Monday, February 05, 2007

If You're Happy and You Know It

Alex Ross links to this Andrew Druckenbrod article in the Post-Gazette about applause between movements or after big moments in classical concerts. The article helpfully contains links to example mp3s; one of them is the false ending at the end of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony that I referred to yesterday.
The main addition I'd make to Druckenbrod's list of examples is the first movement of Mahler's 3rd. It ends in a massive, exhilarating rush and though the audience hasn't bitten either of the times I've heard it in concert it would obviously be good for them; you get this low murmur of excitement in the hall in place of the customary coughing fit, as though the energy has to be dissipated somehow.
I'll have something substantive to say about the Kirov Opera's fine concert performance of Shostakovich's Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk under Valery Gergiev yesterday afternoon, but on this topic I'll just point out that concert performances of operas apparently confuse audiences. Most people acted as they would for a symphony concert and sat on their hands until intermission or the end, but a sizeable minority (plus some tentative folks following their lead) clapped at opportune times throughout as they would for an opera. I'd rather applaud opera-style but Gergiev didn't seem interested in slowing down to acknowledge it, so I mostly held back.


Blogger Jack said...

The coughing fits are the key bit here. The question isn't "should there be applause between movements," it's "should there be applause between movements or a cascade of hacking coughs."

This has bothered me more and more over time, and I think it's a big turnoff for first-time concertgoers too. My onetime roommate in NYC once turned to me between movements of the Rachmaninoff Second Concerto with a look on her eyes like she was seeing a specter of death.

Classical people talk & write about the clapping issue here and there, but I can't remember anyone actually bringing up the coughing issue.

And of course you can't ask people not to cough; the whole idea is that they've been holding it in for ten or twelve minutes. Better between movements than during movements.

I'm starting to think that orchestras should treat multimovement works kind of like jazz sets, and put little breaks in between movements for people to clap, and cough, and loosen up a bit. I'd at least be curious to see what it would be like. Again: anything would be preferable to the coughing.

2/05/2007 6:19 PM  
Blogger Nate said...

The specter of death definitely hovers above the average, very-elderly audience, especially in wintertime. But the coughing between movements usually does seem excessive; it's as if people feel this odd obligation to cough now or hold your peace for the next twelve minutes.

What bugs me most is unison coughing at the connecting point between two continuous movements, which tend to be bridged with quiet musical passages that are fairly important to the direction of the piece (if they weren't fairly important the composer would just have the orchestra, you know, stop and start again). This tends to be less robust than the hacking you get when the players put down their instruments, but still, come on. Either there's music or there's not. In that case it would be far preferable that people cough during movements, at least so it doesn't happen all at once.

In general, yeah, somehow break down the convention that there's a time when it's especially appropriate to cough, and to do so with grotesque abandon. Unless your lungs are gradually filling with fluid (in which case you should quietly excuse yourself to the emergency room) it's just not necessary.

I like the extended pause idea. For me, learning and mainly hearing music from recordings made me unfairly assume for a long time that gaps between movements should pass quickly and in dead silence, without noise from the audience or soloists retuning or whatever. I suspect that's the case for a lot of people.

2/06/2007 12:50 PM  

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