Hold Your Applause

Wednesday, January 05, 2011 - 05:41 PM

There was a time when musicians were considered peons on the social ladder and great composers remained anonymous. Both performer and composer were servants to aristocrats or the church. Applauding their craft was radical and perhaps even sacrilege. These days, audiences heartily applaud great performances across sacred and secular mediums. While I enjoy hearing live music and applauding inspired performances, some music is just better without applause.

I'd much rather hear a boisterous applause after the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto or Brahms’s First Piano Concerto than, say, at the end of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Arvo Part’s Mirror in the Mirror, Leontyne Price singing a mournful spiritual or many of J.S. Bach's fugues and choral pieces.

Is there music you think deserves a groan, collective sigh or another form of appreciation beyond the standard applause?

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Comments [17]

ellen diamond from Manhattan

Singing in Beethoven's 9th at Lincoln Center, the morning of the performance the conductor called for removing two rows of seats at the front and placed several of the singers into them. At the beginning of the Ode to Joy, we stood, turned and sang to the audience. They loved it. We should be "one," audience and performers, united in mutual delight. A relaxed audience is a more involved audience, and I bet they cough less!

Jan. 12 2014 12:15 PM
Maria Jacobson from New York City

I strongly believe that applause should be held until the end of the piece and then be as enthusiastic as the performance deserves. Applause in between sections distracts from the mood of the piece, in my case, enjoyment as a member of the audience and I assume it is also a distraction for the performer. At the same time, I think of the performance was enjoyed to show it at the end rather than jumping up at the end to get a glass of wine or just to leave to catch a bus home. The performer(s) have given so much to us, if you enjoyed it, at the end show your appreciation.

Jun. 22 2012 05:59 PM
Tim Taffe, Iowa City from IOWA CITY IOWA

Dear Terrance...

It is Monday night, and you are playing Midori..I had to double check my internet station, I could not beleive you commented on the excellent and selfless week of performances given recently by Midori playing with The Quad City Symphony Orchestra ..QCSO..(no slouch band this is) in The Quad Cities..which are Davenport, Bettendorf, Rock Island ,and Moline. The first two on the Iowa side of Mississippi and the latter two on the Illinois side. Thank you. Tim Taffe, Iowa City.. WQXR Sustaining Member..and lifetime WQXR listener!

May. 02 2011 07:51 PM
I prefer to listen at home

I have always found it absurd AND annoying to witness classical music concert audiences do their best to suppress the slightest cough or sigh, only to seem to race to see who can erupt with the loudest and most obnoxious noise humanly possible the moment the last movement is finished.

What makes it even more hypocritical is that I have also been to many rock concerts, and the classical audiences make MORE noise than the rock audiences.

As for the forced and unnatural silence between movements, I find it silly and pretentious. If the music moves you, express it! OTOH, if the performer(s) want total silence, even after the ENTIRE piece is finished, I believe they should make that clear. I agree with Terrance on that.

Feb. 04 2011 10:12 PM
Elizabeth from nyc

I was a classical musician trained and working since the age of 2 for about 20 years. It was not until age 15, when in the South of France on borrowed money to be there, sitting in an old outdoor Roman ampitheater listening to Montserrat Caballer the great and Verdi that I understood we needed to be freer with classical music performance. The southern French that jammed the stadium cheered after the things that moved them and worked with the performers to enjoy the music they loved so much. More like the jazz concerts I spent time in thereafter. One of the best lessons I ever had.

Feb. 01 2011 05:12 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane from BOONTON, NJ

Heartfelt, thankful, appreciative applause is admired and symbiotically added to by audiences wanting the artists to succeed and do better yet. However, organized, pre-performance professional BRAVOING claques, often paid by agents or opera company general managers have a history in Italy and here in the USA that goes way back. Audiences sense when the applause is honest or has an ulterior motive involved. Let's show our true regard for the performer and or the work performed, but let's be civil, refraining from applause if it is not warranted, not uttering expletives or hissing.

Feb. 01 2011 10:37 AM
Michael Meltzer

If programming is left to educated people, such as journalists, who not being musicians have what musicians would call extremely limited musical experience, the criteria for programming will be name recognition, consensus (top ten contests) and novelty (transcriptions, prodigies, crossovers, etc.). An in-depth understanding of content and how to distribute and balance it is too vast an undertaking to learn on the job.

Jan. 23 2011 06:26 PM
Neil Schnall

Prove me wrong! PLEASE!

Jan. 23 2011 04:04 PM
Neil Schnall

In the case of the Weber, yes, it is perhaps inevitable to have premature response from the audience... but more than once have I heard announcers (who should have known better) back-announce the piece before the last measures have been heard (including on this station - although I admit not lately).

I cannot pass up this opportunity to repeat my lament (or complaint) that WQXR seems unwilling ever to play "Invitation to the Dance" in the form Weber wrote it, i.e., for solo piano. Every time I have heard it on this station, it is in the Berlioz orchestration. Nothing wrong with that version, but it's not the same.

I know I've strayed off topic, but I will briefly note that the same seems to hold true with "3 Preludes for Piano" by Gershwin. If it's on WQXR, it's for violin and piano, trio, clarinet and piano... anything but piano solo. At least not that I've heard.

Jan. 23 2011 04:02 PM
Dianne Chapitis from Guelph, Ontario, Canada

I would say that each situation requires it's own response. Certainly Jay Robert Bradly's song brought us to a higher level, leaving us with a humble reverence and a desire to feel the silence. Many symphonic concerts raise us up into joy, invigoration and hope, almost spontaneously initiating applause.
With concerts engaging a quiet beauty,the audience often intuitively knows to feel that silence,then comes into applause. Sometimes performers and audience applaud each other !

The music of "Sanctuary" from Halifax, Nova Scotia has a holy, evocative quality.

Jan. 23 2011 02:34 PM
Constantine from New York

There is one well-known case in which the performer (pianist or conductor) should ask the audience beforehand to withhold its applause (or eggs) at the end: Weber's "Invitation to the Dance," the end of which is not the end! (I suppose this is likely to be futile.)

Jan. 21 2011 10:41 PM
Michael Meltzer

The answer is not complicated. Silence for the purpose of ambience is an artistic decision. All artistic decisions must be integrated, therefore must be left to the conductor. Whatever the conductor wants that is a departure from common practice, print it in the program, big and bold. If the conductor doesn't want it, don't do it.

Jan. 21 2011 01:38 AM
Jock Stender from Charleston, SC

Wagner caused confusion -- that continues today -- about applause during Parsifal (1882), summarized below, taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parsifal

Applause during Parsifal

At Bayreuth performances, audiences do not applaud at the end of the first act.

This tradition is the result of a misunderstanding arising from Wagner's desire at the premiere to maintain the serious mood of the opera. After much applause following the first and second acts, Wagner spoke to the audience and said that the cast would take any curtain calls until the end of the performance.

This confused the audience, who remained silent at the end of the opera until Wagner addressed them again, saying that he did not mean that they could not applaud. After the performance Wagner complained "Now I don't know. Did the audience like it or not?"

At following performances some believed that Wagner had wanted no applause until the very end, and there was silence after the first two acts.

Eventually it became a Bayreuth tradition that no applause would be heard after the first act, however this was certainly not Wagner's idea.

In fact during the first Bayreuth performances Wagner himself cried "Bravo!" as the Flower-maidens made their exit in the Second Act, only to be hissed by other members of the audience.

At some theatres other than Bayreuth, applause and curtain-calls is normal practice after every act; other major theatres, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York, follow the Bayreuth custom.

Jan. 20 2011 08:36 PM
Alan from Astoria, New York

I also find that applaud immediately ruins the feelings of profound stillness and sublimity that the greatest works can produce. Is applause really necessary after the Mahler 9th?, or Mahler's Das Lied?, or Tchaikovsky's 6th?, or some of the great Bach pieces, or Mozart's requiem?, I could go on... I'm generally not in favor of some of the radical ideas for changing the concert experience that I've heard in recent years, but one idea that I could get behind is if an orchestra alerted the audience before playing certain of these great pieces, that they request that the audience not applaud; but rather a group of players or the conductor would make themselves available in the lobby over snacks to talk about the piece and receive any compliments the audience may wish to share.

Jan. 18 2011 03:14 PM

An artist owes EVERYTHING to the audience. Let the audience behave as it must. However, the audience must behave with respect, dignity, charm, nobility, and appreciation, unless there is good reason to riot. The audience ultimately decides what is good - what stays and what goes - regardless of what any critic says. Classical music is dying because composers have ignored the public. They write nothing but engineered, uninspired works - trash. They think they know better and can educate people who do not need educating. As someone once said: "I might not know anything about art, but I know what I like."

Jan. 18 2011 11:35 AM
Jill Murman Payne from White Plains, NY

I love classical music performances, but definitely feel insecure (or unsure) about clapping in between movements. I suppose the reason not to is that it might break the mood.... Similarly, when watching a play, it seems that some folks clap between acts while others don't. I confess that my policy is, usually, when in doubt, wait a moment to see how the rest of the crowd responds.

Jan. 06 2011 09:47 AM
Michael Meltzer

One of the limitations of the concert performance is the effect of the invisible wall that separates the performers on stage "up there" and we audience members "down here." In the library or salon recital, eye contact between performers and audience make for a greater feeling of audience participation. If you are a playgoer and have experienced theater-in-the-round, you know the benefit of that mutual awareness.
A great performance not only presents well-rehearsed music, it feeds in part off the energy of the audience. To stifle applause is perhaps to cut off a vital sign to the performers that their work is appreciated and wanted and they are among friends.
What we don't need is to make a circus of the process, like the idiot who has to start clapping one-quarter second after the last note to show his neighbors that he knows the piece, or the phony enthusiasm that gives a standing ovation just for playing all the right notes.
Warm applause, supplied as deserved, makes everyone feel good.

Jan. 06 2011 06:13 AM

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