Diary

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Summoned by a glockenspiel

IN THE aftermath of the - mercifully unfulfilled - threat to two internationally renowned London orchestras, I hear more good news for classical musicians. In an experiment that could lead to the establishment of a string of youth orchestras, Sir Georg Solti, the 81- year-old conductor, has assembled a group of talented youngsters who will play alongside professionals in a series of concerts at Carnegie Hall, New York, in June.

In what is believed to be the first of its type in the world, the orchestra will have professionals such as Sidney Weiss, from the LA Philharmonic orchestra, leading some of the sections. The 80-odd young people - including British violinist Helen Hathorn, 23 - who passed the stiff audition (about 3,000 tried) will thus have the chance to play alongside musicians they would normally only have the chance to watch. The maestro's wife, Lady Solti, tells me her husband would 'love to expand on the idea - it's really just a matter of funding'.

The inspiration for the orchestra dates back to Salzburg in 1937 when young Solti, then a pianist, was listening to a rehearsal led by Toscanini, the greatest conductor of his day. Enjoying the music from the stalls, Solti was summoned backstage when members of the orchestra were taken ill. Asked if he knew The Magic Flute, the 24-year-old student nodded his head, and was immediately propelled on to the stage with his idol where he triumphed, by all accounts, with his rendition of Mozart's opera - on the glockenspiel.

THE expression 'Eurotunnel' is causing havoc with computers up and down the land. Last week I noted that a computer with WordPerfect software does not recognise the word, suggesting the alternatives of 'erosional', 'eruptional' or 'irrational'. I now gather that Word for Windows software has a similar problem, offering the alternatives of 'evasion' and - disconcertingly - 'evaporating quickly'.

Publish and be rich AS ONE of Britain's more sensitive, as well as congenial, comedians, Michael Palin has been a touch sore of late following what he describes as the 'dusting' handed out to his last film, American Friends, which he wrote and starred in himself. Unduly sore, I would say, because although box office staff weren't exactly drafting in reinforcements, the critics gave it an easy ride. Not easy enough, however, because Palin has now decided to give up producing movies altogether and become a novelist instead.

Palin's agent tells me the fortunate publisher is Methuen, although tiresome details such as plot have yet to be decided. It's bound to be a money-spinner, however: so astronomical were his royalties from Around the World in 80 Days that only the then BBC director-general, Michael Checkland, was authorised to sign the cheque.

IN THE past seven years, at least 240 newspaper articles have mentioned Paddy Ashdown and at least one of the following: hair, hair-driers, hairdressers, and hairpieces. If this reflects a general admiration for the Ashdown mop, it is not shared by his hairdresser. According to this week's House Magazine - the Parliamentary weekly - he likens it to 'a dead hamster'.

Tug of love JUST as it was England's gain and Spain's loss when Barcelona sacked Terry Venables, who then joined Spurs, so is another English team congratulating themselves after swiping one Jim Knight from the Spanish. A former world, European, English and County champion, Knight, 56, has coached the Spanish to supremacy, and is now confident of helping England regain the world title which they last held five years ago.

A man of some dedication, Knight takes his job seriously. 'I'm delighted to be back,' he tells me. 'For years England had the best tug-of-war team in the world.'

A DAY LIKE THIS

19 April 1881 Queen Victoria writes to Lord Rowton on the death of Disraeli: 'I cannot write in the 3rd person at this terrible moment when I can scarcely see for my fast falling tears. I did not expect this very rapid end tho' my hopes sank yesterday very much. Till then the improvement seemed so steady. Alas] it was but the flickering up of the light before it went out. I feel deeply for you - who loved him and devoted yourself to him as few sons ever do] I hardly dare trust to speak of myself. The loss is so overwhelming. Never had I so kind and devoted a Minister and very few such friends. His affectionate sympathy, his wise counsel - all were so invaluable even out of office. I have lost so many dear and valued friends but none whose loss will be more keenly felt. To England (or rather Gt. Britain) and to the World his loss is immense. God's will be done] I have learnt to say this but the bitterness and the suffering are not the less severe.'

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