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.
There are two problems with applauding between movements. First, it loses the often dramatic contrast between movements, as these are then separated by applause. Secondly, the total applause at the end is less enthusiastic.
The second effect is particularly notable if you attend, say, a Verdi and a Wagner opera. With Wagner, the applause is held until the ends of the acts, and is often tumultuous. With Verdi, there is often so much applause for the arias that the reception at the end can be a bit tepid.
In my experience, when some members of the audience clap between movements, they quickly realise that very few people are joining in. And performers, yes the PERFORMERS, are often distracted by tepid applause.
I recall attending a Schubert recital with Quasthoff where there was significant applause between songs of the same Opus No. In the second half, Mullerin, he had to ask the audience to reserve their applause to the end, as this cycle is a connected narrative, with deliberate strong contrasts between songs.
The simple rule, when attending any performance or any new experience, is to observe what the majority of the audience do.
Becoming a classical music lover means learning some of the etiquette required to appreciate the music, that shows respect to a composer’s work and the artists performing it.
Classical music consists of movements: allegro, andante, vivace etc. which together form a whole. The intervals simply mark a pause between the tempos to allow the musicians – and audience – to prepare for the next which is often performed at a completely different tempo. They are NOT separate pieces of music and therefore do not need to be applauded separately. The fact it causes ‘bewilderment’ is a sad testament to the stupidity and ignorance of some modern concert audiences, and displays a lack of respect both to the form and structure of the music being performed, to the composer and the performing musicians.
Yes, Carol, you make some good points and some that are the same that are always made.
First, yes, song cycles are a special and tough case. Applause between every song really does ruin them. I’ve been to concerts, however, where the audience has been warned not to applaud between songs, and they do anyway.
At any rate, warning an audience not to applaud can give a sour atmosphere to the proceedings, one that sends a message that we’re not there to enjoy ourselves.
What I’m saying in the case of most symphonic music, including concertos, is that it’s really not that big of a deal for folks to applaud between movements. I don’t think it ruins a piece to the extent that we have to make a federal case out of it and get on our high horses and say what a shame, modern audiences are ignoramuses.
Yes, sometimes performers are irked by the ill-timed applause. Tough. Get over it. We’re not happy with the ticket prices and the parking. We all have our crosses to bear.
Concert etiquette is concert etiquette, not the matter at hand. I think too many audience members are too focused on it and use it as a way to feel superior to the people in the next seat.
As I say, the people who applaud in the wrong places are new to the art form for the most part. They are welcome as far as I’m concerned. And if they keep on coming, they’ll learn when to applaud. But, I hope, there will always be new people in the audience, and so this “problem” is one that won’t go away soon, and maybe that’s a good thing.
Tight-ass ritual is right. What a ridiculous tradition. If you’re feeling it, show the performers your energy and gratitude after a movement. What’s wrong with that. Frankly I’m also a bit put off by how absolutely still most people are during concerts. I see so many concert goers who seem scared to death to even bob their heads or move their arms or hands during a performance. Of course you don’t want to spoil another person’s listening experience. But within tasteful bounds, I think that the display of a little life and energy by the audience during the performance adds to the collective experience.There have been many times when I was so moved by a performance that I could have stood up and started to dance, conducted at my seat, or cheered the orchestra on. A concert is not a test to determine who can best resemble a tight-ass. Live, enjoy, communicate.
I’m happy to report that there was well-deserved applause Friday night at SF Symphony after Horacio Gutierrez knocked off the first movement of the Prokofiev third piano concerto. I was one of the applauders and very happy that Gutierrez and the orchestra members smiled at it.
You can find complaints in performer & composer letters and diaries in the 19th c. when audiences failed to applaud between movements.
I think Alex Ross was able to figure out exactly when applause between movements became verboten rather than the norm in the US: it was during the 1920s or 30s, as I recall.
During the 19th c., sometimes large works such as concertos and symphonies didn’t even have their movements performed consecutively. Sometimes there would be other works in between. So much for continuity!
The applause sign is a great idea. How to do it can be learned from Angel Stadium and it could be sponsored by WalMart or Micky D. Seriously, Carol and Bill make good points. My music expereinces are mostly in small venues with chamber groups. The notes “hanging” at the end of a movement or the piece are as important as the notes played and I am dismayed with someone steps on them prematurely. Nonetheless, I am a toe and finger tapper who would never interfere with my neighbor’s enjoyment. Want to stand up and dance? Okay by me because I know it comes from someone who is REALLY into the music. My objections are with the newbies who applaud perfunctorily just because there is a pause. Solutions? Since we no longer fund music in the schools, how about some tutorials in the programs? They could cover etiquette and why is best to wait to applaud; why it is rude to be late; what to wear (no heavy perfume – my bugaboo do to allergies), and whatever our esteemed colleague who writes soooooo well might submit.
Bill Sullivan – Los Angeles
It’s a complex argument because, while the applause between movements can be irritating, one also has to repsect people’s feelings of spontaneous joy. Classical music needs all the newcomers and supporters it can get right now. And if applause between movements was good enough for the composers themselves, then we may be wise to let it continue, whether us more experienced listeners like it or not.
I agree completely with Tim. Uncouth clapping is a small price to pay for having an people in seats who liked what they heard (though unfortunately what they like is all too often the standard played-to-death warhorses). But I had to laugh at the comment here that audiences are sometimes too “still.” U.S. audiences too still? I find them incredibly restless, noisy, coughing *during* the music (who cares what they do when the music stops). If you want a truly “still” audience, go to Japan. They listen with rapt attention *and* would never dream of offering a standing ovation (because they’re “shy,” I’m told) …
Kitsunebi, you are right about Japanese audiences. They are awe-inspiring in their stillness and attention. They may not stand, but they keep clapping if they like something, and keep on clapping. btw, have you ever seen this?:
I personnaly like to show enthusiasm for a spectacular performance or movement. I generally wait until the end of the entire piece but sometimes I forget myself. However I have been in audiences that were admonished by a maestro or soloist not to applaud between the “acts”.
Newbies are the next small step of continuation. Hurrah.
Tim, I was going to applaud your commentary earlier, but I wasn’t sure if you were done yet . . .
As you’ve already stated (and to which many have already agreed), there are times when applauding between movements seems natural, like after the first movement of most big concertos. The 4th movement of the Tchaik 6th seems especially set up to make someone think it’s the triumphant end. I don’t really mind this. I don’t think it’s any more distracting or mood-killing than having the orchestra retune between movements, which happens often enough to rival clapping between movements.
I think its more annoying to have the too early clapping — at the end of Mahler 9th, for example. Understandable for novices to do it, but annoying nonetheless.
Of course, there are the moments in the middle of works that seem like endings, but alas, aren’t so much. Whenever Mrs. CKDH and I see/hear Firebird in person, we always try to guess whether or not people are going to clap at the end of the “Infernal Dance.” It’s fun seeing how conductors try to conduct that last big chord and then come up with some other gesture to try to keep people from applauding.
Judging by the flurry of comments, this must be an important matter for many. We already have here both extremes of opinions, as well as a range of positions in the middle – much more diverse representation of different looks at the issues than what we usually see in our presidential election campaigns.
Of course, given the choice between seeing new people in the audience and maintaining perfect decorum during concerts, i would vote for the former every time. However, it does not mean that we should not strive to achieve something that can improve concert-going experience for everyone.
In general, i agree with Tim’s take on it, but i think he is a little bit too permissive. For example, i concur that those movements that end in grandiose virtuosic flourishes are just asking for loud approval and therefore applause in such cases is natural and appropriate. However, those movements that end quietly and meditatively, or even tragically, are a different matter altogether and loud noises after them may indeed be extremely destructive to the spirit of the music, which can definitely ruin the listening experience for the more sensitive audience members as well as be awfully unpleasant for the performers. And i disagree with Tim’s dismissal of that latter factor: the mood of the performers may well be their own problem, but if the untimely applause or some other kind of listeners’ misbehavior annoys musicians to the point that it adversely affects their performance of subsequent movements, than it is the audience that is the ultimate loser.
My rule of thumb for novice listeners is usually as follows – always try NOT TO BE THE FIRST to make any kind of noise, and then you will be on the right track to learning how to enjoy the concert while letting others enjoy it as well.
I’m not entirely dismissive of the performers; I want them to be happy. But I also think that sometimes — as entertainers and artists — they should try to be a little more understanding. We’re not all applauding in the wrong places, after all, and even those who are bought tickets and wanted to hear them perform. Sometimes, performers can seem a little high and mighty.
The problem with your NOT TO BE THE FIRST rule, MarK, is that someone won’t get the message, and they WILL be the first. Then others follow. There really is ‘a failure to communicate’ problem with this issue. It seems to me, no matter what you do, someone won’t get the message about not applauding between movements.
Nice to see you back here, btw.
Believe it or not, a good musician can really be very much involved in a piece he or she is performing at the moment – “submerged” inside of the music’s soul (so to speak) – in which case any substantial extra-musical noise, particularly as loud and jarring as applause, can be extremely destructive to the mood and therefore virtually impossible to ignore and/or forget for a long while afterward. The performance therefore suffers because it may take considerable time to resurrect the violently murdered atmosphere of the piece.
The problem that you are referring to with my message is obvious and would be the same with any other rule, but that does not mean that it has no value. People break all kinds of laws all the time, but that fact by itself is not a valid argument against the existence of such laws. This does not imply of course that “the rules of timely applause” are somehow in any way equal to those laws that are truly important for the survival of civilized society. The only thing i am saying is that the more strongly such rules of concert-going behavior are promoted and the more audience members become aware of them – the better chance there will be that in gradually increasing number of cases those rules will not be broken and performances will then be enjoyed more fully by everyone.
It’s fun to be back.
…and here I thought that Thursday night’s post-1st movement outburst was primarily a salute to Bell’s self-authored cadenza–silly me (but I guess I should welcome the “newbies”)! JohnG
Yes, John, a most discerning audience!
I’d be more bothered by clap-happy audiences if concert going during the early 21st century were very healthy and popular, meaning if there were plenty of replacements for those attendees who deserved a bit of hushing and shushing. But turn out at classical performances has been wobbly or declining for quite awhile, so when people do make an effort to show up, I guess they deserve more leeway and forgiveness.
Nonetheless, I am not thrilled at the two extremes of people either sitting on their hands — and stifling yawns — and then (particularly here in southern California/LA) rushing to the exits to get to their cars, or people applauding in an overly earnest manner because they think they have to make up for a lack of enthusiasm in the public overall, or because they don’t want the person (or people) up on stage to feel bad about where he, she or they are performing.
Beyond an audience being clap-happy or not, I do feel that standing ovations in today’s era have become analogous to teachers handing out As and Bs to any and every student. In other words, the effects of grade inflation.
Regarding, the applause issue, I suppose you’re right: In the larger scheme of things, there are far more serious problems to get worked up about. Your points were entirely valid and made me view the issue in ways I hadn’t considered before.
Still, if expecting higher standards of concert etiquette from my fellow concertgoers makes me a “tight ass”, I plead guilty as charged.
There’s always that cringeworthy moment at every concert when I wait to see what percentage of the audience will interrupt the flow by with wild applause. The conductors usually loath these outbursts. It comes across plainly in their body language.
Granted, firsttimers can’t be expected to know when not to applaud. At one time, I didn’t know either. But ignorance doesn’t absolve any of us of the responsibility to learn the appropriate behavior.
Lately, however, it seems as if we are overly concerned about the delicate sensibilities of the newecomers. Please… Aren’t they the ones who are supposed to “get over it” (i.e. their embarassment)? At some point, the rest of us had to.
Seems to me, Tim, you addressed this issue perfectly in prior columns by suggesting that the concertgoer simply wait for the conductor to put down his baton and turn to the audience, thereby signaling that it’s time to applaud. Problem solved.
Another way to reinforce the desired behavior might be to incorporate a sentence or two in the pre-concert voice-overs prior to each concert Regular reminders regarding applause will (over time) reinforce proper applause ettiquette without hurt feelings.
To be sure, the rotation of the planets will remain undisturbed, whether or not individuals applaud appropriately at classical music concerts. So I, too, will try to “get over it” by overlooking these relatively minute behavioral missteps.
However, the “tight ass” part of my personality finds it difficult to cast aside yet another cultural expecttion, just because people have become too sensitive (or lazy) to adhere to it. Each time we eliminate another one of these expectations (to assuage someone’s hurt feelings), we “dumb down” the culture another notch. Standards do matter. Regrettably, saying so out loud these days almost constitutes a hate crime.
I miss certain things that were once the accepted norm. Examples include actually dressing up (with a necktie) when attending church (or, say, a classical music concert), to keeping one’s voice down in restaurants, to abstaining from profanity in polite company. The individual right to unlimited narcissism has all but erased most of these and other rituals that once were the backbone of a more civilized society.
Observing old rituals may seem “painfully tight ass(ed)” and so very 19th (or 20th) Century to some. But I miss that time in our lives when attention to the little details in our public behavior still mattered. OK, time to get off the soapbox! Great topic.
Well, Bob, take heart. As you can see from all the comments (and I can see from my dashboard — plenty of readers on this post), this is a topic that a lot of people are interested in and feel strongly about. I knew it when I wrote it.
That said, it is my impression that concert behavior here in O.C. has gotten better over the years, since I came here, in 1998. It used to be (or so I remember) that audiences clapped between movements at almost every concert. Now it happens only sometimes, especially in the cases that I mentioned: When there is a popular and famous performer on stage. I bet no one will clap inappropriately at the NY Phil next week, or for that matter at the Pacific Symphony either.
What’s more … it doesn’t happen only here. I heard Perlman play the Tchaikovsky concerto with the Boston Symphony in Carnegie Hall once. The audience clapped between movements. They may have done so during the symphonic part of the program too; I don’t remember.
If a soloist looses their concentration because of applause, that soloist must have very poor concentration–perhaps they should find a career where nothing unexpected ever happens while they are practicing their art. Even a 14 year-old Midori wouldn’t let the “magic of the music” OR “the moment” disappear when she broke 2 strings while performing. Soloists are not delicate vessels that must be protected, or who need members of the audience protecting their delicate performing psyche. And as far as ridiculing or chastising audience members who dare break the silence while the more “serious” listener ponder the great insights and depth of understanding of life and/or humanity that they just received through music–perhaps instead, reflect on the fact that someone else is pondering the JOY they just received by hearing it. That might help temper the offence to your perceived lack of decorum in the concert hall.
I’ve been a “serious” musician for 45 years, playing in orchestras, and playing in front of orchestras. Let the the audience applaude if they like it! And if they didn’t like it, or if they were put off by the demands of “proper concert etiquette,” they won’t be back anyway. But, you might not be able to come back either, because both you (as a member of a dwindling live-audience) and I (as a performer) need these human beings that also think that live classical music might bring them something that they are otherwise missing in their lives. They are just happy when they find it.
If a musician is not disturbed by any loud noises while performing, that means that most likely (s)he did not have much aural concentration to begin with. Actually, what’s at stake there is even more than aural concentration – it is, most importantly, the virtual immersion of the performer into the spirit and emotional content of the piece being played. When this spell is broken by loud non-musical sounds, the performance usually suffers and the audience then becomes the biggest loser.
However, given the choice between performing for nearly empty hall where the few listeners who are there are perfectly well-behaved, and a big s.r.o. crowd where some of them applaud in a few “wrong” places, most musicians would probably choose the latter – and that is completely reasonable and understandable to me.
Of course if the choice is between new audiences who applaud between movements or no audiences I’ll take the applause, but I’d prefer not to have the interruption, and don’t think that’s the only choice. More should be done to inform people of the custom of holding applause to the end of a piece — eg with a note in the program, a sign over or by the door, an announcement added if ones are being made anyway. How are people supposed to learn unless they are taught? It doesn’t have to be heavy handed. Last night Dean Corey said something that I thought was utterly confusing, but the audience seemed to get the message — there was no applause between movements when the NY Phil performed. I am glad he finally made a comment. In contrast, not only was there applause between movements at the Joshua Bell concert, but also at the Pepe Romero concert (including after a sofly-ending andante movement) and in the Samueli Theater when the Pavel Haas Quartet performed. The last really surprised me, given that the audience for that series is almost always “regulars.” The first violinist wryly acknowledged the applause and signalled a preference that it be held.
In all three of those cases, the applause was loudest at the first break, more scattered at the next, and gone after intermission. These data suggest to me that people were not just expressing unbounded enthusiasm, but instead were unaware of the custom (of holding applause) and complied once they noticed or were informed (eg by other audience members). That in turn suggests that giving information — as suggested above — would not only reduce the applause, but would be welcomed by new concert goers. Think of how confusing it can be, as the custom differs by genre — you are expected to applaud in the middle of a jazz piece after a solo, after an opera aria (sometimes), etc.
As for the historical context — even if the custom only dates from the 1920s, then we should definitely hold applause for pieces composed after then, as the composers expected that behavior. And as for older work — why do we have to listen to pieces only as originally performed? Then we should all be dancing to many classical pieces. Instead, we — audiences and performers — have developed an ear in which we expect to be able to hear the piece from beginning to end, without applause. (I could do without extensive tuning, too, but of course out of tune instruments would be even more disturbing.)
Bottom line — if people are told gently and discreetly what is expected, newcomers can avoid embarrassment and the rest of us can listen in the manner to which we have become accustomed. And if on a few occasions genuine wild enthusiasm overwhelms convention — that’s fine, too. But i think very rare.
I can’t disagree “much” with what everyone is writing. As an audience member, I certainly don’t like distractions when I am listening at a concert–especially if it was a seat that I had to pay for. I just don’t find applause as generally being disruptive or non-conducive to the musical atmosphere–after all, applause is something that IS expected at concerts. Sometimes it happens where it is out of place. Everyone has personal examples. I just hope it is handled with more diplomacy than simply scowls from adjacent audience members or a dismissive wave of the hand or scowl from the podium directed at the offending party (I’ve seen both too often). Granted, sometimes that IS indeed what is called for. The March concert-fisticuffs in Chicago comes to mind (I think it was actually the product of a disagreement between adjacent seat-holders over the tempo Muti had choosen for the adagio of Brahms Symphony No. 2, but audience disagreements with Music Director artistic decisions is not what is being discussed right now). One however is not born with an innate sense of “current classical concert decorum.” One must be educated–just as it is a process of education to know which of the forks to use at a 11-course dinner–there might be 9 on the left side of the plate, there’s more at the top of the plate….let alone the line-up of wine glasses to go with each course. At least the waiter knows which is the correct glass to pour into!! You drink out the one just filled!
As an occasional soloist w/orchestra, applause after a movement doesn’t pull me (or anyone else that I have heard perform or spoken with) “out of the performance zone.” We are artists, yes–but we are also professionals, and professionals deal with things like this, and they are delt with seamlessly. Now there was this time I was performing a concerto, and the halls sound system had apparently been installed with inadaquately shielded cable–because the sound of a banjo playing country music from a local 50,000 watt AM station suddenly entered into the overall concert experience. Because it was SO unexpected, it did “pull me from the zone” for a few seconds (and it was during a “rest” when I wasn’t playing when I took the time to discern what was actually happening). Applause however isn’t an unexpected element of a concert. We are asking our audience to act professionally, when they may have not even known what was acceptable to wear. If they are under the age of 40, odds are increasing that they never even attended an orchestra concert in school while growing up, because the school couldn’t afford the bus to the hall, or because the arts are not as important now a staying in your classroom, learning how to underperform. But THAT is another subject–or is it?
As an audience member, having someone recently sitting next to me illuminating their cell phone screen in the dark hall in order to text, repeatedly, even after being ASKED to please stop because it was so distracting–THAT is not only distracting, it is annoying! The individual could have responded with common courtesy and stopped what was identified as “very distracting” (which I did when we both stood up at intermission), but instead displayed selfishness, and continued to text during the 2nd half of the program also.
Perhaps that should be the determining factor in whether to be offended or not–was the offending act done in ignorance or defiance and selfishness? If it was the former, there is indeed hope, and education and/or simple observation by the individual may suffice. As numerous posters have noted, the audience soon learns when they CAN applaude simply by observing the actions of those around them. If it was the latter, try to find out what other concerts that person might be interested in attending, and plan accordingly.
Thanks for your interesting comment. I’m curious to know what concerto you were performing during the banjo interruption. Curious, because of your email moniker, which I don’t think others can see.
Yes, it is the nature of the intent of the disturbance that counts for a lot. If an audience member is applauding in the wrong place out of ignorance — I can forgive that, and move on.
However, there is some ignorant behavior that does bug me. Last night I was at a concert and the couple in front of me were getting all lovey-dovey — mostly her, making eyes at him, rubbing his back and ears, leaning over and putting her head on his shoulders, kissing him. It was ridiculous. I’m not against PDA, but during a performance? Odd. I’ve seen it before, too. What bothered me most was just the constant movement, which in any way, shape or form is distracting. I finally just closed my eyes and listened to the music.
Quick follow up to my May 9 comment — At the Pacific Symphony concert May 11, some members of the audience applauded enthusiastically after EACH movement of the Schubert 9th. I was in the choral seats so had a good look at conductor St. Clair’s face. To my eyes, he winced and grimaced at the applause. Here’s a case where education seems called for. He is a conductor who does indeed address the audience over a mike at the beginning of a concert, as he did that night — he could easily have added a few words to alert the audience that the Schubert had movements and ask them to hold applause to the end, if I am correct that he would have preferred they do so. And judging by the volume of applause at the end, the vast majority of the audience did wait. But those who did not included at least one parent I observed instructing a child in the importance of applauding after each movement.
Funny, I was at the same concert the night before … no applauding between movements at all. No announcement either.
On that occasion, I was on the first half of a Pops program with Al Hirt, and performing the Henry Mancini Piece for Jazz Bassoon and Orchestra. I’ve done that one a couple of times–nice change-up from the usual Mozart/Weber/ Vivaldi.
And I think the banjo on the sound system was gone by the time Al took to the stage. 🙂
Two other issues may be worth mentioning in connection with this discussion.
First, it is increasingly obvious that for the contemporary audience everything that is soft and subtle is much less interesting than whatever is loud and obvious. All kinds of audience-produced noises, including unrestrained open-mouth coughing, increase when the music gets softer – and it’s not just that all sounds are more distractive and therefore destructive because they are heard clearer, but that, in addition to that, their number and frequency actually do increase. The audience apparently loses interest if music stays soft for more than a few seconds. This is very unfortunate, and in this age of deafening decibels and 24/7 headphones the cure seems to be highly elusive.
Second, the culture which has built self-esteem into the supreme value does not leave much room for some simple reasonable respect toward the rights of other people. Many of us (most of this blog’s readers obviously excluded) want to do whatever we feel like whenever we feel like it, regardless of how it affects others. And that also manifests itself in our behavior at various performances. This is extremely sad and seems to be getting worse with each generation after 1950s.
Tim, I think I understand your point — you believe audiences should be able to express their enthusiasm without restriction by artificial rules. But civilized life is partly about artificial rules that grace behavior and raise the tone of certain events that we consider beyond the ordinary.
What if some people in the audience feel like applauding a spectacular solo during a movement? Shouting “yeah!”? Whistling? Stomping their feet? All that is normal during a rock or jazz concert. What next, flashing lights and smoke onstage to enhance the symphony?
Of course we want to encourage “newbies” to enjoy the experience of classical music. But anyone capable of appreciating this art form is surely capable of understanding that it comes with traditions that enhance sustained attention, which provides the greatest listening rewards.
The original question was about clapping between movements. I missed the place where Tim suggested applause any time would be okay.
But it was not uncommon in the 19th c. for audience members to do exactly what you say: to applaud, murmur, and show enthusiasm during a movement, especially when a soloist had given a great musical or virtuoso demonstration. Performers expected and welcomed this behavior, because they knew the audience was paying attention and was appreciative of what they were doing.
I see lots of flashing lights and smoke on stage during operas, and the music somehow survives that. Would it kill Symphonie fantastique to have a son et lumiere show during a performance some time? No, it would not. I’m not sure whether I’d attend such a performance (I find video accompanying instrumental music more distracting than illuminating), but fortunately no one would be forcing me to buy a ticket!
Since you are concerned that audiences be able to express their so-called appreciation (really egotism: “Look at me, see what a brilliant listener I am!”), it sounds like you would be happier at a hip-hop concert than a classical one. You wouldn’t have to be in the same hall with uptight aging people like me.
The fact that some audiences behaved boorishly in the 19th century is no justification for it, except to you and people like you.
Now, now, Rick, don’t take it that way. No one is defending “boorish” behavior. 19th century audiences were certainly boorish at times, but when they clapped between movements, it was expected, it was the correct etiquette, and it wasn’t considered boorish. Times have changed, sure, but I think it’s worth remembering that clapping between movements isn’t the end of the world and that it actually has a precedent.
Thanks for the assumptions! Have we met? Sat together at a concert?
I don’t know a thing about hip-hop and I attend something approaching 100 classical and opera performances a year. I haven’t been thrown out by management yet – in fact, because I’m a member of the working press and a classical music blogger, I keep getting offered free tickets.
I’ve applauded between movements twice in 2012. At one concert, the performers actively encouraged this behavior (I’ll be happy to provide their email addresses; I know two of them personally). The other was after the first movement of a concerto performance at SF Symphony, where hundreds of others also applauded. (Hey, barnburner performance of a Prokofiev piano concerto.)
I’m sure you find that boorish, so if you’re lucky, you won’t be sitting next to me, where my applause might offend you.
The biggest objections to clapping in between movements is that it is distracting to musicians on stage and/or other audience members, and that said distraction breaks the mood created by the music, especially in movements that end quietly.
I understand this sentiment; however, there are other ways to break the mood. As MarK has stated, excessive coughing or chattering between movements doesn’t help. And even if the audience is well behaved, the musicians own actions can sometimes break the mood. Whenever an orchestra re-tunes in between movements, it does just that.
Does it ruin the concert experience? Usually not. Personally, I find it disappointing and wish it didn’t happen, but I get over it.
To Lisa’s point about unbridled applause and more at operas, I remember the first time I attended an opera (Rossini, “Barber of Seville”) and, having been schooled in proper concert etiquette, being shocked at the very loud cheers after arias and singers even taking a quick bow on stage. They don’t even do that in musicals.
A friend of mine once attended a Boheme matinee at the Met where the originally-scheduled Mimi and Rodolfo had cancelled, and somehow the substitutes were Montserrat Caballe and Luciano Pavoratti, presumably in town for something else but willing to step in on short notice. The friend told that Pavoratti’s “Che gelida manina” was so fantastic that the applause went on for five minutes – and Caballe herself stepped out of character to applaud him.
Now, opera is admittedly more of a spectator sport than most classical performances are. I am highly unlikely to applaud between movements of a string quartet and I agree completely with Tim about shutting the heck up during a song cycle. But sometimes greatness should be appreciated in the moment. Symphonic performances aren’t church services and some works are closer to theater or popular entertainment than they are to spiritual communion with Art. See, for example, the Last Night of the Proms. We could do with a few more events like that.
Re: song cycles . . . About 10 years ago or so, Mrs. CKDH and I were at a Bryn Terfel recital at DCP. He began with some Schumann lieder, and then went on to more popular fare (Copland, Tosti, “Danny Boy,” etc.).
After each of the Schumann songs, there were enthusiastic applause by a large portion of the audience. He did nothing to actively acknowledge or discourage it. When all songs were done, and the entire house applauded (i.e. when it was the “correct” time to applaud), he took his bow and after the applause died down, made some comment to the effect of: “I really appreciate the applause; however, it is customary during recitals to hold applause until the end of a song cycle.”
Next he did three selections from “Old American Songs” by Copland, and wouldn’t you know it, some people still applauded in between songs. He seemed to take it in stride.
That’s because people don’t know what a “song cycle” is, and they aren’t looking at their programs and seeing the song selections grouped together (and they wouldn’t necessarily know what those groupings mean).
I’ve seen this same thing happen at several song recitals, despite warnings.
Believe me, you’re dealing with a level of ignorance that’s difficult to overcome with mere announcements. I say “ignorance” not stupidity. People just don’t know this stuff. Most people couldn’t define the difference between a symphony and a concerto.
Re Tim’s song cycle comment — this brings me back to my point — educate the audience. A note in the program. An announcement. I don’t buy the reply I’ve heard before that “the audience will be insulted.” People generally want to know what’s expected of them and like to avoid being embarassed (granted there are boorish exceptions). I don’t know why there was no inter-movement applause at the Thursday Pacific Symphony concert Tim attended and MUCH of it at the Friday concert I went to, but the latter did surely happen. And as others have noted, the expectations vary so much from one genre to the next, such as opera or jazz versus symphony, that many people are unsure of what to do.
The most respectful audience I’ve recently experienced was Sunday at the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra concert. You could hear a pin drop between the movements of the Trombone concerto. Of course, the audience was largely made up of musicians and the parents of musicians.
But Carol, that’s my point. Sometimes announcements work; often, maybe mostly, they do not. Cell phones go off all the time, for instance, despite numerous public pleas for everyone to turn them off.
A note in the program doesn’t work. Look around you. How many people are reading their programs?
Point taken, though. Perhaps we shouldn’t just throw our hands in the air. Still, I don’t know what can be done at song recitals, other than my earlier idea for an applause sign.
In fact I haven’t heard a cell phone in a concert in a while. Lucky, I guess. And I do see people reading programs, sometimes more than listening to the music I’m afraid. But point well taken — and one I can agree with much more than the position in some earlier posts that “let those who wish applaud and let the rest live with it.” After one of my recent experiences, I thought maybe one could try signs over the doors into the hall, or stands by the doors with poster board notices on them.
Well, Carol, my original post — it seems so long ago! — was specifically about clapping between the movements of symphonic works, which I don’t think in most cases is a big deal. Most cases, not all.
Trying to stop listeners from applauding after the 3rd movement of Tchaikovsky’s 6th symphony seems to me like a lost cause. I wonder what happened at the premiere.
Song cycles are different though. Applause can be a problem. Granted.
One reader told me she was going to get a t-shirt emblazoned with the words Do Not Applaud Between Movements. Sure, but the applauders don’t know what a movement is (musically speaking, that is).
This season I’ve had the pleasure to see/hear more song cycles than I typically do:
– Sonya Yoncheva, LA Phil: Il delirio amoroso (Handel)
– Thomas Hampson, LA Phil: Songs of a Wayfarer (Mahler)
– Elissa Johnston, LACO: La Bonne Cuisine (Bernstein) (plus some single-movement stuff from Bach & Bolcolm)
– Mathias Goerne: assorted Schubert
– Magdalena Kozena: Ruckert-Lieder (Mahler)
Of those five concerts, the only mid-cycle applause happened with Kozena (and after a slow, quiet movement, of course). In addition, there was no inter-movement clapping during LAMC’s St. John Passion. I guess I should be grateful it didn’t happen more often, and to be honest, I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t.
That’s the funny thing, CK. My impression is that things are getting better, not worse, in terms of “inappropriate” applause.
The blogger Opera Tattler records every disruption she hears at performances she attends, for anyone curious.
The last song recital I went to was the Goerne/Andsnes Mahler/Shostakovich program, and you could have heard a pin drop, seriously. A rarified program like that with a great singer who isn’t anywhere near as famous as Terfel attracts people who are there for the music and who know not to interrupt.
Wonderful points, everyone! May i applaud between comments?
Certainly, many concertos practically beg for an ovation after the first movement (or sometimes after the second, as in Brahms Piano 2 and Prokofiev Violin 1), and so applauding at those moments should be perfectly natural and normal. Same with virtuosic coloratura arias in operas.
But when a movement ends very quietly (or an entire symphony does so – Mahler Nine, for example), please – PLEASE! – wait for a few seconds before erupting into tumultuous applause. So many beautiful endings are ruined for the rest of the audience when a single listener starts clapping and/or even shouts his (it is usually a male voice) loud bravo when the sound of the last note is still in the air, as if he is trying to say, “Hey, look at me, i am so erudite, i know the score and this thing is over right now”. How to prevent that? I wish i knew.