A classical music blog by music critic Tim Mangan
Classical dos and don’ts: The etiquette of concert attendance. The Orange County Register, Oct. 9, 2015.
applause, etiquette, listening
October 9, 2015
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I see that I must call on the awesome power of JOHANNES BRAHMS on the matter of applause after the first movement.
Timothy, here’s another excellent resource for those new to classical music. I start every issue of my chamber music newsletter with:
Are you new to the exploration of classical music?
See the excellent and entertaining “How To Enjoy A Live Concert”
by Los Angeles-based bassoonist JOHN STEINMETZ on the Naxos website:
This was recently posted by the Los Angeles Master Chorale on their Facebook page: https://scontent-lax3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xpa1/v/t1.0-9/s720x720/12115555_10153416653009442_9072170007052244515_n.jpg?oh=c73a25e52536a5e4f2302625b867c147&oe=5685363A
Many thanks, CK.
For a fascinating in-depth history of applauding at concerts and thoughtful recommendations about going forward, I highly recommend Alex Ross’s Wigmore Hall lecture to the Royal Philharmonic Society in 2010:
Thank you Jim for that link.
As always, Alex Ross is a pleasure to read, and not only because i happen to agree with most of the points he is making, but also because – well, simply because he is a pleasure to read. By the way, he does advocate performers talking to the audience before performing, and i like that too.
I would have to dig through my email and blog comments to find it, but Alex Ross and I had a compact at one point to clap between movements if we were ever at the same concert.
Here’s the thing: an awful lot of first movements, especially in concertos, are obviously designed to elicit a strong audience reaction, that is, applause. I can’t tell you how many times I have wanted to cheer the soloist or the orchestra.
Note the end of the first movement of Mahler 8: do you think he expected silence after “Veni creator spiritus”?
Indeed, Lisa, it would be hard to think of concertos that don’t invite applause after the first movement. Anyone?
For a violinist, not that hard really. There are some that have no break after the first movement – Bruch in G and Glazunov, for example, go directly into the second movement wihtout any possibility of applause. On the other hand, Mendelssohn in E does invite applause after the first movement even though there is no break. Some that do have a break after the first movement but do not invite applause include Prokofiev 1 in D and Shostakovich 1 in A.
In any case, i agree completely with Lisa – prohibition of applause when the end of a movement is clearly designed to elicit an ovation is silly. And the same applies to many symphonies as well.
I think the Brahms 2nd piano concerto goes straight from the first to second movement….and the last time I heard it, there was applause at the end of the second.
I meant concertos that have a break between the first and second movements. Prok 1 and Shost 1, fair enough.
For piano concertos, I’d say Shostokovich 1, Mozart 20, even Bartok 1
Yes, in Brahms’ Second the second movement is more applause-inducing than the first one. As for violin repertoire, another concerto that does not provoke ovations after the first movement is Bartok’s First, even though there is a definite stop before the second movement begins.
I think it’s fine to applaud after a whiz-bang ending to a movement — perhaps not preferable but fine. I certainly understand when it happens, and in some ways, it’s better than the collective angst followed by the spate of coughing and shuffling that happens. Either way, it’s not really silence between movements, and you might as well have appreciative sounds instead of off-putting (sniffle cough cough unwrap noisy lozenge double check program to see how many movements are left).
As it seems like we’re all okay with the inter-movement applause, so let me follow-up with two related questions:
1) How do you feel about seating late-comers between movements? I say, “Hell no.” Applause in between movements that is organic usually subsides in a reasonable time and leads fairly quickly into the next movement. If/when you try to seat late-commers, that organic pause turns into an overly drawn-out delay, with everyone watching those people struggle to crawl over other audience members to get to their seat. It’s totally annoying. LACO has had the bad habit of doing it, and now the LA Phil is doing it too (ugh). An amazing 1st movement of Beethoven’s 5th ended (no clapping BTW), then the doors swung open and a cavalcade of ushers and late audience members managed to delay the start of the 2nd movement for what seemed like an eternity.
2) What about clapping at the end of intra-movement climaxes? “Infernal Dance” from Firebird comes immediately to mind, and I’m sure there are others. If you tell people to applaud whenever the music moves them to do so, you’ll have people applauding at a big moment only to cover up the soft music that immediately follows it. Without wanting to sound like too much of a fuddy-duddy, encouraging inter-movement clapping would seem to come at this cost.
1) Whenever applause is permitted, seating latecomers is fine with me. Not letting people in while the audience is applauding and music is interrupted anyway seems too harsh to me and unnecessary. When there is no applause, latecomers are definitely a distraction and should not be allowed in.
2) Why is Infernal Dance “intra-movement”? There is a clear stop there and it definitely feels like the end of a movement. There would probably be applause for the dancers in a place like that if the ballet is being performed, anyway. Applause is very much permitted in operas after many “showstopping” arias, so why not in a ballet? And if an orchestral suite is performed without any dancers, then the orchestra is “the star” of the show and applause should be permitted according to the same criteria.
When we were performing at the wonderful Suntory Hall in Tokyo last year, i noticed that the ushers were giving something to the listeners before the concert. It turned out to be a four-page “Concert Guide” (subtitled “classical music concert etiquette”) printed in several languages. I was able to obtain one in English and brought it home with me as a priceless souvenir. The main part is divided into: 1 – “things to check before a performance”, 2 – “once the concert begins”. Besides usual stuff about cellphones, food and drinks, there are a few more unique admonitions such as: “do not move to another seat even if it’s empty”, do avoid creating distractions by “opening candy wrappers, jingling key holders, turning program pages, snoring [!], excessive body movement to the rhythm of the music [people with no rhythm are apparently exempt]”. There is a very reasonable request to use “a handkerchief or the like to cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing”. The clapping issue is not forgotten either: “It’s safe to begin clapping once the conductor puts down the baton [i guess baton-less maestri are in trouble] and everyone else begins to clap.”. My first thought when seeing all of these prohibitions was that the notoriously well-disciplined Japanese audience is precisely the one that needs this information least of all. But then i realized that since they printed it in English, their main target probably is all those clueless European/American foreigners – us!
Japanese audiences are definitely well behaved. They could maybe use a guide on how to loosen up a little.
In the rare occasions where artists feel flow would be interupted – for example in song cycles – they can kindly ask the audience to hold their applause until the end. Other than those, I resonate with Emanuel Ax as quoted in Alex Ross’s piece referenced above: “I think that if there were no ‘rules’ about when to applaud, we in the audience would have the right response almost always.” After watching his interview with cellist Nick Canellakis (below), I can see Emanuel Ax gently saying that with a twinkle in his eye 🙂
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