How I was nearly run over by Pavarotti

So this is how it ends, I thought. Not even 30 years old, crushed by a cart containing four of the greatest musicians of the late twentieth century, with me as a flattened fifth.

The largest audience I have ever performed to was on the Three Tenors Tour in 1996. Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras had launched their collaboration at the football (or soccer if you’re American) World Cup in Italy in 1990. After a further appearance at the 1994 World Cup and a recording that became the biggest-selling classical disc of all time, they embarked on a stadium tour in the summer of 1996 and engaged the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by James Levine to back them in most of the concerts.

Me and the Three Tenors in Gothenburg

I played guest principal double bass in some of the concerts and sat in the section at others. The concert at Munich Olympic Stadium was attended by around 86000 people. The front row was occupied by A list Germans including politicians like Helmut Kohl and sportsmen like Boris Becker if my memory serves me correctly. The amount of money that concert made was unbelievable (and the arguments as to whether it should be taxed as a classical concert or a pop concert rumbled on for years with one of the promoters being jailed as a result.)

The start of the concert was a little unnerving. As we launched into Bernstein’s Candide Overture, we became aware of angry calls from the audience. The Philharmonia had recently been booed in Paris by a claque from the French Musicians’ Union at the start of an opera residency and I was worried that we were in for a repeat, but it transpired that it had started to rain lightly and the VIPs in the front row had put up umbrellas which were obscuring the view for the people in the (extremely expensive) seats behind. They reluctantly had to put them down and were rained on like everyone else.

The concert was stunning. Carreras was heartfelt and Domingo was the great artist he always was but Pavarotti was out of this world. His voice was like a Ferrari, always having something in reserve to thrill his audience with. The finesse of his turns of phrase tugged at your heartstrings but the sheer power of his vocals was such that it almost seemed he could have filled the stadium without amplification.

By that stage in his life Pavarotti was an enormous man. His knees could scarcely bear his weight. The promoters provided him with a golf buggy and chauffeur to drive between his dressing room and the stage. Of course, if one Tenor had a golf buggy, that meant the others had to as well, and James Levine, who was no mean size himself, also got in on the act. So the backstage area was full of ramps between the various levels.

At the end of the concert, I headed swiftly off to my flight case to pack up my double bass like the well-trained touring musician I was. As I reached my bass box, I heard the sound of approaching thunder and turned to see a golf buggy hurtling down a slope towards me, driven by Pavarotti and containing James Levine and the other two tenors. This was serious tonnage coming my way, and even more alarmingly, Pavarotti was gleefully shouting ‘I don’t want to brake! I don’t want to brake!’

So this is how it ends, I thought. Not even 30 years old, crushed by a cart containing four of the greatest musicians of the late twentieth century, with me as a flattened fifth.

But just as my life was flashing before me, the great Italian summoned the vocabulary to finish the sentence he was trying to get out – ‘I don’t want to break your double bass!’

The buggy slowed to a halt giving me time to move out of the firing line, and the laughing quartet trundled on their way to whatever magnificent post-concert entertainment had been laid on for them while we bought ourselves a beer each at a hot dog stand.


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