Few of us will ever forget what we were doing when we heard the news that two passenger planes had crashed into the Twin Towers in New York.
My own memory of this is positively surreal: I was in Bucharest with my husband and his orchestra, the London Philharmonic, who were performing at the Enescu Festival – an annual international arts and music celebration of the highest international calibre. We’d arrived very late arrival the previous night: a 2am touchdown on a charter plane, upon descent from which two huge security guards in black leather took away all our passports, which was disconcerting. While the orchestra rehearsed, I took the opportunity, in our concrete-ex-communism hotel, to have an afternoon nap. My husband came back later than expected and said ‘Put on the TV…’
Is the world on fire? And will anyone come to our concert?
At 5pm that day, a small ensemble of strings from the London Chamber Orchestra were also at the Enescu Festival: Vasko Vassilev, the Bulgarian star violinist, was leading a concert at Bucharest’s historic Athenaeum Hall, playing the Enescu String Octet, some Paganini and the Tchaikovsky Serenade. By the time they began, the news had broken and the questions were everywhere.
For the international visitors, chaos ensued. Most Romanians did not speak English. Only one person in the LPO, who was Romanian herself, knew the local lingo. Everyone was trying to work out what was going on. Was it part of a sustained attack on the West? Would other planes keep flying? Was it true that airlines were shutting down and cancelling all the flights? Would anyone come to the concert?
In the end about half the expected audience turned up for the LPO’s Bruckner with Kurt Masur, the two Americans in the orchestra were in floods of tears throughout and as this is a blog for the LCO, not the LPO, I won’t say too much about the showdown between the musicians and the famously uncompromising maestro the next morning.
The hitchhikers’ guide to Bucharest Airport
Bucharest Airport in the year 2001 was not a place to write home about. Especially not when the airline companies of the northern hemisphere had shut down out of what looked like sheer fright, and who can blame them? The LPO alone were laid-back about it: they had a chartered plane. The LCO players were facing a very different situation.
It’s funny how images come back to haunt you, and I know this is 21 years ago, but I have a clear view in my mind’s eye of us all milling about in anxiety and an affable figure locating those in charge of the LPO tour. I am now 90% sure this was Step Parikian, general manager of the LCO. Word soon circulated among the LPO players: a small group from the LCO was stranded and basically needed a lift on the plane back to London.
I can’t remember for certain if they got that lift (and neither can Step). But I have a vague hunch that they did.