Best/Worst Audiences

December 4, 2009 at 04:47 PM ·

For you in which city you find the best and worst audiences, where do they make noise, where do they stay 10?..... which one stands up rightaway?..the most demanding?.. the oldest/ youngest?....New York, Boston, Chicago, L.A, where, where where?!!

Replies (20)

December 4, 2009 at 06:41 PM ·

It's an interesting question, I'm afraid I can only come up with a narcissistic answer.  It's my belief that the classical genre of musicians doesn't really care about the audience.  In general we expect them to be silent and hit them with a million rules of when to clap or not to clap, and then scoff at them when they cough or when they don't know as much about music as we do.  We walk on stage with an air of superiority and feel that it is everyone's job to worship the composers.  It's bizarre, antiquated, and obviously doesn't make for very good audiences as can be easily seen by the diminishing value placed on classical music by our society.  I'm not speaking for myself when I describe classical musicians, but I've been a member of many many orchestras that follow this model of performance.

The difference between us and the national billboard toppers in pop and mainstream music is that they pay very close attention to what their audience wants.  When I go to a rock concert I know that they're there performing for me, and want to make sure that I have a good time.  I can't say the same thing about classical concerts. 

December 4, 2009 at 08:02 PM ·

 If they buy a ticket, show up, and don't throw sharp metallic objects at us, we're happy. 

December 4, 2009 at 09:46 PM ·

 To marina: I think the air of superiority is simply a mechanism some use to overcome stage fright, since I've heard professional musicians say they do this. Though a student, I don't try to make my audience feel inferior, classical musicians are still only musicians and our job first and foremost (espcially when money is involved) is to entertain our audience. I personally hate quiet audiences where they stare and have told a couple that if they want to, dance, laugh, and just enjoy the music. 


In terms of city, I don't know how audiences vary. Ironically enough, though, I've found the geriatric crowd to be the liveliest next to really small kids, of course. Adults always seem to act like they're at church when they go to recitals or concert halls. Don't quite get it. I'd be happy to hear and see people react to the music; it means they're paying attention and are still alive. Geesh.

December 5, 2009 at 01:40 AM ·

Audiences tend to get the performance they deserve.

Not intentionally - but you do a flashy overture - if they are enthusiastic, you feel good about the rest of the concert and tend to play with more elan. If they sit on their hands, you can't help thinking "what's the point".

Worst audience ever - I was doing a concert in a country town, and we were doing the Erioca under a very good conductor who'd spent ages getting the second movemnet opening really hushed and magical. And all we could hear was the rustling of crisp packets. He stopped, stuck his baton in the front desk of cellos' music, and berated the audience. You could have heard a pin drop for the rest of the concert. Including after the symphony - dead silence. Was well worth it though - and we never went back there. Whether that was our choice or theirs I never discovered.

December 5, 2009 at 02:21 AM ·

I agree with you Marina and I know that in some other countries, music was really for the normal people as well and even the maid could whistle the big concertos while doing her job!   if I become good ennough, when I'll be finished studying, I want to do volonteer work to show that musicians can talk to people (yes they know how to talk!!!) and that some classical repertoire has really nice melodies (here the symphony often advertise on TV with some "noise" type music rather than melodic music and think the people will attend concerts!) ...  I admit that I like very much the more friendly students gig at the conservatory full of supporting parents and teachers.  Sure before rating an audience, some classical groups should pay a little more attention to them...(them beeing the people in the audience!)


December 5, 2009 at 04:48 AM ·

I feel as both an audience member and a performer  the experience is primarily about communication. If you didn't want to come to a concert and see people playing live and watching what they're doing, you could easily listen to the same piece of music on a CD. It's the live element that opens the door to many possibilities from entertainment to life-changing profound impact. Many of our great conductors have mentioned that when they went to such and such concert and heard such and such and such music their lives were forever altered. Perhaps one of the best audiences of all times was the one that heard the first performance of the Rite of Spring and had a very definite opinion about it as opposed to being polite and reserved. At least it was a reaction- they created a riot- threw vegetables and what not on stage, reacted with hisses and cat-calls and generally made it quite clear that this was revolutionary music that they were not prepared to tolerate much less accept and embrace. Some of the critics were notable composers like Saint-Saens. A few week later, though, the furor died down and within a short time, more musicians took up the mantle of performing it and it soon became the interesting, fascinating, viscerally exciting experience that it has remained.

 In a typical classical performance, the audience is placed in a passive role and it seems that the musicians on stage are expected to do all the work of "selling" the piece. With our emphasis on CD performance quality performances, it can hardly be surprising if the musicians play cautiously or in a business-like manner so as not to be the one to hold a note too long or come in early or do anything that might disturb the "desire" to play perfectly together that audience will feel uninspired and, out of habit, applaud in a respectful as opposed to enthusiastic way. This is not to say that one has to engage in acrobatics on stage to get a listener's attention, but  one should be involved in communication and expression in such a way that the audience is drawn to what's going on on stage.  Everything the music calls for, from quiet and peaceful moments to passages of tremedous fury and violence and everything in between needs to be seen and felt. After all, we are holding a bow in our hand which is part of our arm. The same way we move our bodies to show emotion should travel through the bow from our bodies to reflect that emotion. If you only see the concertmaster giving his all and everyone else behaving  like soldiers trying to follow but not actively taking on the expressing of the music themselves it sends a very different message than if everyone is feeling the emotion and showing it.  Most people at a concert don't close their eyes and just listen- they "hear" with their eyes to some extent- that's what can make live music so exciting and unforgettable.

Even something as seemingly subtle like a raised eyebrow or a leaning in to the audience as if to let them in on a very private thought or an intimate expression can be a very powerful communicating tool. At a Baltimore Symphony concert in which Stefan Jaciw played the Beethoven Violin Concerto, his eyes were closed almost the ntire time and he kept leaning towards his audience absorbed in the music and drawing us in as if communicating to each of us personally. It was a performance of the greatest sincerity that elicited an immediate standing ovation. None of his gestures could be described as histrionic, larger-than-life flamboyant, or theatrical, yet whatever he showed obviously connected with the audience palpably.

There's an interesting set of performances I saw on TV recently  by two world class orchestras playing Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique. With one orchestra, the playing is very clean, quite well together, considerable polish and a mixture of players physically showing their involvement in the music. With the other orchestra, there are occasional ensemble imperfections but an almost total commitment by the players physically showing their involvement in the music. In terms of physical involvement it ran the range from slight movements of the eyebrows and head to more obvious energetic movements but these movements all fit the mood of the music at a given moment.

The conductor of the first orchestra saved his physical energy and gestured at climactic moments with a sense of not giving everything he had to give.  The camera caught more than a few people flipping through their concert programs instead of watching and listening what was happening on stage. The other conductor, did less in terms of big gestures, but his eyes, and hands showed a total involvement and joy and intensity in each phrase.  Except for the audience seated behind the stage, the rest of the audience couldn't see  what the face and eyes were showing but they could see it and truly hear it in what the orchestra was showing. It should come as no surprise, that the second orchestra, elicited a huge applause and shouting and standing ovation that required numerous returns to the stage whereas the audience for the first orchestra gave strong applause with no shouting and no standing ovation.

   You've got to care  about the music- it has to matter to you enough to let your guard down and not play with caution and fear. The more open, not necessarily large-gestured, your communication, the more the audience will be drawn to what you are saying, even as they hear with their eyes.



December 5, 2009 at 01:42 PM ·

I had a shoe thrown at me once, but that was during a rock concert. 

Speaking of, I had a shocking conversation with a rock-n-roll connoisseur recently.  Evidently, at big-name rock concerts, the performers get booed when they perform new material.  According to this person, rock fans booing new songs has been common practice for the 30 years he has been attending rock concerts.  The fans of rock superstars mostly want to hear the hits that were on the Top 40 charts during the Ford Administration, and are quite vocal about their disapproval of artistic growth and exploration.

I wouldn't know about this booing tradition, as I don't attend rock concerts, or pop or rap or whatever.  I've played a few rock concerts, but I don't remember any booing, just size 8 1/2 pink wedge shoes coming in like a missile. 

December 5, 2009 at 04:36 PM ·

A friend of mine is from one of the Emirates, and she tells me that they are really trying to invest in music and in culture in general. That said, however, she tells me that during a concert people converse between one another and even talk on the cellphones. 

All is relative. Cheers!

December 5, 2009 at 05:11 PM ·


December 5, 2009 at 05:23 PM ·

 TO Anne: That sounds both frightening & funny (from an outsiders perspective). 

Somehow I'm not surprised that audiences would boo new material, but they have to be premiered. Even the hits had a first audience somewhere. It's strange being a classical musician because as diverse as we are, we all play the "popular" pieces, granted in slightly different manners, but essentially the same repertoire for hundreds of years. It's like imagining another person headlining Britney Spear's "Womanizer" 50 years from now with the same enthusiastic response. I suppose in that respect classical music is more resilient than pop.

December 5, 2009 at 07:52 PM ·

Best audience; my 7 year old grandson.

Worst audience; my wife.

I guess I should be glad I don't get boots thrown or cell phone calls, etc. but at times my wife does turn up the TV in the other room....

December 5, 2009 at 08:24 PM ·

To clarify, I don't think the shoe was aimed specifically at me.  It hit the stand light first, and then my bow hand.  The force knocked my fiddle on my lap, and I was out of commission for 16 bars.  No damage to me or my violin, and everyone was really nice about it. 

Over-excited, uninhibited, inebriated rock fans aside, the best audiences tend to be at chamber music concerts.  Although I do recall overhearing this comment before an Emerson SQ concert:

"Bartok?  Bartok?  Oh, I don't like him..."

Even if he didn't care for the repertoire, that elderly gentleman was quiet and respectful during the performance, and he didn't throw his shoes on stage...


December 5, 2009 at 09:05 PM ·

Perhaps indicative of the widening gap between audiences and classical music, I find that audiences in my part of New York State are now giving standing ovations at the end of every piece. It's really strange. I wind up being the only one seated as I crane my neck to see where King George is. I have still not been able to put my finger on why this is happening here, and I wondered if we're unique (in the wrong sense of the word) or representative of a general trend.

As an audience member, this practice irritates me because I want that orchestra or soloist to pull me to my feet. I want a performance that gets my pulse pounding and makes my hair stand on end. I mean, I want to be booted off my duff by the cosmic foot.

As a former symphony player, I know and the entire orchestra knows when we deliver the goods and when we don't. When we see the audience rise for a mediocre performance (especially if it's ours :-(), we know that they don't know what they're doing, which makes memories of an uninspired performance even worse. Just my two cents.

December 5, 2009 at 09:29 PM ·

Best audience ever: my budgies! They'll become very excited and will sign along even if I do scratchy scales or high pitch things. In addition, I don't have to fix myself up to play for them as opposed to a gig where you are told rules about your clothes etc : )  

But as for a "non-musician" audience, I have to tell that the only wedding I played in so far (one of my friend's wedding) had a very kind, respectful and supporting audience. You always pass for much better than you are because they probably don't know/heard much super violinists to compare. I had full of questions from people who wanted to know the age I started, my lessons, if it's hard to learn etc  And I didn't passed at all for an alien or a "classi"  (like I was afraid of). On the contrary, people were curious and some of my friends told me they regret they didn't keep up with their woodwind instruments they used to play at high school so that we could play together.  Really I wish it would be the same in more "serious" concerts by orchestras.


December 6, 2009 at 11:57 AM ·

"As a former symphony player, I know and the entire orchestra knows when we deliver the goods and when we don't. When we see the audience rise for a mediocre performance (especially if it's ours :-(), we know that they don't know what they're doing, which makes memories of an uninspired performance even worse. Just my two cents."

They seemed to know what they were doing when they bought their ticket.  It's not the audience's fault you weren't happy with your own performance.  Honestly, an audience buys a ticket, enjoys the performance enough to give a standing ovation and your response is to say "they don't know what they're doing."  Why do performers have this view of their audience?  To be frank it's unforgiveable.

It's ok if you want to be stingy with your standing ovations, but why criticize those give them freely?   They're easy enough to do to show appreciation for the music.

Standing ovations are merely nice, nothing more nothing less.  They're not gold, they don't mean extra money for the musicians, they're just nice.  Then again my teacher thought standing ovations were no big deal at all, in fact that's just people putting their coat on that you see.

December 6, 2009 at 12:29 PM ·

I absolutely loathe it when people talk on their cellphones during concert. In my last youth concert we were recording the concert and the audience was specifically asked to shut their cellphones off! And off course during the most sensitive spot in 2nd mvt. of Beethoven 9th and cellphone started ringing!

In the symphony concerts here where I live the audience is generally very respectful and listens carefully. The soloists that come to perform here have complimented how well the audience listens.

December 6, 2009 at 05:42 PM ·

Marina-- Perhaps I didn't explain myself well enough. Suppose you went to a concert every weekend in a given month. These would be different concerts by different groups in different styles of music. And suppose that the audiences rose to applaud the performers at every concert. Not just at the end of the concert, but at the end of every piece. And regardless of the level of quality, inspiration, or passion, the audience stood to applaud. Would you not find that a bit odd?

Now suppose you are of the era that remembers what standing ovations really signified. (And I must add that I have not played professionally in years, so my comments now originate much more on the audience side). To me, at least, when I see younger members of the audience doing this, I realize that they are just imitating their elders and learning that you stand up when you applaud. This removes any special message the audience chooses to send to the musicians by standing, and to me it represents a loss of communication and a step backward.

Yes, that and the cell phones, too. We can harken back to the days when audiences were even less knowledgeable and read with amazement (or amusement) the stories of people bringing live chickens and bag lunches into the concert hall. It is true that these same audiences often applauded between movements. I suppose that our view of it might depend on whether the patrons were moved to applaud or just didn't know any better, but standing to applaud a mediocre performance is a hollow gesture, in my opinion.

December 6, 2009 at 05:58 PM ·

All I really want is to become good enough to go busking. I feel that busking is a gift to an audience, anyone who wants to hear you play. You play for them, they listen to you and everyone goes their own way feeling happy.

December 6, 2009 at 06:31 PM ·

This is how you deal with mobile phones. It was probably a set-up, but I still enjoyed it.

December 8, 2009 at 01:19 PM ·

"I suppose that our view of it might depend on whether the patrons were moved to applaud or just didn't know any better, but standing to applaud a mediocre performance is a hollow gesture, in my opinion."

Robert, blame the lack of education.  Blame the lack of emphasis in the arts in our culture.  Blame the lack of opportunities for people to learn the value of classical music.  But whatever you do, don't blame the people who are applauding.  I don't argue that many don't know how to appreciate this music any better than applauding, but I don't think people should be punished for it.  As a performer I want to see more people in the audience, not drive away the ones that are there by treating them like they're morons.

I was once performing in a concert when suddenly a woman in the audience started dancing.  She was not gently swaying in her seat, the woman got up and started dancing up and down the aisles like a ballerina, .  The security guard came in to stop her but she ran from him.  Picture it, a lady running around the auditorium in a flowy dress twirling like a ballerina, a security guard chasing her up and down the aisles, and all this with no pause in the music.  I got a good laugh at it and yes, it probably disturbed the music but who cares?  Somebody was moved to dance.  I don't remember what we were playing, but the experience was unforgettable.

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