This will forever be a topic in the classical music world. Similar to “the death of classical music” I suppose. They just won’t go away.

Last night the audience applauded between every movement of the Ravel. I have a strong suspicion the audience was new to a symphony concert. In some ways this is a bit odd, since it was the celebration of San Jose State University’s 150th year, and you’d think those coming to something like that would be … well … educated about things like movements of a work. But maybe not. Having grown up in the genre, I’m probably just silly about what I think other people know. But I wasn’t bothered by the applause, really. I did think they could have been a bit quiet after the slow movement, but oh well.

I was reading about an Oregon Symphony concert, though, where only a few concert goers started to applaud before it was really time at the end of Tchaikovsky’s 6th. That work is a toughie for some people. Ending slowly and quietly makes some people uncomfortable, I think. After all, don’t symphonies end fast and loud so an audience can rise to its feet immediately? (At San Jose Symphony (RIP) concerts I could guarantee an audience would give us a standing O as long as we ended loud and fast, whether or not it was a good performance. Sometimes I really did want to yell, “SIT DOWN! That was awful and we don’t deserve this!”) But of course an audience doesn’t want to be told they just paid good money for a bad concert. So I’d just smile and stand when told to stand and there you go.)

Anyway … ramble ramble … I read this and more (just click on the link for the whole thing):

But all in all I do not want to take command of the crowd in terms of telling them when it is appropriate to applaud. They do very well. Remember the silence after the Adams Transmigration? I also remember the great silence after Holst’ Planets… What I’m trying to say is the following. Silence after a piece of music is something magical. But do not take it for granted, don’t make it “happen”. It’s one of the little things we should not attempt to control. Just a little anecdote on this: We all expect concentration and alertness in the Hall (wherever that is) when a piece is over. When a piece is long, meaningful and ends very softly (like the three pieces in Saturday’s program) we “expect” the tension to go into “nothing”. But there are surprises: I remember specifically how surprised I was when after a Beethoven Nr.9 with it’s big and ! loud ending there was – 7 seconds of silence…
I’m very careful (not) to say anything about what Tchaikovsky meant at the end of the Pathetique. I believe that what I feel he says is an interpretation on my side. It’s the heartbeat, the desperation, then Death. It’s a very concentrated ending….”

Anyway … I guess I just can’t get too riled up any more over this sort of thing. I’m just glad to have an audience. And what, to some requires absolute silence, doesn’t to others. I’m the absolute silence type, but I’ll survive.

Hmmm. Too tired to be making much sense right now. I’d better sign off ….


  1. David Bratman

    At San Jose Symphony (RIP) concerts I could guarantee an audience would
    give us a standing O as long as we ended loud and fast, whether or not
    it was a good performance.

    I remember that.  It felt very odd to be sitting among this forest of standing people.

    I also remember a couple occasions when I stood but nobody else did.

  2. Patricia Mitchell

    Ah yes … those were the days. Some performances were simply horrendous, but I would always say beforehand, “Well, we end fast and loud and you know what that means!” It was a guaranteed standing O. Back then the OSJ audience was always much more savvy to what was good and what was not, and while the OSJ crowd would keep me guessing as far an an O was concerned, SJS folks never did. Entirely predictable, that crowd!

    And yes, I also remember giving performances that were drop dead out of this world sort of events and the audience just didn’t get it. Sigh.

  3. I agree that there’s been far too much made of “applause protocol” in the blogosphere. To me, all the applause angst seems almost a self-created problem. I recall reading a contributor to Sandow’s blog who recommended applauding in the middle of the music — at applause-worthy moments, to be sure — then “glaring” at anybody else who seems startled. To me, this resonates of the crowd that got goosed up a year or so ago to get combative over “incorrect” expressions of holiday cheer.

    So, here’s what I think: Spontaneous reactions are good, if they are truly spontaneous, as opposed to some sort of “statement”. (Patty has also reminded us that the silence that sometimes follows a quiet ending can also be spontaneous.) Following the rules is also good, for the sake of a pleasing sense of community and shared values. And the LAST thing we need is a cadre of “death of music” people berating us to clap if we believe. OK, maybe it worked for Tinker Bell … but, come ON, folks!

    Curmudgeonly yours,