Once upon a time, long ago, a great Eastern Berlin Orchestra came to town. I was a young reporter and my boss sent me to interview the conductor who was a Yugoslavian. It was at the beginning of the eighties. Then, Eastern Germany endured one of the harshest dictatorial communist regimes in Europe.
When I arrived to the theatre for the interview I found the back door locked, against the basic rules of safety. Some of the members of the Philharmonic Association who had organised the event were there puzzled and furious, trying to get in to greet the artists. There was no way. We knocked at the door and heard voices at the other side, but there was no answer to our calls. We had to go to the main door where de concert goers were entering the building, and made our way to the backstage area to see what was happening.
Four Party commissaries were in control of everything and they had given the order to lock all the doors. The orchestra conductor, who only a few minutes before had been all smiles for me and had told me to come to have our interview in his dressing room before the concert, suddenly turned sullen and uncooperative. All around us was silent. The musicians were not talking between them as is usual before going out to the stage. You could only hear some hurried whisper now and then.
Finally, they took their places on the stage, the audience clapped,and the concert began. In a moment, all those mysterious men and women get transformed by the music. Their faces relaxed, reflecting the emotions of the beautiful melodies and powerful rhythms emerging from the instruments they were playing. Tchaikovsky.
But when the magic of the music finished, and I came back to the backstage area their expressions had changed. The sight was pretty sad. The musicians, with their elegant, black suits covered by old ,grey raincoats, were waiting in line in front of the back door where the commissaries were waiting with a list. No one spoke. Everyone looked down. One commissary opened the door and made them pass one by one while other checked the list and a third one controlled how they were boarding an old bus.
We only discovered the secret of all that tension when they all were gone: That night three musicians had deserted. They took advantage of the tour to flee from their country and ask for asylum. The commissaries locked the theatre to avoid more desertions and control better the rest of the musicians.