In 1975 during his 75th birthday year, Aaron Copland appeared with the Harrisburg Symphony to conduct his Appalachian Spring. Now the Harrisburg orchestra was not a particularly fine ensemble in those days. It had just gone through 24 years of being led by Edwin McArthur, whose main claim to fame was that he had been Kirsten Flagstad’s preferred conductor. I recall a performance of the Beethoven Ninth where the timpani missed their cue in the scherzo, leaving a moment of embarrassing silence that seemed to drag out forever.
However, in 1974 David Epstein had taken over the orchestra, and he had begun the process of breathing new life into it. But the key word there is “begun”. Plus, the hall that the orchestra played in was notorious for its unruly acoustics.
But that evening when Epstein handed the baton to Aaron Copland to lead the Harrisburg Symphony in a performance of his Appalachian Spring, something wonderful happened. The musicians played with a crispness I had never heard before. It was a truly inspired performance.
But there’s actually another reason that I remember that evening so well.
I was still living in Richland in 1975 and wasn’t a subscriber to the Harrisburg Symphony and only decided to go to that concert at the last minute, which means I found myself standing in line for a ticket at the window where they were selling the tickets turned in by subscribers who couldn’t use them—and the line wasn’t moving.
Then a gent approached me with two extra tickets to sell; he was just asking face value for them. I told him I only needed one and he started to turn away. So I turned to the fellow in line directly in front of me, a black guy, and asked him how many tickets he needed. Just one. So back I turned to the ticket offerer and told him that the two of us would gladly take the two tickets off his hands. For some reason he seemed to balk at first, but he did end up selling the two of us his extra pair of tickets.
I don’t recall the other fellow’s name anymore, so I’m going to refer to him as Kirby. Kirby was a pleasant fellow, a few years older than I was, with an easygoing manner. Anyway, when we got to the seats, I said something like, “Not the best seats perhaps—”
“But we’re in,” he finished.
Kirby and I had a good time chatting before the concert started and during the intermission, but the main thing I recall him saying is that although he was from the Harrisburg area, he now spent most of his time in Sweden.
“Oh, business or pleasure?” I asked.
“Pleasure,” came the reply.
This opened up many new lines of inquiry but I was reluctant to pursue them with such a new acquaintance, so I let the matter rest there.
Anyway, the concert came to an end, we chatted some more about what a great performance it had been, etc., etc., and then we went our separate ways, I back to Richland, he presumably on the next flight to Sweden or whatever.
And that, I thought, was that.
A couple years later I moved to Harrisburg, and a couple years after that I was talking to someone who seemed to know everyone in Harrisburg and was filling me in on all the details. I was only half listening.
Then I became aware that he was speaking about someone who apparently led a charmed life. This guy just kept falling into great situations. Currently his boyfriend was a member of the royal family in Sweden who was supporting him completely. I realized he was speaking of Kirby. I verified a few details. Yep, it was Kirby.
So the reason Kirby spent so much time in Sweden was because he was being supported by his boyfriend, a Swedish prince. Of course, that may just have been idle gossip or an exaggerated version of the truth, but I hoped it was true.