The director of the Royal Golf Club asked me to come for an interview. Turned out he wanted a series called Concerts on the Grass in the month of August every Saturday night. We looked at the possibilities, but of course in the open air the acoustics are not so good without amplification for the public. And I resisted the idea of mikes and speakers. Better would be a band shell.
There was a sort of natural amphitheater where he thought we could set it up. From there you could look up to see the balcony of the restaurant of the golf club where perhaps forty or fifty people could be sitting at tables. Outside the green surrounding the stage there was room for five or six hundred people. They could bring blankets and drinks and listen to the classics under the stars.
George gave me the go ahead to construct a shell, paid for by the Club. I located a guy who produced fiberglass boats. I sketched what I wanted, imagining room for up to fifteen players, something we could fit together on a wood platform and dismantle for storing when not in use. It was more or less okay, awkward to put up and hard to take down so we just left it up for the whole month.
The other thing I insisted on was no noise from the restaurant; waiters had to lay off serving after the concert began. They could serve drinks during the intermission. The coffee grinding machine was definitely out.
We figured by eleven o’clock people would finish their dinners. There had to be absolute silence from up there or this would not work. The roof of the terrace reflected voices down to the stage.
The chef who owned the restaurant concession was delighted. Normally golfers filled his tables for the lunch special menus, but nights were not so popular. In theory people would come for dinner attracted by the novelty of starlight concerts. And so it was.
But that’s where finally the rub came, though not right away.
That first year things went well. We had a good series of musicians who played first in my Festival then played in the golf concert. There was only one minor event which caused some consternation. The Russo String Quartet had in front of them 600 people plus all the tables full in the restaurant above. They were in the middle of I believe it was the Schumann A Minor quartet. In the slow movement the sprinkling system came on and these four young Russians fled from the stage, hovering over their instruments. The gardener had forgotten to turn off the watering system. I must admit I always suspected later, after the run-in with the chef, that it was deliberate sabotage.
After a while George and I calmed the Russians down, up in the dressing room smelling of sweat and wet tuxedos, and they agreed to finish the concert in exchange for a bonus. They were driven back down to the stage, wearing tee shirts now with the emblem of the Ninth Hole Restaurant. The public showed their appreciation. Some of them were soaked as well and were offered towels. The Club sent around waiters serving cava.
For George, the director of the golf club, he was happy to get a lot of publicity for the club. So we got on to planning for the next year. I knew that it would be a good one because I had a couple of fantastic groups coming that summer.
We discussed the budget, figures something that would nearly double what the musicians playing in my Festival would get while on the island. He persuaded friends in the department of Sports and Culture (what a strange marriage that is) of the island council to cobble together a fairly decent sum and the board of the Club agreed to meet the shortfall if necessary.
George wanted to put put the bite on the local Town Hall. But here appears a new wrinkle. The town hall legally must announce in the newspapers that they are taking bids for the concert series.
They agreed on a reasonable figure, making up the deficit. This figure they duly announced.
Applicants had to present a program of four concerts, fees and curriculum, etc. A couple of local musical entrepreneurs had been jealously observing my activities in various parts of the island. But the cultural rep in town hall nixed their proposals as inadequate, at George’s insistence at an elaborate lunch in the golf club for the functionaries involved. That got the hackles up amongst the competition, and they called on the hounds of the press. Of course the press were already in on it all, being invited to the elaborate lunch.
The next year the competition began closing in. The choir director in the same town had formed a Baroque Orchestra to accompany his choir. Being local he knew the people in town hall as well if not better than George: the Secretary of Culture sang in his choir.
But by now the board of the golf club had figured a way to block all pretenders to competition. Nowhere in the law did it say how far in advance they had to announce the call for bids so he arranged for the announcement to come out one week before the deadline.
The system worked for ten years, except once when George let the choir director win and the concerts were blasted by the public, press, and the Department of Culture was shuffled.
That’s when the chef decided to derail the project.
Saturday night dinners in August were now so popular, he figured he could do without the restrictions, without the concerts, in fact. The last night of the August concerts that year, he himself booked all the tables on the terrace fo a group of Mallorcan friends. They, in the local tradition didn’t even begin ordering dinner until half past ten, grouping themselves at the bar in a thirsty herd.
Masters of of simultaneous speech, speaking all at the same time and who knows maybe even understanding each other, but definitely drowning out even the sound of grinding coffee and Muzak, and blaring TV sets in the corners.
They moved onto the terrace for dinner just as the musicians in the band shell below were bowing to the public sprawled up the slopes around them. It was the largest crowd ever, attracted by a chamber orchestra of some renown.
They sat down, bows adjusted. The conductor waited for silence, and when the chatter continued, he glanced up at the terrace. He caught sight of George off to the left, shrugging helplessly, and signalling to go ahead.
I was standing behind the multitude straining to hear the opening chords. I saw the bows moving, the conductors arms drawing a picture of what we should be hearing over the heads of the violinists on one side, the cellists on the other.
But I could hear only voices and raucous laughter.
I hopped into the electric golf cart and made my circuitous way up to the clubhouse.
I found the chef leaning against the bar with a couple of elegant society women. He met me with a wide smile.
“What’s going on? Who are all these people?”
He glanced from the lady on his right to the one of the left, giving a wink to each.
“These are all my friends,” he said. “I invited them to see this famous orchestra.”
“You’re ruining the concert!” I said.
His smile burst like a supernova and the ladies giggled.
The chef spread his arms in a very Spanish gesture of satisfaction.
“Cabrón!” I shouted. One of the worst insults to Latin pride, which everybody knows is number one on the list of deadly sins in this country. Read it for yourself in the famous Diaz book.
The supernova smile collapsed into a black hole of fury as he spun away from the bar toward the kitchen.
I turned to look for George, but didn’t have to go far he was at my elbow, urging me toward the door to the parking lot.
“Move! Move!” he told me opening the door of my Renault and shoving me inside. Out of the door of the club came a pack of aproned kitchen folk brandishing all sorts of cutlery, lead by the chef himself with a cleaver aloft.
By now I was inside, doors locked. The windscreen was a TV, it couldn’t be real. George was a windmill, and the lesser help withdrew. But the chef stood chin to chin with George.
He kicked out my headlamps one at a time, snapped off the side view mirrors with a swipe of the cleaver, and walked away shoulders squared like a matador showing his back to the toro.