S itting in the front row at Carnegie Hall, there’s a moment I figure my goose is cooked. Let me explain. Having been given permission to observe one of the world’s great conductors in rehearsal, I’ve plonked myself down where I figure I’ll get a close look at Riccardo Muti from side on. Unfortunately, what I hadn’t reckoned on was that he might also get a close look at me, pad and pen poised, lurking anonymously within his peripheral vision. Five minutes into Stravinsky’s Scherzo Fantastique, the Maestro turns towards me, his face frowning, and makes a left-handed scribbling gesture with what I can only describe as a raised eyebrow. Colouring, I wince apologetically and shrink down into my seat. Thank heavens, two minutes later the penny seems to have dropped as he turns to me again but this time he smiles, indicating he’s happy for me to continue. As I have been given no guarantee of one-on-one time with Muti, I breathe a sigh of relief. Later, he takes time to welcome me and, very graciously to my mind, explain his “moment of confusion”.

Riccardo Muti. Photo...