From the inbox:

“We loved the concert but, as always, do not appreciate applause between movements. Can anyone do something about this to educate audiences regarding this issue?”

The writer is objecting to the clap-happy crowd that showed up to hear Joshua Bell and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields last week in Segerstrom Concert Hall.

OK, let’s educate audiences regarding this issue, shall we? It’s not a big deal if people clap between movements. It was common practice to do so in the 19th century, when most of the music whose movements people are clapping between was written. It can even be said that the composers who wrote this music, composed in such a way that people would clap after certain movements, with their wow finishes. It’s unnatural not to, in many cases.

At some point though, probably around the turn of the century, the symphonic concert took on a religious aura, and one just wasn’t supposed to clap during the ritual. It was thought that the movements of symphonic works were so closely intertwined that clapping between them somehow ruined the whole by interrupting their narrative and thought. Malarkey, as far as I’m concerned.

OK, let’s say we want to stop applause between movements (which doesn’t happen at most concerts, by the way). Someone comes out before the concert begins and makes an announcement, saying please do not applaud until the piece or pieces are completely over. I’ve seen it done many times. The audience applauds anyway. That’s been my experience. Because the people who applaud simply do not know when a particular piece is over. They think when it stops, it’s over. I’ve even heard audiences applaud during the grand pause in the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

We could install applause signs in our concert halls. You could tell everyone not to applaud until the sign is lit up. Do we want that?

Still, at most concerts, as said, the audience does not applaud between movements. It happens most often when a particularly popular performer is on the stage, such as Joshua Bell. And the reason it happens is because performers such as Bell, Perlman, Bartoli, Dudamel, etc., bring new people into the concert hall, audiences who aren’t versed in the painfully tight-ass rituals of a classical music concert.

Bell’s concert was packed by the way, and the audience was extremely enthusiastic. It was nice to see. Let them clap. And for those of us who know when not to clap, just be glad that there are some newbies in our midst.

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