Timing is everything for a conductor, and being forced to self-isolate less than 24 hours before he was due to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra was the worst timing possible for Sir Simon Rattle.
The musical director of the orchestra flew from his home in Germany especially to conduct an online classical event at St Luke’s in Islington after a period of quarantine.
The day before he was due to take up the baton on Sunday he was told via Test and Trace email to self-isolate due a Covid-19 contact on his flight, and his soprano Barbara Hannigan was poised to take on conducting duties despite also having to sing for the show.
But the conductor’s team managed to persuade Test and Trace officials that at the 11th hour that he was safe to lead the ensemble after testing negative, and Sir Simon returned to the podium for the Radio 3 recording.
Ms Hannigan was nevertheless encouraged to both sing and conduct at the same time after working on an innovative performance of Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 while Sir Simon was kept from rehearsals.
She told the Daily Telegraph: “Covid times have created many unexpected situations, and this was, thankfully, a beautiful chance to be in communion with the LSO's extraordinary players in a very special way.”
“Simon, who has been extremely supportive of my career as conductor, had suggested that it would eventually be a piece that would work well as a sing-conduct.
“I agreed, hypothetically - I just didn't think it would happen so soon.”
Sir Simon tested negative in Germany, where his family is based, before arriving in the UK on March 12 when he was tested again.
Under the UK’s Test to Release scheme, after five days of quarantine those isolating can privately pay for testing which if negative can reduce their isolation period.
After testing negative, Sir Simon was released from this period and able to rehearse with the LSO and squeeze in a concert before being told on Saturday that he had been there was a Covid risk on his in-bound flight from Germany.
The LSO, calling the Test and Trace 119 number, managed to persuade officials that the conductor did not have Covid and was working in a Covid-safe environment developed by the orchestra for performances.
It is understood that the case was made anonymously, without Sir Simon’s name being mentioned.
The St Luke’s recital of Ravel, Varese and Harrison which went ahead as planned will be followed on Wednesday by another performance for Radio 3.
Sir Simon will be leaving the LSO in 2023 to take up a role with the Munich-based Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.