The desk clerk at the Warwick Hotel in Philadelphia looked me up and down, noted my dungarees, and sniffed. It was the morning of 18 April 1991. Bill Smith and the Philadelphia Orchestra were slated to premiere my First Symphony in a few days. I'd come to attend rehearsals.
"The Orchestra is paying for the room," I announced proudly. "Sure," he said. "But I'll need a credit card for the incidentals." "I don't have one. May I write a check?" I asked. "Not without a credit card." Two beats. "Then I'll register and promise not to incur incidentals," I said. "That is against policy," he said smugly, looking away. I blushed, pride bruised.
I rallied: "Kindly call Bernard Jacobson at the Orchestra. I'm sure that they will guarantee my check." "Hmm!" he sniffed, made me wait as he took a call. "Give me the phone," I said, temper rising.
Dialing Bernard's line, I felt shame and embarrassment collecting behind my forehead. Soon it would congeal into a fiery crown, a migraine. Bernard's delightful voice boomed with laughter when I explained the situation. "Oh, do put the little man on, will you?" he chuckled. The astonished clerk accepted the receiver and held it as though it were unclean. How gratifying it was to see his face grow stiff, and then slide downwards as an omelet flung against a wall. Astonished, doubtful, he cradled the phone and accepted my check. "So, the orchestra is playing your music?" He was still shaking his head as I stepped into the elevator.
Bill Smith had insisted, despite his failing health, on conducting the premiere. Before the first rehearsal, Bill and I conferred in the semi-darkness of his backstage office at the Academy of Music, a dozen feet away from the dressing room where, a decade before, I first met Bernstein. A stroke had left him quite frail, but his eyes still shone brightly. "You see, I've fulfilled the promise I made to you four years ago over pints at the Parting Glass in Saratoga," he smiled. I had walked over from Yaddo, and he had just come from a rehearsal of Daphnis at SPAC.
At the end of the rehearsal, concertmaster Norman Carol and principal violist Joseph de Pasquale approached me. "I'm so glad to be playing something by a young composer that gives us melodies with soul in them," said Norman. Joe shook my hand, and said, "I don't know what will happen to this piece, but I'm happy for you, and happy to play it."Bill clasped my hands in his violently trembling hands and said, "Beautiful. Beautiful—there's your first symphony at last." With bravado, he vowed to premiere the next one too, but we both knew he was dying.
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