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Just in: Sir Colin Davis suffers podium fall, saved by rail

During a concert with the Sachsische Staatskapelle at the Semper Oper in Dresden last night, Sir Colin suffered balance problems and had to hang on to the podium rail. Fortunately, it supported him – as it did not with Kurt Masur in Paris ten days ago.

Sir Colin, 84, was taken to hospital after the concert and spent the night there. He was told there was no cause for concern.

UPDATE: See Karin’s eyewitness account below.

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  1. I am sorry to hear about Sir Colin’s fall. Perhaps it’s time that there was some solid protection for conductors on the podium. As they grow older some might suffer from dizziness and balance problems. I’m glad there is no cause for concern for Sir Colin and that Kurt Masur will soon be fully recovered from his fall.

  2. Mati Braun says:

    Thank God he is OK.

  3. It happened to Pierre Monteux, it happens to Masur and Davis and it will probably happen to Dudamel in some fifty years. It’s the risk of having people well past their eighties doing a job that requires a great deal of mental and physical fitness. But they probably wouldn’t want it otherwise, and neither would their audiences.

  4. Another great conductor in peril – glad to read he’s OK.. Fortunately, Sir Colin is not quite as massive as Kurt Masur, so the bar held.

    Some sort of precaution should be taken, as Jean suggests. Let’s not forget that the elderly are often on various meds, e.g., blood thinners, which increases their chances of having a syncope. Especially under the physical exertion that a full concert program causes. If you have one of those, a hard fall is likely even if there is a bar behind you.

    However, the only method I can see at the moment is a safety harness with a cord attached, and that would not really look good on stage, even if that is preferable to elderly conductors falling and injuring themselves. I don’t think the maestros would go along with it, though.

    Any good suggestions for conductor safety precautions anyone?

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I can think of a good safety measure for aging conductors: the chair. It’s used far more at the opera pit than in symphonic concerts. Is ego getting in the way? Many conductors do some of their best wok in old age. We don’t want them to retire earlier than they want.

      • Davis already conducts from a chair – has done for at least the last year.

        • Petros Linardos says:

          Was Davis conducting from a chair during the recent incident?

          • Karin Desvaux says:

            I was at the concert at the Semper Oper in Dresden last Monday. I sat in the 5th row to one side and could observe what was happening quite clearly. The report headline was slightly misleading. Sir Colin did not trip or slip, and the rail played a minor part. Yes, he did hold on to it briefly with his left hand behind him , while conducting with his right and sitting on a swivel stool. This was about 5 or 10 minutes before the end of the concert.. He then let go of the rail, trying to turn the page in the score, after which he was leaning forward slighly, stopped conducting and placed both hands on the score. He did not fall to the ground or trip over anything. Players from the orchestra came to his aid immediately and he was led off the podium.

            I agree, though, that these podiums are quite hazardous for conductors (never mind ageing ones!), and someone must come up with a solution, before more serious incidents happen. Of course, we all want these brilliant people to carry on as long as possible.

          • Thank you, Karin.

  5. mhtetzel says:

    I went to the Bruckner Project concerts with Barenboim conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin at RFH and Barenboim frequently leant on the rail while conducting. Why some conductors dispense with the podium rail is beyond me, and I´m sure there are quite a few of them, and if I´m not mistaken, Zubin Mehta is one of them. May be it goes hand in hand with conducting without a score. A good field for you to investigate!

  6. Does this happen this often!? Muti fell off the podium in Chicago, had to have re-constructive surgery for his face and has a pace maker now. Colin Davis and Masur just recently. And James Levine also was injured because of this? These are the stories that pop to mind I’m heard. I’m sure there are more. I’m just an observer, but perhaps someone should try to knock on the consciousness of those in charge of whether there’s some sort of podium rail. Or would knocking on wood be more effective?

    • Daniel Farber says:

      James Levine injured his rotator cuff taking a fall on the stage level as he was turning to go off stage after a bow. It had nothing to do with standing on the podium. In any case, Levine SAT to conduct—on a swivel stool. And that, by the way, is the not-so-mysterious solution to the problem of conductors taking falls from the podium. Klemperer sat. Casals sat, though sometimes stood during lively passages. Levine sat (and may he sit again). Previn sits (but should retire from performing).

    • Stephen Owades says:

      James Levine tripped and fell on the flat stage in Boston’s Symphony Hall while walking through the orchestra during the bows. He did not fall off the podium, and he always sat on a swivel chair when conducting in Boston. I was singing onstage in the concert when he fell.

    • Yes, thanks; I thought I didn’t remember exactly about Levine. Should have looked at an article. That still doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t help to have railings as well, would a conductor prefer to stand. Would railings interfere with someone if they were seated?

  7. When I was a mere boy I remember the late great Otto Klemperer was seated at all times even for his concerts. He was such an enormous towering man, I imgaine 6′ 2″ as a total guess and still was a tower on the podium. Even following his stoke.

    • Daniel Farber says:

      Klemperer was said to be 6’5″ but in old age had probably shrunk a couple of inches. He still towered over everyone: physically & musically.

  8. Peter Freeman says:

    Klemperer had assistance wherever he went after his stroke(s?) and was a walking miracle, in that nobody seated in the choir could fathom how the orchestra followed him, so seemingly imprecise were his gestures. Yet the sounds he elicited were far from imprecise.

    Sir Colin both sat and stood, from time to time, during his Freischuetz concert in London a few weeks ago, and had a vertical post fitted to his left to steady him when mounting and dismounting the podium. It also came in handy when taking bows from stage level.

    Apart from being a great conductor he is also very courteous, kind and welcoming when approached by strangers on musical matters after an exhausting performance. I wish him well.

    • Daniel Farber says:

      Klemperer never had a “stroke”. He had a brain tumor removed in 1939, broke his femur in 1951, and almost fatally set fire to his bed-clothes in 1958. After the latter, he almost always conducted from a chair or stool. The one time I saw him in live performance–Philadelphia Orchestra in Lincoln Center, autumn of 1962–he was seated throughout. The better players in the Boston Symphony were much taken with Sir Colin during his frequent visits to Boston in the 1970′s. Dissatisfied with Ozawa, they knew the real stuff when they saw it! His Sibelius recordings with the BSO are still the gold standard!

      • Peter Freeman says:

        All agreed! I had forgotten about the Klemperer bedclothes fire. I was lucky enough to hear him on many occasions in London in the mid-to-late sixties and early seventies, mostly sitting in the choir, often following in miniature scores, and wondering how the Philharmonia translated the poor man’s seemingly vague, tremulous flailings into precise sounds. In that respect there was an analogy with the late Sir Reginald Goodall, who I heard only twice in the concert hall but countless times in the opera house. I also saw Klemperer, by total surprise, attend a synagogue service, reportedly to hear the cantor who invoked nostalgic childhood memories. He was, of course, born in Breslau, the rabbinical seminary of which was noted for its training of cantors, one of whom was a great-grandfather of mine. It was a regular habit of Klemperer to attend these services when rehearsing in London. He had to be helped in and out of the large building by two minders, and the beadle told me proudly that he always sent him complimentary tickets for his concerts when in London, except if they were on a Sabbath. A book, Conversations with Klemperer, edited by Peter Heyworth and published by Gollancz in 1973, is worth tracking down, not least for its pictures.

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