Staging the return of Otto and his diamond-encrusted baton

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EMBOLDENED by the success of its Young Musician of the Year competition, which has got millions of people listening to classical music when normally they would be watching a cheap game show, the BBC has decided to go ahead with another great new idea.

But let Clive Waxler, head of the Great New Musical Ideas Department, take up the tale.

'Let's get one thing straight first,' says Clive. 'When we came up with the Young Musician of the Year idea, we weren't trying to attract an audience to classical music. We were trying to come up with another cheap game show. And we succeeded] That's what Young Musician of the Year is all about, deep down. It's about pale, sweating contestants, hoping to avoid making fools of themselves and get a bit of loot as well, with the audience cheering their favourites and hoping the rest will come a cropper.'

Hmm. And now you have come up with another great idea?

'We surely have,' says Clive Waxler affably. 'Actually, we'd been looking round for ages for another simple but great idea like the Young Musician of the Year, while all the while it was staring us in the face.'

What was?

'The Old Musician of the Year contest.'

The what?

'You heard me correctly. Old Musician of the Year contest. Classical music is legendarily peopled with survivors. Conductors who go on for ever. Pianists who never stop maturing. People such as Segovia, who was still the doyen of guitarists in his eighties, not to mention fathering children - I mean, can you name me a rock guitarist in his eighties? No? You see, it's a completely different ball game.

'I think the public is just going to be so fascinated to see these living legends performing the music that has been their life for most of this century . . .'

But won't some of them be past their best? 'Of course. But the Young Musicians of the Year were all before their best. And did anyone complain? No, sir] Look, part of the attraction, just between you and me and the gatepost, will be seeing if some of these guys can still stand up. Imagine] They totter on to the stand, and the audience says, 'My God, this is so unfair, making them stay up after their bed-time', and then suddenly they sit down and toss off a perfect piece of Chopin or something, and the audience goes, 'Wow]]'.

'Look, old actors can do it, so why not old musicians? If John Gielgud can do it, why not these guys?'

Yes, but John Gielgud doesn't enter Old Actor of the Year contests . . .

'And old age is big news these days,' continues Clive Waxler, unheeding. 'One Foot in the Grave, Waiting For God, The Golden Girls, Last of the Summer Wine - all smash hits] And if actors can get in the ratings by pretending to be old, imagine how well really old and really talented musicians will do]'

Clive Waxler already has a list of old musicians he wants to take part.

There's a double bass player he won't name who has been auditioning for London orchestras for more than 50 years, and has still not got a regular job. There's Shura Bayevsky, the pianist, who was taught in the Twenties by a pupil of the man whose aunt used to go out with Chopin, though she never liked him much.

There's Vladimir Kontalev, the Russian cellist who defected to the West after the First World War, and is still waiting for the big breakthrough. There is Aldo Zucchini, the ageing Italian conductor who has clocked up more air miles in the last two years than any top golfer. There is Otto Klemperer . . . Hold on] Otto Klemperer is not only old, he's dead, isn't he?

'Yeah, well he's technically dead,' says Clive Waxler carelessly, 'but to many, many people he is still alive and will never die, and that's what counts.

'I was talking to Hans Stuckwangler the other day, the man who worked for Klemperer for 30 years as his baton minder, and he was showing me all the batons that Klemperer carried to every concert - the diamond-encrusted one, the one that Hitler gave him personally with a cyanide capsule inside in case the Americans invaded a concert, also the one he had made in the last years of his life which had an electronic bleep inside in case he was needed on the phone to discuss a new recording contract - and to this man Otto Klemperer was immortal. Quite remarkable.'

It certainly sounds as if Yehudi Menuhin may not have it all his own way. Watch this space for more news.