Recently I attended a symphony concert, as an audience member, and it started noticably late - 20 minutes late.
That meant that the musicians were sitting on stage for 20 minutes, while the audience sat in the hall. Yes, the late start allowed a few audience stragglers to come in, but for the most part, everyone was just waiting. And from all I could tell, there was no emergency or problem. They were simply waiting for the hall to fill up. It's kind of the culture of these performances, as I understand it.
Yet it made me ponder the question - how late is too late? At what point do audience members (or orchestra members) begin to feel uncomfortable with how late the concert is starting? Or does one just assume, the audience has designated their evening for this concert, they can just relax and the concert will start when it starts?
Generally, if a concert starts within five minutes of the designated time - even maybe 10 - I don't notice too much. But 20 minutes is quite a while, unless there is some kind of reason or unusual circumstance - like the soloist had transportation trouble, or an audience member had a medical problem, etc.
Another thought: just start on time, all the time. Train your audience that the concert will always begin on time, and if they aren't there, they'll just miss the start of the show. People will start to learn to show up on time and get into their seats early.
What are your thoughts on punctuality, when it comes to when a concert should begin? Should orchestras be strict about start times? Or a little more casual and relaxed? Please participate in the vote and then share your thoughts in the comments.
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In general I favor on time starts but in communities that draw audiences from places where bridges get jammed and traffic situations occur and in cases of terrible weather, I would advise using some judgment. It’s pretty easy to check using an app and decide to create a little leeway-5 or 10 minutes.
Sometimes there are unavoidable traffic events or parking snarls, which we all know about. Under those circumstances, it is reasonable to hold the concert start time five minutes late—maybe ten under exceptional circumstances—to allow more audience members to be seated before the music starts. As long as this isn’t going to push the orchestra into overtime, which it hardly ever does, it is best to accommodate audience members who are late through no fault of their own.
20 minutes late is excessive and requires an explanatory announcement along with apology from the stage.
A big delay needs an explanation: a missing bassoon (Shostakovich, can't remember which of the violin concertos) delaying a live radio broadcast, a substitute for a sick oboist needing 20 minutes to look through the music (Bernstein 'Trouble in Tahiti'). Once the explanation is given, an audience will be very understanding. The oboist was given an individual bow and received warm applause at the end of the performance.
When I ran a theater, we always started five minutes late, out of tradition, but that was it. Audience members have a responsibility to be in their seats and ready for the show on time. Showing up late to see a show is rude. In the same vein, starting late is inconsiderate. If people came to the show at 8 p.m., and it won't get out until 10 p.m. at the earliest, the audience has to battle traffic, in the parking garage, distance, and so forth. Then they may need to pay the babysitter. If people got there on time, start on time. Now, if the weather is awful, or there is some sort of traffic issue, a short announcement saying they'll start a few more minutes late would be kind.
I voted on the option:
"Up to 5 minutes late is still acceptable".
I actually think it should be on time as a "default", but a few minutes late is still OK.
The place where I live, a Danish island called Bornholm, have churches where there are different types of concerts. Concerts with professionals, concerts with skilled amateurs and concerts with a mixture of professionals and amateurs. The ticket prices are in a range from free and up. Concerts with professionals will of course normally have the highest prices.
Now all these different types of concerts have two things in common:
1) There are no seat numbers in the churches, so "first come first served" so to speak.
2) The audience often starts to arrive as early as 30 minutes before the concert. From there the church gradually gets filled with people.
Thus people expect the concert to start on time although a few minutes late wouldn't matter.
An announcement with an explanation and an apology would be done if the concert can't start right away for some reason and the audience would understand.
I voted for “start exactly on time.” I forget just where I read this some time ago, so I’m paraphrasing: Europeans frown on lateness, whereas we Americans are slipshod by comparison and tolerate lateness far too much.
I am fanatical about being on time. I can see delaying a performance up to 5 minutes in exceptional circumstances; but I strongly feel that, if you can make it 3 minutes late, you can make it on time.
Agree with previous comments about having an announcement from the stage when things get delayed. Then the audience will probably be more forgiving, although they may still be irate about getting out late and perhaps missing or being tardy for other planned activities.
Latecomer attendees can be very annoying to other audience members. Some of them will drift in late habitually - perhaps even on purpose. They seem to have an exaggerated sense of their own importance and like to get attention by “making an entrance.”
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February 6, 2023 at 02:37 AM · If a venue has the practice of starting punctually the audience members will notice and will be punctual in their turn. This avoids the situation described in the article and also ensures that people can catch their trains/busses/trams at the end.
In the same way there should be a constant practice of keeping the intermission to no more than 15 minutes.
I think it is unfair to musicians to make them wait for their audience. They arrive on time, do their job and should be allowed to return home in time.