The guest pianist had learned the wrong Liszt concerto, and the solo harpist was sent home when she couldn't play a Menotti piece.
And the trouble didn't stop there.
When David Amos traveled to Vilnius, Lithuania, to conduct the Lithuanian National Philharmonic last month, it turned out to be one of those "best of times, worst of times" scenarios.
Amos, who is music director of San Diego's Jewish Community Center Orchestra and has made an impressive number of recordings with European orchestras, led the Lithuanian musicians in a pair of concerts and a recording session for Koch International.
Though he was received with great hospitality by his hosts, he found the newly independent republic in the grips of severe economic deprivation.
"The dreaded KGB is gone, but the country doesn't have its act together yet," Amos said. "When a player's string on his violin breaks during a rehearsal, he has to go home because there are no replacement strings anywhere. When light bulbs burn out in the concert hall, they're not replaced because there are none to be had. In the hotel restaurant where I stayed, there were no choices at breakfast--what they serve you is what you get."
Though the Lithuanian orchestra's management is now free from Moscow's bureaucratic interference, it is not yet the picture of efficiency. Amos had agreed to conduct Liszt's First Piano Concerto in concerts in Vilnius and Kaunas, but at the first rehearsal he learned that the pianist, Zecharia Plavin, had been instructed to prepare Liszt's Second Piano Concerto.
"It was obvious that Plavin could not learn another piano concerto on a day's notice, so they found me a Russian edition of Liszt's Second Piano Concerto, which I had never conducted before, and I learned it overnight."
After the Lithuanian Philharmonic's two public concerts, which were televised, Amos recorded the three works by American composers he had conducted. Both the concert and the recording were supposed to include a little-known harp concerto by Gian Carlo Menotti, but the harpist the orchestra management brought in from St. Petersburg proved unable to cope with the technical demands of Menotti's concerto. Koch recording engineer Michael Fine and Amos quickly decided to do without the harpist, scrap the Menotti and substitute Ernest Bloch's "Evocations."
The recording, which will be released later this year, also features Paul Creston's Dance Overture and Norman Dello Joio's Variations, Chaconne and Finale. Koch International has already released two of Amos' recordings of American music played by Poland's Krakow Philharmonic.
Despite the slip-ups Amos experienced recording in Eastern European countries, the low recording fees these orchestras charge make them irresistible to record companies.
"It's a completely different world," Amos noted. "I had 11 rehearsals for the concert and lots of time to do the recording. But then the wage of a typical orchestra player there is $12 a month." By comparison, a typical American orchestra prepares a concert in two or three rehearsals, and the American counterparts to the musicians in the Lithuanian Philharmonic earn $2,000-$4,000 a month.
Amos described the Lithuanian Philharmonic as a highly respectable orchestra.
"The sound of the strings is superb, and the woodwinds are excellent once they get past the difficulties of sight-reading. Only the brass players were not up to world standards."
New opening date. Because of the San Diego Symphony's just-announced jaunt to Yucatan Oct. 10-12, the symphony's fall season will open one week earlier.
The inaugural program, featuring music director Yoav Talmi conducting Carl Orff's cantata "Carmina Burana," which was originally scheduled for Oct. 9-11, now will be played Oct. 2-4. On Oct. 9, Talmi will lead a preview performance at Copley Symphony Hall of the Columbus Day quincentennial program the orchestra will perform in the shadow of Mexico's Chichen Itza pyramid.
Grace notes. The top instrumental musicians from about 60 San Diego city schools will perform in a year-end honor concert Sunday at 3 p.m. in Copley Symphony Hall.
Four ensembles--a string ensemble, a concert band, a symphonic band, and a wind ensemble--will play music that ranges from a movement from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" to a medley from the pop musical "Miss Saigon."
Ironically, city schools Supt. Tom Payzant, whose budget proposals for the past two years would have eliminated instrumental music teaching in the elementary schools, will give the program's words of welcome. Fortunately, the school board has consistently overruled Payzant's potentially devastating budget proposals.
VIOLIST PHELPS A STANDOUT FOR MOZART EVENT
The most appealing program of next week's Mainly Mozart Festival offerings is Thursday's concert with violist Cynthia Phelps playing Telemann's Viola Concerto in G Major.
Principal violist of the New York Philharmonic, Phelps displayed her ample talent when she was principal violist with the San Diego Symphony during the 1985-86 season. When the local orchestra went out of business for a year, Phelps took the first viola chair with the Minnesota Orchestra. She won the New York position last year.
A regular with the David Atherton's Mozart Festival, Phelps plays with unusual vigor and insight. Thursday's 8 p.m. concert at the Spreckels Theatre (repeated at 8 p.m. Friday) also includes flutist Tim Day in Mozart's G Major Flute Concerto, K. 313, and Mozart's Symphony No. 17, K. 129.