I was playing a Messiah performance this weekend that started to get derailed in some alarming and funny ways. This orchestra and chorus were quite good, but the group had for some reason decided to use a harpsichordist who had never before played the harpsichord. He was a pianist, and something must have happened to the regular harpsichordist at the last minute to have put this guy in the hot seat.
Handel’s Messiah is a lengthy endeavor. We cut large sections of the second and third parts and still were approaching three hours in length. The harpsichord plays in every movement, and having this piece be your first time playing harpsichord must be completely overwhelming. I played most of the movement but rested for the recitatives.
In the first part the conductor gave the downbeat for one of the recitatives. The harpsichord and solo cello came in, just like they should, but they were playing some whacked chord from another galaxy–definitely NOT what Handel wrote. The soprano was supposed to start singing in the first bar, but she just stood there looking bewildered (which is the reaction I would have). The conductor waved his hands to stop and gave another downbeat. SQUONK! The same horrible chord came out again.
Someone in the audience guffaws and other people start laughing.
The soprano looks like she wants to crawl under the stage and hide.
The conductor gives another downbeat and the same nasty chord comes out. The cellist decides to try to keep playing the continuo line, but the singer decides (wisely, I think) to not come in.
Now the conductor starts stage whispering to the group, mouthing the number of the movement we are playing. The crowd is getting restless. Finally the right chord comes out and the movement starts. Of course, I immediately start thinking about how hilarious that was and start messing up all over the place.