall the conductor managed well the crescendo building in his bowels, keeping everything andante and avoiding going allegro.
A conductor’s job is to keep a tight leash on the orchestra members, making sure that each musician plays his or her part in time and on tempo with the right amount of energy and emotion.
A talented conductor holds back musicians’ eagerness, controls their egos, fustigate their laziness, and releases them at the right moment to produce the most dramatic effect.As the conductor walked to his lectern to begin the concert he was unaware that the harshest challenge of his career lay before him.
The first piece was La mer by Claude Debussy and it went remarkably well. It was followed by Première Gymnopédie and Gnossiennes no. 1, 2 and 3 by Erik Satie – all-time favorites of the public – which were wildly received by the audience.
At Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring things started to turn sour.
During the bassoon solo overture of the first part, the conductor violently and uncontrollably broke wind.
This totally took the conductor by surprise but noticing that the flawless acoustics of the concert hall had fortunately failed to convey the disturbance, he kept directing this difficult composition. The show went on.
But as the first part progressed he found himself struggling to repress the natural urges of his unruly digestive system.
The piccolos stirred his intestinal juices while the cellos and double-bass urged him in staccato to seek relief at once.
However years of classical training helped the conductor maintain the strict discipline necessary to quell the revolution threatening peace in the kingdom of his viscera.
The end of the first part brought respite and the conductor hoped that the quiet beginning of the second part might give him the strength to retain his composure.
He was not counting on the timpani joining the insurrection in polyrythmic fashion, vigorously demanding his surrender against the forces of nature.
With great difficulty he held his ground, mouth gaping, drenched in sweat, tightening his buttocks. To his dismay it felt like the great Nijinsky and the whole Ballets Russes were performing lewd pagan acts inside his large intestine.
With all the energy of despair, clenching his baton, he bravely fought the irrepressible forces while commanding the orchestra members to stick to tempo even through the brisk finale when the buildup inside called for immediate release.
Then he turned to face the audience which was already standing up in an uproar of acclamation.
He was exhausted and refrained from bowing to salute thus avoiding a disgraceful accident – a gesture the press would later interpret as snobbishness.
But at this point he did not care what the critics thought: he had fought the battle of a lifetime and came out as a conqueror.
If only he could make it in time to the restroom backstage...