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The Hilarious Tradition of Conductor Birthday Pranks

By Sara Schabas on January 8, 2024

David Robertson
David Robertson (NYO USA)

The National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America surprises their conductor on his birthday.

What’s Up:  Orchestral pranks on conductors are a longstanding tradition. A few years ago, the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America pranked their 65-year-old conductor, David Robertson, on his birthday. The conductor was in the midst of conducting Britten’s Violin Concerto with the acclaimed violinist Gil Shaham. After the first few bars of the Britten, the music faded into an arrangement of “Happy Birthday.”

This trend has continued far and wide. Four years ago, members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir interrupted Sir Andrew Davis’ conducting to serenade him on his 75th birthday.

Digging Deeper: And it’s not always “Happy Birthday.” In 2015, the Florida Orchestra pranked their British conductor Michael Francis by playing “God Save the Queen” in lieu of “The Star Spangled Banner.” The Florida Orchestra is particularly skilled at such pranks – check out their Imperial March invasion in the middle of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

The Bottom Line: Anyone claiming classical musicians don’t know how to have fun would benefit from checking out these silly videos. It turns out even Mahler can be morphed into “Happy Birthday.” Check out the Berlin Philharmonic’s impressive rendition here.

Sara Schabas
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