Ludwig and the Bassists

A number of years ago, the Seattle Symphony was doing Beethoven's Ninth under the baton of Milton Katims...

At this point, you must understand two things:

  1. There's a long segment in this symphony where the bass violins don't have a thing to do. Not a single note for page after page.
  2. There used to be a tavern called Dez's 400, right across the street from the Seattle Opera House, rather favored by local musicians.

It had been decided that during this performance, after the bass players had played their parts in the opening of the Ninth, they were to quietly lay down their instruments and leave the stage rather than sit on their stools looking and feeling dumb for twenty minutes.

Once they got backstage, someone suggested that they trot across the street and quaff a few brews. After they had downed the first couple rounds, one said, "Shouldn't we be getting back? It'd be awfully embarrassing if we were late."

Another, presumably the one who suggested this excursion in the first place, replied, "Oh, I anticipated we could use a little more time, so I tied a string around the last pages of the conductor's score. When he gets down to there, Milton's going to have to slow the tempo way down while he waves the baton with one hand and fumbles with the string with the other."

So they had another round and finally returned to the Opera House, a little tipsy by now. However, as they came back on stage, one look at their conductor's face told them they were in serious trouble. Katims was furious! And why not? After all...

It was the bottom of the Ninth, the score was tied, and the bassists were loaded.


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December 4, 1998 Lawrence I. Charters