I got to thinking the other day (steady Colin) and wondered how many other websites/blogs (or whatever Colin’s Column is) offer you – as C’s C has done recently – Pierre Boulez and Tony Hancock on the same page; or music by composers as diverse as Berwald, Binge and Birtwistle; or managed to position Celibidache between Laurel & Hardy and The Two Ronnies.

Then my mind turned to the interviews with the celebrated musicians I have met. (Rather special for a little chap like me.) My first interviewee was Colin Davis in 1992 (arranged through his helpful PA, “he probably will speak to you”) – very friendly, no side, poured me a cup of tea – and it went from there. Next, not having a contact for him, I pounced on Leonard Slatkin at a Philharmonia Orchestra rehearsal (Elgar VC/Zukerman, Haydn 104, Walton Henry V). Can I interview you? Sure. (Okay, there were a few more words than that.) Four days later we had a productive conversation, enough for me to literally chuck away my sheet of carefully researched questions (rather rude to keep referring to them, I thought). No worries getting into a recording session either, but wish I’d met Leonard earlier, then I might have attended some of the Vaughan Williams Symphonies, especially the electrifying Fourth he conjured. I pounced on André Previn, too, at an LSO rehearsal this time, telling him I had written to his agents six weeks previously; no word back. “Now why did you do that? All you have to do is come and say hello and ask for an interview, which you have now done. Of course I’ll talk to you.” Had a genial chat with AP a few days later during a break in rehearsals for Brahms’s German Requiem (witty comments to the London Symphony Chorus, and a piece he conducted with much sympathy; two recordings of it). Christoph von Dohnányi doubled the strictly half-hour time I was given (he was rehearsing Zauberflöte at Royal Opera), which I took as a compliment to how the allotted thirty minutes had gone. BTW, we were at the Savoy.

My first recording session was for Robert Simpson’s Fifth Symphony, for Hyperion; a warm welcome from Andrew Keener (producer) and Tony Faulkner (engineer) and, indeed, from Vernon Handley (‘Tod’). I was taken aback about an hour into the session when Tod turned to me (we’d not met before) and, pointing to a page in the score, said “Colin, Bob’s marked this passage crotchet equals 104; I am at 100 because of the acoustic [St Augustine’s, Kilburn], do you think it works?” What could I say? “Sounds fine to me”, I meekly replied, although it was no lie. I felt at home though.

And that’s important, a feeling of belonging. Such as when I was shown into Tony Pappano’s Covent Garden office and he greets me with “Hi, I’ve just had a rehearsal in here with a quartet of Wagner tuba players.” Or at Harry Birtwistle’s West Country home, when he interrupts our conversation with “Let me know if you’re hungry and I’ll do you a ham sandwich.” When I interviewed Pierre Boulez, I was early at his hotel; so was he (back from rehearsing Mahler 5 with the LSO). I introduced myself. “I’m glad you’re early”, he said, as he linked arms with me to whisk me off to his room, and an hour later, as he showed me out, apologising for not shaking hands “properly” (he’d hurt his wrist). Actually he might have recognised me from the few minutes I had previously spent in his LSO dressing room. I asked Terry Morton, then the orchestra’s manager, could I possibly have a quick word with Mr Boulez during the break (it was a Messiaen rehearsal)? “Of course, Pierre won’t mind at all.” He didn’t, even though he had to stop studying Debussy’s opera Pelléas et Mélisande (huge score!): “I’m doing it again [laughs] and auditioning singers this afternoon.”

Nor do I forget John Lill, of Beethoven renown (‘Hammerklavier’, anyone), who I found like me also enjoys the classic comedies, such as Round the Horne, Hancock, and The Goons. Or JoAnn Falletta at Naxos/LSO sessions for Kenneth Fuchs’s music. She had an eye on the clock with reference to time remaining and getting everything recorded. I had a favour to ask her on behalf of a friend; might not mention it after all as she seems rather too preoccupied with rehearse/record and anyway we’re total strangers. Wrong; JoAnn could not have been more accommodating or helpful.

If you’re still reading this iceberg piece (i.e. much unsaid) of a stroll down memory lane, thanks. Oh, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Manny Ax, Semyon Bychkov, Hélène Grimaud and Paavo Järvi, amongst others, have the ability to talk to you backstage following a concert as if they and I are old friends… Simon Rattle, too. I had a very short-lived time collecting autographs. Following a CBSO/RFH concert I ventured backstage with a pen and a CD booklet. He signed, and I congratulated him on the then-new recording of Hans Werner Henze’s Seventh Symphony. “Isn’t it a great piece”, he responded, and we had quite a long chat. (Colin, do stop, go and listen to something!)