I doubt the conversation about concert etiquette will ever completely go away. I struggle with what I think, to be be honest. If we shush newbies, we quite possibly are letting them know they don’t belong. We need new audience members. We need younger audience members. Heck, we just need an audience and these days I’m seeing lots of empty seats. But if we “allow” crazy noise it sends some of the tried and true audience members away. If we allow talking, as they do at certain new venues, I feel as if we are saying listening is secondary to watching. I think it’s tricky. I think it will always be tricky.

Yet I hate being distracted from great music by careless noise. At worst, it can fundamentally change the fate of a performance, like when Mitsuko Uchida played Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto in Edinburgh last month and was interrupted seconds before the opening chord by a loud clatter. She was visibly startled, had to reposition her hands over the keyboard, and never seemed to fully regain her focus.

Robin Ticciati, principal conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and future music director of Glyndebourne, takes a pragmatic view. “True silence is something special to be celebrated,” he says, “and yes, hearing a mobile phone is irritating. But I can’t let that kind of thing impact my performance. And we shouldn’t be too uptight here – what if that phone belongs to someone who has never been to a concert before and was so excited they forgot to turn it off?” When a phone rang between songs in Veronique Gens’s Edinburgh recital, she just joked: “Ceci n’est pas Duparc.”

Marc Minkowski held his left hand out behind him to shush up the loud coughers in Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony with Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble at the Usher Hall. It was a clever move, but surely meant that part of his attention was diverted to crowd control rather than to the score.

There’s a hefty list of conundrums when it comes to audience etiquette. Why is it OK to read a programme or a score, when doing so on a smart phone or tablet would be unacceptable? Is head-bopping and air-conducting an honest response to a compelling performance, or an uncouth distraction? Why is it permissible to shout “bravo” after an opera aria but not after a flash concerto cadenza? Perhaps there’s only really one rule: relax, enjoy the concert – but don’t distract those around you.


1 Comment

  1. I think we are beginning to reap the rewards of the cutback in arts education in the early school system…