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The Weekend Vote weekend vote on the weekday: How do you feel about applause between movements?

April 15, 2008 at 4:46 AM

My apologies for pushing the weekend vote into the week... I've just arrived in Cincinnati, Ohio (actually Hebron, Kentucky) to visit my new niece, Madeline, who is five weeks old. I spent the weekend finishing a quilt for her! (clap clap clap)

But on to our topic: Applause between movements. I've been fairly liberal on this subject, willing to write off the occasional burst of errant applause in exchange for audience enthusiasm. We want people to enjoy what were are doing, to be engaged in the music we make!

But the concert I played over the weekend had me wanting to reign in this -- dare I say it? -- inappropriate effusiveness. I was playing with the Pasadena Symphony, performing the Verdi "Requiem" with a choir from Occidental College and four fantastic soloists. We had gathered the forces of about 200 people onstage to create this monumental work of sonic art -- a beautiful tribute to life and death that takes the listener on a journey that at times is hushed, or filled with trumpets everywhere, or tracing the perfect octave meanderings of two trained voices, or setting one voice to penetrate through 100, or using the full force of an orchestra, or tracking nothing more than a heartbeat...

First came the cellphone, which broke a quiet and reverent passage. A cell phone, blaring its aberrent ring tone, which is some people's only connection to music in this modern world. Is it possible, audience member, to respect the collective efforts of 200 people onstage, who rehearsed for four nights -- and trained for a lifetime -- to create this magnificent work right before you, in real time?

Then came the troubling applause.

The first movement, if you will, the "Kyrie," winds to a quiet, mournful, and serious end. It is followed by an incredibly explosive entrance by the orchestra, then choir, for the central "Dies Irae" movement of the work. If you've ever been connected to a machine that measures your heartbeat, you'll know that your heartbeat calms quite slowly, but it quickens in an instant. Once quickened, it's hard to slow. Verdi, no stranger to drama, undoubtedly intended to create a a well-honed silence, then to pierce with with the first notes of the "Dies Irae." On Saturday night, though, it was not to be. In that hairpin moment -- the moment between the still waters and our planned attack -- came a loud-ish smattering of...applause. I can't remember feeling so violated or offended by applause! Even our very good-natured conductor winced. In fact, there seemed to be such collective wince from both musicians and much of the audience, that those who applauded got the message: no one applauded thereafter, until the end of the work.

What to do? How do we bring people into the fold, but keep the integrity of what we are doing?

Well, let's start with our little vote:

From Mendy Smith
Posted on April 15, 2008 at 5:37 AM
In my CO, if there is a piece of music that truly requires silence between movements, the conductor will talk to the audience first about the piece. She will explain how the different movements relate to each other and the piece as a whole and then "instruct" the audience on when it is appropriate to applaud. She did this with Haydn's 101's Symphony once, that had many many GP's. The way she presented this was humorous to all. Not ONE person in the audience applauded out of turn. We got a standing ovation. :)
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on April 15, 2008 at 9:22 AM
While you're in Hebron, don't miss Florence Y'all. Ask any local.

I don't think applause between mvmts hurts anything. Acknowledge it and carry on.

From Bart Meijer
Posted on April 15, 2008 at 9:54 AM
Applause is OK if it doesn't disturb other people's experience of the music. It's not OK if it does.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 15, 2008 at 9:58 AM
I like Mendy's conductor's solution. My CO is playing Haydn 101 in 2 weeks!

In Laurie's scenario, I think the cell phone would have bothered me more than the applause. I agree with all the admonitions to turn them off or put them on vibrate before movies, theater, concerts, etc.

From Lisa Perry
Posted on April 15, 2008 at 10:26 AM
I don't like misplaced applause, but how do you stop it without offending when the idea is to draw more into the fold.

The cell phone person is the big offender. Is there an orchestra anywhere that doesn't remind everyone to turn them off or put them on vibrate?

From William Yap
Posted on April 15, 2008 at 10:55 AM
Perhaps in exceptional performance of a movement where audience just couldn't wait until the end of the work to acknowledge it.. maybe in such circumstances an applause between movement is acceptable. But perhaps just a brief applause.
From Neil Cameron
Posted on April 15, 2008 at 11:05 AM
Those who let their cell phone go off during a concert should be hung, drawn and quartered.

However, I fail to see the issue with applause between movements. You should be truly grateful and pleased that the music you're making has moved people so much that they feel compelled to applaud even when they know it's traditional not to. Seriously!

Would any of you prefer the extreme alternative where you finished the piece completely and no one applauded at all? And no I'm not talking about those sublime movements that end with the tension hanging and everyone luxuriates in the moment before applause breaks out. I'm talking about no applause at all.

I think I said in another approach that some here are just getting too precious. Being upset that your playing had so moved people that they applauded between movements would count as another example.


From Neil Cameron
Posted on April 15, 2008 at 11:10 AM
And given I can't edit my post some corrections:

"sublime movement" = "sublime moment"

"approach" = "post" (no idea how I got that one).



From Calvin Mitcham
Posted on April 15, 2008 at 11:58 AM
1. shoot the guy with the phone.
2. be thankful people were there to applaud. they could have been at a rock concert. forgive us, for we know not when to clap :)
3. the conductor pre-explanation does seem the ideal solution.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on April 15, 2008 at 12:15 PM
Who cares when people clap. If the audience is big enough to support the paycheck, things are good.

As for cell phones, please don't get me started. Cell phones have made public life completely unbearable in this country. Everything from public transportation, waiting in line, concerts, movies, restaurants, waiting rooms, church, meetings, classes, etc., are a miserable infliction of rudeness to a helpless hostage audience.

People that let their cell phone ring during a live performance of the Verdi Requiem are doomed to get the brain tumors that they probably deserve.

Also, I hope The Weekend Vote managed to find a Graeter's Ice Cream Parlor in Hebron. After suffering the trauma of cell phones ringing during Verdi, surely The Weekend Vote earned herself an ice cream cone...

From George Philips
Posted on April 15, 2008 at 12:54 PM
Historically, there WAS applause throughout a piece. The concept of silence until the end is a relatively new idea. Read the following New York Times article for more information:
From Michael Czeiszperger
Posted on April 15, 2008 at 3:07 PM
Those of you who have never clapped at the wrong point can cast the first stone :-)
From Bernadette Hawes
Posted on April 15, 2008 at 3:05 PM
I suppose on some occasions you could pass. In the type of situation described here, where it just totally wrecks the effect ... it's such a downer.
How to get around it?
If you think you will have people in the audience who don't have a clue, maybe a disclaimer at the beginning would help, along the lines of ... "in case someone is unfamiliar with this work, there will be x no of movements with a pause in between - please could you wait between movements and not clap. You will know we have finished when we stand up and bow" or something along those lines. Maybe some of our very skilled writers can come up with a better idea so people don't feel talked down to, yet avoid the kind of wreckage described above.
From Tara S.
Posted on April 15, 2008 at 4:11 PM
The first time my CO got applause between movements was when we played Brahms 2 this past March. I think we were all just thrilled we were getting through it. (That piece is murder.)

I try not to mind, as I'm glad people just come at all. I remember being taught as a young kid, before I ever went to a concert, that you don't clap between movements, but I'm not sure that's actually taught anymore.

From Carolyn Berger
Posted on April 15, 2008 at 5:12 PM
Usually I'm offended (or feel like people are ignorant) if there is applause between movements. However, after some pieces that end with a "bang," it's almost hard to resist! (Like after the 3rd movement of Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony - phew!)
From David Wilson
Posted on April 15, 2008 at 7:29 PM
No wonder why musicians are having a crisis with dwindling audiences. Most are elitist and snobs who cannot relate to the audiences or be thankful to them for their support.
From Kim Vawter
Posted on April 15, 2008 at 7:43 PM
I am ashamed about this. I went to a concert where a man hooked up to a very noisy breathing apparatus happened to be sitting in the "orchestra section." good seats and it was going on and off during the whole performance. Like Darth Vader amplified with several minutes between-- You could hear it during soft places, the pauses, all the time--I is good that someone with breathing difficulty could get out of his house to enjoy a concert but still--it was a big distraction. Is there a quieter contraption available for someone like this?
Crying, talking and laughing babies! Who really needs to bring a child younger than 5 to a concert?
From Emily Grossman
Posted on April 15, 2008 at 9:05 PM
Dude, if you're the only one clapping, that should be a clue to stop.
From Christopher McGovern
Posted on April 15, 2008 at 11:16 PM
Great topic of discussion, Laurie!
I really can't say that I think it's NEVER okay to clap between movements--I grew up with so many rock records and classical records that I always assumed Mozart's symphonies were like his albums or something--I didn't realize until I heard my first live classical concert on the radio that it was the accepted etiquette to NOT applaud between the movements of a piece! But I noticed having gone to several notable concerts in recent years that people do clap if they really like the performer, and I usually join in! :)
Now, having talked about disturbances during concerts, can somebody please start a discussion about whether you think it's okay if soloists or conductors HUM during the pieces??
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on April 15, 2008 at 11:27 PM
Anee, cell phones have pushed me so far into therealms of insanity that when someone starts a loud one sided converstaion next to me in a restaurant I always pick up an imaginary phone and shout out what I guess are appropriate answers as the dickhead from hell speaks.
Sometimes I worry about me....
From Anne Horvath
Posted on April 16, 2008 at 12:50 AM
Well, Buri, I have been tempted to start reading "Faust" out loud, very loudly, in my terrible German when the intrusive conversations start up. That might do the trick...
From Roy Sonne
Posted on April 16, 2008 at 2:50 AM
There was an interview with Artur Rubinstein about this.

Q. How do you feel about applause between mevements.

Rubinstein: Well... you know, really, you're not supposed to do that...But I love it!

From Nicole Stacy
Posted on April 16, 2008 at 2:52 AM

That's very unfair. I am glad for the enthusiasm, but I played Tchaik 6 last summer and the applause between the third and fourth movements definitely took something away from the irony of the piece. The timing was just off. If that makes me a snob, then so be it.

(What really got me, though, was the woman in the front row knitting! To the tale of a man's imminent death!)

From Nicole Stacy
Posted on April 16, 2008 at 3:00 AM
I mean two summers ago. They're beginning to run together... :)
From Laurie Niles
Posted on April 16, 2008 at 2:54 AM
This is really interesting, most polls, after about 30 votes, stabilize and the percentages stay the same. But this one started with the majority of people saying it's okay to applaud, but in the last hours "never" has just passed "it's okay."

I do like the idea of the conductor announcing beforehand, in a case like a Requiem, that applause should be held until the end for best possible effect. I don't really mind it so much in certain pieces.

Also, tolerating applause anywhere at any time during a concert is not necessarily a way of appreciating a supportive audience; many of the most supportive audience members are also the most appreciative; they do not want the applause any more than the musicians do.

From Joshua Hong
Posted on April 16, 2008 at 3:34 AM
We must also take into consideration what the composer would think of applause between movements of his piece.
From Sam Milner
Posted on April 16, 2008 at 3:40 AM
Thank you, George Philips, for the link to the excellent NY Times article.

Our notion of the wrongness of applause between movement is a very recent culural construct of the past hundred years. I believe it is an unnatural and artificial construct given the almost universal urge to clap which unindoctrinated audience members experience.

Our idea that applause breaks the flow between movements is rather odd given that most pre-20th century multi-movement music was rarely performed as an unbroken sequence of movements. Beethoven's sonatas were almost never performed in their entirety; mini-recitals often occurred between movements of symphonies and even in the middle of operas.

The Times article suggests that our present notions of correct concert behaviour are the rotten fruits of misguided and overblown Germanic seriousness.

Having said all that, I agree that at times silence is golden and that conductors would be wise to request silence between movements if they believe silence will enhance the audience's experience.

On a side note, the Times article also provides some evidence that our reverence and devotion to the score are relatively new phenomena and would be very strange to most of the composers whose scores we so revere.

From Bob Reese
Posted on April 16, 2008 at 4:38 AM
I find applause between movements generally detracts from the music which has been played. Silence between movements gives one a chance to more fully absorb what has just been heard. Applause makes this water of appreciation very murky at best.
From David Wilson
Posted on April 16, 2008 at 11:56 AM
Roy's comment about Rubinstein is a good one. Probably this is why Rubinstein was so much adored and had his group of loyal audiences during his time.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on April 17, 2008 at 5:54 AM
People are reacting to "it's ok" voters as if they were ppl applauding and voting "never" to shut them up.
From John Blakely
Posted on April 17, 2008 at 8:33 AM
I don't think factions of an audience can be blamed for being ignorant of how something should be done. To applaud shows innocent enthusiam. Still, I'd rather it didn't happen, it can spoil the atmosphere of a piece. I like to savour what I've just heard and compare it to what is to come without interruption. But when I go to a concert I find I'm thinking about the applause even when it doesn't happen, certainly until I become comfortable that a particular audience knows the rules. So maybe I should just listen to CDs! :-). Having said all that the audiences back home here are fairly canny.

PS - had to laugh when watching Vengerov play the Proms on TV (was it last year?). What are the rules regarding groupies?


From Bill Rose
Posted on April 17, 2008 at 12:22 PM
What I find more annoying is the barrage of coughs between movements. It sounds like a pulmonary disaster area. I think people cough just in case they might need to later on. It really messes up recordings of live concerts.
From Tom Mirades
Posted on April 18, 2008 at 5:03 AM
Personally I relish the silences between the movements. I also think it's important to respect the composer's vision for how the music would be experienced in the concert hall. The composer has worked hard on every nuance to give the listener the most meaningful experience possible. Clapping between movements is not part of that vision. I think it's important that the audience be told by the conductor or someone before the concert starts--at the same time that a reminder is given about cell phones.
There should also be instruction regarding coughs--if people need to cough they should try to hold back, or do it into their coats as quietly as possible. Most people just let loose with their hacking and they need to be instructed about that as well.
(Cuz as we all know, people are kinda dumb!)
From Mariechristine Lopez
Posted on April 18, 2008 at 10:52 PM
I read/heard somewhere that from the scientific point of view (speaking about the way the brain processes what the ears have heard), the silence between movements is the only opportunity a listener has to process what she has heard, and then prepare for what's coming next. That makes the silences *very* important.

And how about the coughing that always seems to go on between movements? I suggest "complimentary" handkerchiefs be handed out :)

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