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Against over-enthusiastic clapping during classical concerts

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Jonathan Lennie of Time Out asserts himself against over-enthusiastic clapping during classical concerts. Here is his open letter reblogged from this source:

Dear Loud Clapping Man Who Sits Behind Me At Concerts,

You know who you are: the one who insists on applauding at every opportunity and the clear winner of that solo competition to be the first to clap the moment a piece is over. Now, I’m not averse to audience members showing their appreciation, but this isn’t about the music or the performers, is it? It is all about you – showing off your apparent expertise, reflected by your knowledge of exactly when a work has ended, while others demure, lacking your certainty.

It’s good you have such knowledge, but don’t you realise that the music is not over when the conductor places the last down-beat? There is a silence that concludes the experience, both musically and emotionally. In his book ‘Everything is Connected’, pianist Daniel Barenboim explains: ‘…it is so disruptive when an enthusiastic audience applauds before the final sound has died away, because there is one last moment of expressivity, which is precisely the relationship between the end of the sound and the beginning of the silence that follows it. In this respect music is a mirror of life, because both start and end in nothing.’

So, having sat through a long and profound work, why do you have to start making a racket as soon as you perceive it to be over? Everybody hates you for destroying that moment of spiritual digestion. Pleasingly, I saw a clip of a well known maestro conducting Bruckner’s final symphony. As he lowers his baton for the last time, and the dying notes of that ‘journey of the soul to God’ begin to sink, there you are shouting ‘Bravo!’, shattering the spell, oblivious to what has been expressed. The conductor, though, in a fit of pique snaps his baton in half and storms off.

You don’t have to clap, you know, particularly between movements in a symphony, or songs in a song cycle. You don’t have to reward the performers halfway through (this isn’t opera): they do not expect it and most often resent the intrusion. Two weeks ago in a recital at the Royal Opera House, the baritone Thomas Hampson raised his hand in polite admonition when some members of the audience (were you among them?) felt compelled to applaud between the dark songs of Mahler’s song cycle ‘Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen’.

The whole point of movements – something that seems to have escaped Classic FM – is that they form part of a whole. In fact, there have been occasions when the performer prefers that you do not clap at all. At the start of June, for example, Piotr Anderszewski played ‘Gesäng der Frühe’, Schumann’s last completed work before mental illness prevented his composing further. In the programme notes, and a broadcast announcement, the pianist requested that the audience ‘kindly restrain from applauding after the piece’. This is an extreme dictation of ‘appropriate’ behaviour but a good starting point for a debate about when an audience should clap. After it there was a respectful silence, though a few (no doubt, you were one) couldn’t desist from some appreciative coughing.

We live in an age in which everyone is encouraged to express themselves, from inane blogging, Twittering and voting in mediocre talent shows. Please, let’s keep this out of the concert hall. The apotheosis of great music is all about the art. It does not seek acclaim; it only demands that we engage attentively as it speaks to us. The moment of its closure is a shared profundity in which we commune with our humanity.

So, clapping man, please restrain your enthusiasm until the work is genuinely over, otherwise you are interrupting that intimate conversation.

Yours sincerely,

Jonathan Lennie

Related post:
Music and Metaphysics

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