My musical life began in the valleys of South Wales, where our local postman gave piano lessons in the evenings, for five shillings, and the Tower Colliery where my father worked, had a brass band that practiced in an engine shed. Once or twice I had dreamed, wildly, of being a professional player.
My boyhood dreams had not been wild enough!
Park Sheraton Hotel, New York
Dear Mr. Evans
I’m waiting to be taken to Carnegie Hall for our second concert in New York. The whole of the city is wrapped in snow now, and glittering with Christmas lights. Outside our hotel, horse-drawn carriages wait in a line to trot the tourists around Central Park, and the bellboys in their purple and gold livery are hurrying across the soft carpets under the chandeliers. I feel as if I’m in a film!
‘The Royal Philharmonic is magnificent’ said the New York Times this morning. They really are too, and I’m a part of it now, which is hardly believable, because they’re so nonchalant about it all, having been here so many times before, and I feel just as if I’m running along behind. I can’t sleep if we have an early start to make, for fear of missing a train or an aeroplane, so I go out and roam the city streets.
This morning I went to Eddy O’Connor’s twenty-four hour diner, where you can be comfortably anonymous, with only the bartender and the empty chairs and tables for company. I sat for a while, with my coffee, contemplating Christmas in Wales, until two city cops came stamping in out of the snow to get a bowl of Irish stew against the cold, and brought me back to reality and the reasons for my being here.
Last night in all my excitement the Beethoven symphony seemed to pass in an instant, leaving me awash with applause and disbelief. My life has changed beyond recognition in these few months just as you said it would, the most astonishing thing about it all being the pace of everything. Before we left London I played as an anxious guest with the London Symphony Orchestra performing Britten’s War requiem with Fischer Diskau, Peter Pears, and Britten himself conducting. We played a marathon Wagner concert at the Festival Hall with Leopold Stokowski and Birgit Nilsson, and recorded a Tchaikovsky symphony with Antal Dorati; all that in two weeks! . I had no idea what to expect from a life in music, even after all you had told me, but the pace of everything is exhausting. Tomorrow we’ll play in Baltimore and on Saturday, Philadelphia.
The audiences in America are full of enthusiasm and they applaud and cheer like anything. After our concerts people wait in the street to talk to us and some of them imagine that we all know the Queen personally, and live in Buckingham Palace. My new friend Pat is an Irish violinist, who has been here many times before, and lies to them mischievously with intimate details of the Queen’s sumptuous life style and her sordid private life. He tells them that because we play in her orchestra we are all exempt from income tax, and that we borrow her yacht for our holiday trips. — It’s astounding how far he can go, without being found out.
With regard to the music, hardly anyone here reads the reviews in the newspapers, and they don’t appear to listen to anything that conductors say to them, but at a performance where they have some freedom to play, the world looks on in wonder.
There is considerable uncertainty about the future of this orchestra, which was all explained to me when I was invited to join, that has to do with the recent death of Sir Thomas Beecham and the fact that neither the Arts Council nor the Royal Philharmonic Society wants the orchestra to continue without him. This has led the players to take over the running of it themselves in the form of their own company, of which I am now, by invitation, a shareholder. The men, by and large don’t seem over anxious about their situation though. Most of them say that they’ve seen it all before and that music in England is always in some sort of crisis.
I know you’ll say this is my old problem of self-confidence, but I can’t help feeling that they may have been having some difficulty filling this job that I’m so excited about. Nevertheless it is exciting, and tonight we’ll be playing the seventh symphony of Beethoven and Ida Haendel will be playing the Brahms violin concerto. After that we’ll go to Jack Dempsey’s restaurant and then to the Half Note to hear Sonny Rollins.
I‘ll be in Wales for Christmas and that’s the most exciting thing of all. I’ll play carols with Tower band on Christmas morning and at midday there’ll be a concert with the choir in the Miner’s Club. Can I come and see you on Boxing Day? It’s a lovely walk in good weather. I’ll bring my father’s dog and promise not to talk about myself all the time, but my life has changed so dramatically which is largely due to you, who taught me almost everything I know about music, and for that I’ll always be grateful.
It’s time to go now, out into “subzero” New York. Through the window I can see the snow falling through the trees in the park. I’ll go down to the lobby and wait for the transport to the concert. Once again, thank you for all this and please give my best to Mr. Griffiths (English) who taught me to write a letter and that being hopeless at rugby is not such a terrible thing.
P.S. Before we left for the US I was at Denham studios for a few days playing on the soundtrack for the “Blue Max” starring George Peppard, James Mason and Ursula Andress that comes out next year. Jerry Goldsmith wrote the music with lots of “flying” horn writing for the First World War Luftwaffe story. Playing for films is fascinating. I’ll tell you all about it one day.