The Day I Almost Destroyed the Boston Symphony Orchestra by John Sant’Ambrogio

The Day I Almost Destroyed the Boston Symphony Orchestra by John Sant’AmbrogioThe Day I Almost Destroyed the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Other Stories by John Sant'Ambrogio
on January 1, 1970
Genres: Biography & Memoir, Music
Source: I purchased a copy of this book.
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John Sant'Ambrogio played with the Boston Symphony for 9 years, was Principal Cellist with the Casals Festival Orchestra for 2 years, and Principal cellist with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra for 37 years. A natural storyteller, he relates the life and sometime hilarious times he's experienced behind the scenes spanning over 50 years and 10,000 concerts.

Included are dozens of stories that are dramatic, poignant, funny, and serious: his fateful day with BSO when it almost ground to a halt; the nights he slept with rattlesnakes in the Army; the day his career started while painting a barn. We duck as he is attacked with a bow during a rehearsal on stage; we watch intently as the conductor's toupee takes flight on a high note. We are privy to the tyrant conductors and the caring conductors, the inspiring times in a symphony orchestra and the bittersweet times, the professional injuries and the healings. And finally, we glimpse the possible future of live symphonic music in the concert halls of the United States.

"The Day I Almost Destroyed the Boston Symphony and Other Stories" is a veritable who's who of the music world. The stories tell about the times the author spent with Charles Münch, Pablo Casals, Yo Yo Ma, Leonard Slatkin, Itzhak Perlman, Erich Leinsdorf, David Robertson, and dozens of other musicians and conductors. Through all this, the music that we "hear" is divine and inspiring-in spite of the rain, sleet, snow, strikes, and emergencies we encounter along the way.


My spouse always complains that when we get together with musician friends, all we do is “talk about music.” We love trading stories, and some of our older friends have some pretty fantastic tales. I expected to love this book, but strangely enough, I’m not sure I was the right audience for it.

In The Day I Almost Destroyed the Boston Symphony Orchestra, John Sant’Ambrogio hops around through time; sometimes he was a professional, other times a student, then suddenly a professional again. A more linear approach would have been easier to follow. Many of his stories contained details too familiar to me, and didn’t hold my interest. I think classical music enthusiasts or music students who aren’t involved (or yet involved) in the professional world will be far more interested in this memoir. It’s very accessible to the layperson – whether he’s describing the audition process, how a rehearsal is run, how conductors command attention – everything is explained clearly.

I enjoyed his perspective on some of the issues facing symphony orchestras today, as well as hearing about his experiences working with famous conductors and playing for great composers. There’s an especially touching moment when the Boston Symphony played for a group of Soviet composers. Dmitri Shostakovich was in attendance, though shunned by his fellow composers and his government. The BSO wasn’t allowed to perform any of his music during the concert, but the assistant concertmaster found a way to make sure Shostakovich knew how much they revered him.

This was just an “okay” read for me, but I’m sure amateur musicians, professionals just starting out, and classical enthusiasts will enjoy it much more.

A note on the e-book: I purchased the NOOK version. It was so horribly formatted. Chapters began in random places on the page, some (not all) paragraphs flushed all the way to the right without a margin, the top margin was too close to the title, line breaks would frequently occur in the middle of a word in nonsensical places and without hyphens. If this kind of thing bothers you, I recommend purchasing a used copy of the softcover from Amazon, or checking to see if your local library has a copy.