A letter to Martin Shillito 1972 – by Terry Johns

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Terry Johns


Dear Martin

What a shock I got when I heard you were in hospital, and discovered that you own a Lotus sports car or at least the fragmented remains of one. This leads me to suspect that the LSO pays you more money than you need, though not enough obviously to allow you to buy postage stamps or spare coins for telephones.

Tuckwell tells me that thankfully, you are in one piece, and so a plan is forming to come and see you. You may need time to explain why you were going to Ipswich and why you were in such a hurry to get there.

You must have heard by now about Mazel’s BBC Mahler disaster. Contrary to anything you may have heard, the BBC stage management was almost entirely responsible for it. Having cleared the music stands, music and chairs from the off-stage area, after the morning rehearsal they omitted to put them back again for the concert in the evening.

I did actually get there in time, against the advice of the BBC person that was appointed to oversee the proceedings (He said I was panicking unnecessarily. He obviously wasn’t, or he might have noticed that there was no music, chairs or anything else at the place where they ought to have been), but in the absence of any other stage band members I could only peer through an opening between the doors, watching Mazel as the great self-delusion hit him smack in the face with the Maestro’s worst nightmare – SILENCE !! He made several self-important and pompous gestures to no avail. I think someone on the stage played something eventually, by this time I was distracted with planning my new career as a postman, having been told at age fourteen by my father’s brother that mining would kill me in a fortnight.

My fiddler friend Pat O’Brian maintains that conducting is not so much a vocation or a profession as a manifestation of a mental illness. Certainly, some of these people are not normal. Childish petulance arrogance and self-centeredness seems to be stock in trade for Mazel. His behaviour after the performance was definitely bordering on insanity, striding around the room, stripped to the waist, shouting and ranting at everybody. A great deal of it was directed at me for some reason that I can’t account for.

The ‘legendary’ Neville Cardus didn’t comment much on it. There was something in the review in the Guardian about Mazel having ‘mistimed’ the off-stage horn call. These are arguably the most important bars in the piece and the Guardian critic doesn’t notice that nobody played. I suspect he was listening on the radio while doing something else. I accused him of that in a letter, which I don’t expect to be published.

Barry says you are cheerful, and are expected to recover quickly and completely. I’m glad of that. It means that you could perhaps reply to any one of my three recent letters, now that you have time on your hands and the use of your arms. Tell me how much you are enjoying the LSO. Do you miss your itinerant RPO pals?

We’re recording at Walthamstow next week. Cecil James and I will come up to see you. I’ll telephone the hospital to make sure you are still alive etc. Don’t want to drive all that way for nothing!!

Luv Drac.

P.S. Do you know if they have a band in the Foreign Legion?

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