Andrew Litton, conductor
Home Biography Engagements Reviews Recordings News Insights Gallery Contact


Wish I’d been there . . .
Bayreuth, 4 August 1966

by Andrew Litton

I grew up around the corner from the Met, where my godfather is principal timpanist. He’d slip me tickets and tell me all sorts of stories—I wish I’d been at the 1974 Rosenkavalier, for example, that nearly fell apart in Act 1 when two of Pet Seller’s dogs started, er, going at it... The singers were laughing so hard they couldn’t continue, but poor Karl Böhm couldn’t see what was happening from the pit so he just kept conducting. Of course I rushed along to the next night—but this time only one dog appeared! Such disappointment!

My own Met conducting debut came on 9 March 1989, when I got through the whole of Yevgeny Onegin doubled over in agony with an undiagnosed ruptured appendix. It put me out of action for the next six weeks, so (though James Levine wasn’t too shoddy an understudy) I think it’s fair to say I wish I’d been on my own Onegin on 13 March 1989.

But in all seriousness, where I really wish I’d been: Bayreuth, 1966, Karl Böhm, Birgit Nilsson, Wolfgang Windfassen, Tristan. It wasn’t the very first record I owned—that would have been the classic Callas-Gobbi Tosca, given to me by my parents when I was really young. But it was the first Tristan I owned. As a boy I used to trot downtown to Sam Goody’s record store (Seventh Avenue, somewhere in the 50s) and spend my entire allowance there. On this I’d just seen Tristan at the Met—imagine the impact all that sound had on someone like me, just a little pianist.

There’s always something about the first recording you have of a piece. You compare every subsequent performance to it, but this version remains one of the greats. It is led with such a sure hand—Böhm knows exactly when to go full throttle and when to languish. And the title roles are both in such splendid voice and perfectly matched (this is certainly a case of Tristan UND Isolde!). And when your supporting cast features the likes of Christa Ludwig, Martti Talvela, Peter Schreier, Eberhard Waechter—all of them a the top of their careers—you know the version will be hard to beat.

But recordings can only go so far when it comes to live music, and especially when it comes to Birgit Nilsson. Her voice was never perfectly captured by a microphone; it was simply to humungous an instrument, too many overtones, too brassy and too directional. I remember hearing her at the Met and believing that the sound she was making could actually part my hair. A recording can only hint at the excitement she generated up close. Which is why I wish I’d been there to witness this landmark Tristan in the flesh.

Andrew Litton tours the UK with the Bergen Philharmonic (March 22-25) and soloists including Laura Aikin and Heidi Grand Murphy.

Originally printed in the March 2010 edition of Opera.
Copyright © 2010 Opera. All rights reserved.


Other insights

July 2017
Andrew Litton, Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s new principal guest conductor, is humbled by the power of music

July 2016
Maestro Andrew Litton takes us behind the scenes of Sommerfest 2016

January 2016
The conductor Andrew Litton, finding a different tempo

October 2015
Andrew Litton: a portrait of the artist as a mature conductor

July 2015
Still Going Strong: Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra at 250

December 2014
Andrew Litton to Lead New York City Ballet Orchestra

October 2014
Watch the YouTube videos from Rhinegold LIVE of Andrew performing selections from A Tribute to Oscar Peterson

September 2014
Colorado Symphony trades busy offseason for big Beethoven opener

May 2014
Podcast: Andrew Litton swaps his conducting baton for the piano for his latest recording, an album dedicated to the great jazz pianist Oscar Peterson.

May 2014
A Tribute to Oscar Peterson

April 2014
Transcribin’ the Blues

January 2014
The Broncos and the Colorado Symphony, both winning teams

April 2013
New Colorado Symphony Orchestra conductor Andrew Litton is a modern maestro

February 2013
Andrew Litton on bringing the Bergen Philharmonic to Edinburgh

January 2013
How the Norse code was cracked; Andrew Litton tells Ivan Hewett about achieving his goal of putting the Bergen Philharmonic on the musical map

January 2013
Karl Bohm is remembered fondly by Andrew Litton

December 2012
Andrew appears on BBC Radio3’s documentary, “Tchaikovsky’s 1812: A Dishonest Overture?” on Dec. 1st

November 2012
Colorado Symphony’s New Artistic Advisor Excited About The Holidays

September 2012
Andrew discusses Russian music, his career with Bergen, and upcoming concert with the NZSO with Radio New Zealand

June 2012
The June Gramophone Podcast asks Andrew about his 100th CD (starts at 23:30)

October 2011
Having some musical fun: virtuoso percussionist Martin Grubinger notes that this is the first time a Chief Conductor appears on stage as a bass marimba player

April 2011
TheArtsDesk Q&A: Conductor Andrew Litton

March 2011
Norwegians Can! Conducting the Bergen Philharmonic.

February 2011
Andrew discusses life with the Bergen Philharmonic with Edward Seckerson, (MP3)

October 2010
Andrew talks with ABC Classic FM’s Margaret Throsby about the joys of classical music, (MP3)

July 2010
Bach, re-imagined

April 2010
Musicians on the moments that changed them: Andrew Litton meets Oscar Peterson

March 2010
WUNC-FM’s Catherine Brand talks with Andrew Litton about the music and friendship of Vaughan Williams and Holst, (MP3)

March 2010
Andrew discusses the “Music that changed me” with BBC Music

March 2010
Andrew tells Opera Magazine “Wish I’d been there when...”

February 2010
Q & A with BBC Music Magazine’s Daniel Jaffé

January 2010
Jeremy Nicholas discusses the real George Gershwin with Andrew, as featured on the cover CD of January’s Gramophone Magazine, 34:03 (MP3)

August 2007
North Star: How does it feel to step into the shoes of a national treasure?

February 2007
Andrew reminisces about his favorite experiences with the DSO
(streaming video)

January 2007
NACOcast: Andrew chats with NAC’s Christopher Millard, 20:00 (MP3)

July 2006
Artistic director Andrew Litton seeks to make the music festival fun

July 2006
Sommerfest director’s credo: Classical music can be fun

March 2006
BBC Radio 4: In Tune with Sean Rafferty, 17:01 (MP3)

February 2006
Passed Up by the NSO, Concerto For Contrabassoon Premieres in Norway

January 2006
Litton considers Gershwin a neighbor

December 2005
New developments on ENO Music Directorship

December 2005
ENO regrets? No, just plans

July 2005
My First Opera: Lucia di Lammermoor

January 2005
Denver latest stop for conductor Litton

October 2004
MPR: Andrew Litton’s guide to the Shostakovich 8th forum discussion, 50:55 (WMA)

May 2004
What’s next for Andrew Litton?

August 1997
BBC Radio 3: In Tune with Anthony Burton, 16:08 (MP3)

August 1997
BBC Radio 4: Kaleidoscope with Paul Gambaccini, 7:53 (MP3)

September 1995
Dallas Symphony Dynamo

August 1994
The Linking of Litton and Gershwin

January 1993
The Young One

February 26, 1988
Conduct So Becoming