Disaster was imminent: The bride was due to arrive at any moment and the pianist called to say he wasn't going to make it to the wedding in time. Fearing his wife-to-be would have to walk down the aisle in silence, the groom hit the panic button - with stupendous results.
Bramwell Tovey, music director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, happened to be in the east of England last Saturday to conduct a concert in the hall adjacent to the wedding venue. When the frantic groom ran into the grand surrounds of St. Andrew's Hall hoping to find a passable pianist or even a CD he could borrow, he was lucky enough to run into Philip Biggs, the administrator for the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain. Mr. Biggs immediately called the band's artistic director - Maestro Tovey - who stepped into the breach without hesitation.
"I was driving when I got the call," said Mr. Tovey, back home in Vancouver yesterday. "Philip explained what had happened and asked if I might be able to help out. I put my foot down and made a few illegal turns and got there in under 10 minutes. I thought if the police stopped me, they would understand."
Arriving, by his own admission somewhat dishevelled in shorts and a T-shirt, British-born Mr. Tovey was asked if he could play Cole Porter's Night and Day and promptly thrust onto the stage of the medieval Blackfriars' Hall where, he said, he sat down at a "gorgeous Boesendorfer piano - one of the best grand pianos you can get. I must have looked a bit of a mess."
Along with the Porter, he played some George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, then chose Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Variation 18 to accompany the signing of the registry.
"No one had told me what to play as the bride and groom walked out," he said. "So I decided to be traditional and went with the Mendelssohn march, which I finished with a big flourish."
Lucy and Sam Taylor - the unsuspecting bride and groom - had no idea who had stepped up to save their day until later, when they Googled Mr. Tovey's name to see if they could find an e-mail address by which to thank him.
In an interview for The Daily Telegraph, Mr. Taylor said that Mr. Tovey was "just fantastic. He walked in, lifted up the lid and began playing, almost as if it had all been planned."
Mr. Tovey was on the last day of his summer tour - an itinerary that included guest conducting engagements with the New York and Los Angeles philharmonic orchestras, as well as his annual 10 days with the British youth band.
Having been on more than one airline flight in the past when a doctor's services were called for, Mr. Tovey said that he and his wife had often joked about there being no emergency for which a musician is qualified to help.
"And lo and behold," he laughed, "there actually was one."
Completely unaware that he was being hailed in the British press as a hero, Mr. Tovey chuckled at the news.
"My mother will be very excited," he said. "That'll be more impressive than conducting the New York Phil."