Another orchestral story from 1970s’ London, not so much viola jokes and maestro-baiting as self-defence.
A senior conductor is rehearsing his own chamber orchestra—both have seen better days. There’s a tricky passage for the violas, so he gets the section to play it together without the rest of the band, but it’s still not sounding right.
Opting for the bold step of getting them to play it individually—a demand very much frowned upon—he eyeballs a trusty old player who’s been sitting innocuously at the back of the violas minding his own business since the dawn of time, and asks him imperiously,
“You, Norman—can you play this passage for me?”
Norman looks back at him and remarks dryly,
“Harry, if I could play this passage, I wouldn’t be sitting here in this orchestra…”
I can now divulge that this was the very same conductor who had the celebrated exchange with the timpani player. For a wealth of related stories, see here.