I just read an intriguing article by New Yorker music critic Alex Ross, author of The Rest is Noise, entitled “Time to Show Our Appreciation for Classical Music.” The subtitle reads: “It’s one of the great ironies of the classical concert experience – the most explosive, exhilarating music is often greeted by total silence. Let our applause be heard, says Ross.
You should definitely read the whole article, which is in fact an edited version of a longer presentation (link given to the original in his article). But take a minute and think about our concert practices. Do you like things the way they are? What would it be like if a classical concert were more like a jazz concert, where the audience breaks out into appreciative applause after a solo? (what would you feel like if right after you did a sterling job with the Tchaik 5 solo there were a tsunami of applause?)
Ross tells us that the concert of Mozart’s time was innocent of the starched, funereal protocol of today’s concert. Wolfgang wrote to his father about the shouts of “Da capo” from the audience during the premiere of his “Paris” Symphony. But in the 19th century, things began to change; Ross cites examples of Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Wagner finding ways to minimize the “interruptions.” But he says that “mid-symphonic applause” continued into the beginning of the 20th century, until campaigns by the Big Conductors finally succeeded in stifling audience reaction.
The author leaves us with some tantalizing thoughts about what classical music might be on both sides of the baton. Some say that there is “too little give and take between performers and audiences;” performers show little movement or emotion, and audiences are still and passive (bored?). Concerts, as high quality as they are, somehow lack something for many.
Great quotes from Ross: “Perhaps concerts should be more old-fashioned – more local, communal. Institutions might work on strengthening the bond between performer and public; remarks beforehand, gatherings afterward, and, certainly, a relaxation of the Rule [of no applause during the piece or between movements].” ” dream of the concert hall becoming a more vital, unpredictable environment, in thrall to the wildly diverse personalities of composers and performers alike. … Music should be a place where our expectations are shattered.”