Sir Henry Wood was one of England’s most distinguished conductors of the early twentieth century. In 1888, though, he was a nineteen-year-old student whose departure from the Royal Academy of Music was anything but dignified. He told the story in his 1938 autobiography.
During the Handel Festival at the Crystal Palace in London, Wood heard his ideal of the great organist–W.T. Best–play a newly-edited concerto in B-flat with an elaborate and complicated cadenza upon which Wood had been working for some weeks with the intention of playing it at one of the Royal Academy concerts.
Wood’s performance of the concerto was scheduled for a Friday rehearsal. After the first few bars, the principal of the Academy turned to an organ student and said, “You can conduct this. You are an organist and should know Handel’s concertos.”
It turned out that the student had never conducted before. As a result the orchestra bogged down several times in the first movement–much to Wood’s disgust, because he had expected the principal to conduct, and thought that the merits or deficiencies of his playing would be judged by his performance under the direction of an expert. Getting angrier by the moment, he went through the first and second movements and began the third. In his wry way, Wood described what happened next:
When we came to the finale, although the principal was doing his best in dumb-show to keep conductor and orchestra together, I completely lost my temper, jumped off the seat, and fled from the hall. It was not until I had gone some distance that I realized I had left my hat and coat behind. For all I knew, they are there now. Perhaps they kept them as a memento of my bad temper?
Sir Henry remarked that he undoubtedly had completed his musical education by then anyway, and added that despite his desperate departure, he and the principal of the Academy remained lifelong friends.