02 November 2009

a reason to hate the world of classical music

The following item appeared several days ago in Leah Garchik’s column in the San Francisco Chronicle:

"The third movement of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony has such a razzle-dazzle ending that the San Francisco Symphony audience Thursday cheered at its ending, a definite no-no because there was another movement (much quieter) to come. Afterward, an audience member approached one of the musicians, praised the concert and asked what the encore had been, an inquiry that caused big giggles among the musicians."

Well, I don’t have strong feelings on the clapping-between-movements controversy. I oppose anything that disrupts the music or the mood for everyone else, but I’m not really convinced that clapping during a pause between symphony movements does that, at least as compared to clapping between each song in a recital set or being the first to scream bravo before a song has finished. It’s the last sentence of the item that contains the irritant: the very fact that this audience member was not already immersed in concert-going etiquette, familiar (or over-familiar) with every single note of Tchaikovsky's Sixth, and had not been looking at the list of movements in the program during the performance, indicates to me that she (I’ll just use “she” for convenience; I have no idea of the gender here) was, of all things, actually listening to the music. Gee, she might even be one of those “new audience members” arts groups are allegedly so desperate to reach. So she, having no doubt paid a fair amount for her ticket, instead of rushing out immediately like most symphony-goers took the trouble to compliment the musicians and ask about the music, which obviously had touched her. For this she gets the snotty "big giggle" treatment by the in-the-know sophisticates. I hope at least they had the decency to give that member of their paying public a courteous and straightforward answer to her face before they alerted the media. Well, being a swell fiddle player doesn’t guarantee either sensitivity or sense.


Libby Fife said...

I just can't always say what has become of common decency and courtesy these days.

jolene said...

I'm hoping the account exaggerates the musicians' response for dramatic effect. Is that too optimistic?

I always liked it when audiences applauded when I performed in an orchestra. It meant that they appreciated it, and as a musician, it pulled me out of the "they're not really listening, they're just here for the status/friends/food/wine" trance and got me more fired up to play the next movement with more excitement.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Well, I'm not sure there could be much exaggeration -- the account doesn't actually say how the musicians reacted to the patron's face. Maybe they had their big giggles afterward. Even so, it's snotty behavior and indicates they're placing greater importance on status (is this person an insider who already knows the symphony?) rather than on directly experiencing the music.

ChiChi Fargo said...

Live and let live.
In auditoriums as in life, no?
I enjoyed catching up with your entries today after too long an absence on my part. Gee, I hope I spelled everything correctly. Wouldn't want to cause big giggles anywhere.

Unknown said...

This makes me wonder if Leah Garchik is a reliable source. Have you found her to be one in the past?

I have never seen musicians at any level of renown laugh at someone asking a genuine question, wanting to know the title of a piece. But I have many, many times seen audience members trying to show off, by framing a question to demonstrate how much they already know. This deserves even worse than giggles; it's right up there with yelling Bravo before the aria is finished.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

I have no reason to think Garchik is less reliable than most reporters, and as for her reliability in this particular case, no one who was there has challenged her description, so I have to assume it's basically accurate.