Cooking Christmas lunch for Hans Werner Henze

James JollyMon 29th October 2012

A memoir of a memorable encounter

It was, I think, the Christmas of 1988. I’d decided to spend Christmas with friends rather than family for a change, and a group of us were going to eat Christmas lunch at the Camden Mews house of Peter Wadland, the producer and guiding spirit of Decca’s L’Oiseau-Lyre label. I’d agreed to help him cook - we were both pretty nifty in the kitchen - and after some debate we decided to junk the idea of turkey and go instead for a capon. Quite soon the poor bird had acquired the nickname Moreschi (after Alessandro of that name, the last castrato and the only one to have lived into the age of recording - Pearl had an LP of his decidedly idiosyncratic sound).

On Christmas Eve, Peter announced that Hans Werner Henze and his partner Fausto would be coming to lunch as well. I have to admit that as a callow 20-something I was more than a little nervous. Meeting him was one thing but cooking lunch for him was quite another! I vividly recall tackling the sprouts when Hans and Fausto arrived - Hans went upstairs (the house had one of those rather fashionable layouts that seemed rather upside-down - there was a bedroom on the ground floor, the kitchen on the next one and a large sitting room at the top with a roof terrace).

Fausto swept into the kitchen: he was one of those rather elegant Italians who oozed confidence. He’d run Hans’s life in great detail for years but had absolutely no interest in music - something I found rather charming. Watching me peel the sprouts, he leant of my shoulder to point out that (a) he and Hans were vegetarian (my thoughts went out to poor Moreschi browning gently as we spoke - both he and Fausto found the name most amusing) and (b) he was working on a cook book. The effect was daunting in the extreme – though I comforted myself with the thought they probably didn’t have sprouts in Italy and that I was going to do something rather special them (it involved celeriac, a béchamel sauce and breadcrumbs).

Henze was a delight - funny, interested in the people around him and not the slightest bit grand. Lunch was a triumph and a good time was had by all –except perhaps by poor Moreschi, though he played his part. Afterwards we repaired to the top floor where Fausto produced his and Hans's traditional post-prandial, a large joint each. At the risk of sounding like a US President, I didn’t partake actively, though the air was so thick with the smoke that I’m sure we all inhaled several lungs full. So, relaxed by too much food, wine and smoke, I fell asleep.

When I awoke everyone had gone!

 

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James Jolly

James Jolly is Gramophone's Editor-in-Chief. His blogs explore live and recorded music, as well as downloading and digital delivery.

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