Reader Response: You’d Give Your What?

In response to yesterday’s article about audience feedback during concerts, a member of a major orchestra viola section sent in some worthwhile observations and strong feelings about standing ovations, rhythmic applause, clapping between movements and booing:

Standing ovations: Hate ’em.  They are worthless now – at least in America. Especially when it is almost always in response to some loud, bombastic warhorse of a piece.  I’d just love to have played an amazing performance of Don Juan (it’s a taxing piece to perform, and even more so to perform well, for the entire orchestra), have the last notes fade into the ether, and then hear a steadily growing wealth of applause, culminating in a standing ovation.  It’ll never happen because audiences are conditioned to salivate at the sound of the cymbals and bass drum!

Rhythmic applause: Love it – but it never seems to happen here.  I’ve experienced it in Japan, and of course it is the maximum expression of approval in Europe.  Why can’t US audiences learn this trick?  It involves less effort than standing up, though it does make it harder to head for the parking garage ahead of the other blue hairs.

Clapping between movements: It’s ok – really.  A classic example is the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.  The end of the first movement is one of the most perfect exciting endings ever, and especially after all the soloist and orchestra have been through in that massive first movement.  If Leila Josefowicz has lit the place on fire, then give her a hand, I’m sure she’d love it and appreciate the chance to mop up after the sweat fest.

Booing and hissing: I’d give my left nut (and possibly my right) to hear an audience boo or hiss a bad piece, bad performance, or bad incidental solo.  Not everything has to be good, and frankly, as a performer, it’s better to be the recipient of a boo or hiss than the kiss of death: tepid applause.

Although I’m pretty certain that sacrificing reproductive organs (solo or as a matching set) is illegal in most states, our violist makes a strong (and worthwhile) point.  A single educated, enthusiastic patron expressing their displeasure with a performance may be worth more than a baker’s dozen of Stepford patrons armed with nothing but golf claps and obligatory standing ovations.

Energy in a live performance is reciprocal, the mojo flows in both directions; that’s part of the real joy involved with attending a live performance.  As such, the possibility of a truly great concert experience is enhanced exponentially when everyone in the house jazzed up about the playing (and not just because it’s loud, fast, or high).

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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