Page 26 of The Protege

When she’s fifteen I move Isabeau up to second cello and the orchestra learns and performs Scheherazade. The piece has a difficult first violin solo throughout but a sixteen-year-old called Hayley Chiswell is more than up to performing it. I notice that she and Isabeau have become good friends and I’m glad of this because I want Isabeau to have more music friends her own age. That was one of the reasons I set the orchestra up. But not the main reason. The main reason is looking toward the string section and seeing Isabeau looking back at me, smiling. That year she wins all the cello competitions she enters and I’m there for every single performance.

I find that working with the youth orchestra is as rewarding as working with my main orchestra, and sometimes more so. I don’t have to be so formal as they’re good kids who are happy to be there. I like leaving the suit and tie at home and rehearsing in my shirtsleeves, without a baton, and when we perform I tell them they can wear whatever they like as long as it’s black and doesn’t clutter up the stage. One season a trumpet player arrives at three performances dressed as Neo from The Matrix. It’s the Mayhew, but they’re kids. They’ve got the rest of their lives to be serious about classical music. Isabeau wears black jeans and sneakers or long black dresses, whichever she’s in the mood for. Sometimes the sneakers go with the dresses and she wears winged eyeliner as well. She’s finding herself and I love watching it happen. I have Isabeau close to me and I get to hear her play and watch her pretty, studious face. Conducting and orchestras are my life and it’s wonderful to share it with her. She cares as deeply about the orchestra as I do. I think about having her in my symphony orchestra in a few years’ time. I want that very much. But then, she won’t have time if she’s a soloist and I want that for her as well. I think it’s what she wants most of all, too. That’s a long way in the future, though. For now she’s here, and I couldn’t ask for more.

But one day, when she’s sixteen, I don’t have such a wonderful time at rehearsal.

When Isabeau and I arrive it’s the same as any other day at the Mayhew. The ensemble is making excellent progress with Holst’s The Planets which they’ll be performing at the Winter Concert. Isabeau is happy because she’s just received top marks in her Grade Eight cello exams and I’m always in a good humor when Isabeau is smiling.

As the rehearsal progresses my mood takes a nosedive. I don’t know what’s got into everyone tonight but the ensemble is restless, talking in between pieces, getting up and down, slumping in their chairs. I don’t expect them to be as respectful and professional as my orchestra because they’re not professionals, they’re a bunch of teenagers and this is supposed to be fun, not work, but tonight they’re really testing my patience.

Something’s off in the woodwind section. I keep listening for a badly tuned instrument or sloppy playing but everything sounds as it should. One of the clarinet players is talking a lot, and in the middle of a discussion I’m having with the section about their part in the third movement he yawns conspicuously without covering his mouth, and I’ve had enough.

“Mr. Reese. If I’m keeping you up you’re welcome to leave.”

His mouth closes with a snap and he sits up straight. “Yes, Mr. Valmary.”

A ripple goes through the orchestra as everyone adjusts the way they’re sitting. I look around slowly, driving the point home that I’m not feeling as tolerant as I usually am and they shouldn’t press their luck. Everyone is silent and still. Good. Perhaps that’s the end of it.

I finish what I was saying and we keep playing, and twenty minutes later the rehearsal is over. I start packing up and out of habit glance at Isabeau, just to check on her, and notice that a flautist called Ryan Taylor has left the woodwind section and is standing next to her while she puts away her cello. Thinking back I realize that he was looking at her throughout the whole rehearsal. It wasn’t Kieran Reese getting to me all this time. It was Ryan.

He’s standing by her chair while he takes apart and cleans his flute. I try to follow their conversation by their body language. He seems to be asking her a question and she’s hesitating, not wanting to answer. Finally, she glances at me and then gets up and comes over, her fingers running through the end of her ponytail.

She purses her lips and looks up at me with hesitant eyes. “Laszlo…”