The South American Horn Enthusiast was perhaps one of the most aggressive people I’d ever met. “No Wagner!”, he’d bellow. “No Strauss!”.
I needed a couple of drinks before pretty much every single meeting, encounter and event with him.
He’d been introduced to us by The Inventor. The Inventor was convinced that this was going to be the key to unlocking his trophy wife’s concert debut. It didn’t work out that way. More on that another time.
The Horn Enthusiast’s wife and son, who were also ‘part of the deal’, were charm personified. But both knew when to silently look at the floor when the patriarch was in full flow.
“I won’t support a concert that has either Strauss or Wagner in it”, he cracklingly yelled on our first encounter. “I will leave the hall. And sit outside quietly. But I certainly won’t support”. I couldn’t imagine anything that he did being quiet. Every utterance, move and eyebrow raise seemed to be punctuated with a shotgun-like bark. “And I want a Box. The same Box. Every. Night”.
Ok, this was going to cost him some money, I thought. And I started doing some high voltage smiling and nodding.
“And I like the Double Bass. And the Horn. And Evgeny Kissin”.
Eclectic. And all within my reach.
His arrivals at the Concert Hall would be preceded by an early warning system of members of my team and others (all of whom had been given the full carpet-bombing treatment by him, which was unleashed, as a rule, whenever he couldn’t get through on the antiquated phone system in the requisite and minimum amount of time) who would run up to the Supporters Bar ahead of him with white-faced glee, terror and anticipation to give me the heads-up. I’d make sure that I was at least three warm white wines to the wind by that point.
“Ok. Stand by”, I’d say to myself, everyone else having deserted the Target Zone.
He’d glower into view, shrugging off his long, bobbled and frayed coat as he descended the steps, saying, “We’re late. Take us upstairs”.
I’d witter away as we ascended the couple of flights to the Box that he was trying out the view and acoustic of on this occasion. He flung the door open, exhaled loudly and said, “That will be all.”
I went back downstairs to take my seat in the back row of the stalls for a performance of William Walton that I was asleep within the first ten minutes of. I had developed something of a habit for be-fugged dozes around this time, something that I was later to try to break the habit of, being mindful of the fact that a face full of sleepy eye-bogies in the interval was not a look that endeared me to my audience.
In the interval, on this occasion, I had dragged the Principal Horn and Principal Bass up from the backstage bar for a meet and greet. A prior email that they will never have read gave them the background to the situation and a short script of how to behave. We formed a swaying line-up as the party re-emerged from their box. The idea was a beer-breathed charm offensive before the ‘ask’. The South American Horn Enthusiast was even less than mono-syllabic. If that is, indeed, possible. The wife and son were, as ever, fascinated by the carpet pattern.
The three white wines hadn’t really worn off and the after-effects of the doze, that had been punctuated by a particularly strange dream about being late, running along the towpath of a canal near to my parents’ home, had not quite worn off either.
None of the pre-scripted small- or sales-talk emerged and it went something like,
“Are you enjoying the concert?’
I tried my damnedest to rouse myself from what was a state of limp-shouldered near-stupor, realising that my colleagues from the orchestra had experienced the same soporific effects of pre-show boozing and Walton as myself. But I gave up, saying,
“Are you staying?”
In honesty, in the morning, I had forgotten the painful nuances of the prior evening’s ‘meet and greet’ and set about writing a carefully constructed Ask based upon the idea of Enthusiast and Instrumentalist forging a closely-knit relationship for the greater benefit of British Music Making, the Donor’s Enjoyment and the Orchestra’s Coffers. I added in a variety of trimmings, including naming the Box (that we weren’t at liberty to name) after the Enthusiast’s family foundation, plus a number of dinners with artists who’s social graces plumbed depths that even the Enthusiast couldn’t dream of reaching. And I stuck it in the post.
The next Wednesday the early warning system came into play earlier than was previously expected. The Managing Director’s PA came running into the Supporters Bar where I was not only three warm white wines down but also two Marlboro Menthols too. I was sat on the cracked leather sofa that left the sitter’s trousers flecked with black specks, with my feet on a wooden chair that I had pulled up adjacently.
“He looks really fucking angry”, she said.
“He always does”, I slurred lazily.
The South American Horn Enthusiast didn’t bother with cloakroom duties on this occasion and launched into an uncharacteristically muted monologue, made only the more alarming by its undertone of barely suppressed and soon to emerge nuclear-grade rage.
“I am not liking your approach. I am not liking your orchestra. I am not interested in anything you say to me in your letter. I am not liking your letter. I am not liking your girl’s letter. I get all these letters. All these people. All this demanding. You are getting ahead of yourself.”
And with that he was gone, leaving me tight-chested and wine-panting in the doorway to the bar. I unsurprisingly found it rather hard to nod off in the first half of the performance that followed.
I had learned, over the years, the art of the apology. How to categorically kiss ass without being overly-obsequious and without opening oneself to the accusation that you could be rolling out the ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ kind of apology.
I wrote to each of the family separately and in handwritten format. I was careful to apologise for aspects of the encounter that I was wholly sure had not occurred as well as those that might indeed had done, both in actuality and in the eye of the beholder. I was careful to apologise for ‘the girl’s misdemeanour as well as my own whilst, after extensive departmental debate, ensuring that no-one was hung out to dry and left exposed to future torpedoing.
I was invited to a weirdly expensive lunch a few week’s later. The Horn Enthusiast’s PA had called and left me with no illusions as to the date and location and the immovability of both.
Waiters fussed, swooshed, carved and poured and had fives and tens planted in their flickering hands throughout proceedings. The Son was in attendance too. Mute.
“I am happy”, said the Enthusiast. “I am happy to support your Horn Player”.
“And I will always have Box 4. And Evgeny Kissin. And no Wagner”, he concluded.
I signed inwardly, wondering if it was a good idea to mention a price. Now. Or ever.
I’ll wait, I thought.