I meant to say something about the audience at the Boston Early Music Festival which we attended last week — and I wanted to tell you how extraordinarily quiet they were. Not one cell phone went off in the twenty-two concerts I attended, and never did I hear anyone even whispering during the performances. No one even crackled any candy wrappers. I think that’s amazing!
Perhaps it’s also because the people in the audience recognized genius when they heard it. There’s no question that we were hearing the best of the best in terms of musicianship and artistry. Perhaps also many of the period instruments were quite soft — and people had to really be quiet to hear them. I remember at Emma Kirkby’s concert how softly she sang, and how intimate it was — it was like hearing her sing in your living room.
Perhaps the price of the tickets were such that it drove away the people who would tend to be noisy. (The cheapest tickets in the peanut gallery were $22 for the Festival concerts and $30 for the opera.) Most of our concerts were marked from $50 to $66 a ticket, and our opera tickets were marked $250 each (although we got a 20% discount for buying a Silver Serpent pass.) It still was the most we have ever paid for a opera ticket. Yikes!
Sadly I looked around the concert hall, and the amount of “snow on the rooftop” (white-haired people) was predominant. I guess it was because college students really couldn’t afford tickets at these price levels. Yet I’m almost positive that ticket prices didn’t cover the real costs of the concerts and the BEMF management had to solicit many donations.
Back to audience behavior, there was a fascinating New York Times article titled “Concertgoers, Please Clap, Talk or Shout at Any Time,” about how audiences in the 19th century were different. Here’s the opening paragraph:
Concertgoers like you and me have become part police officer, part public offender. We prosecute the shuffled foot or rattled program, the errant whisper or misplaced cough. We tense at the end of a movement, fearful that one of the unwashed will begin to clap, bringing shame on us all. How serious we look, and how absurd we are.
The author, Bernard Holland, said that “Liszt would not have expected an audience to hold applause until the end of the piece” and that it was normal to clap between movements — in fact, the performers would have been offended if their listeners had not clapped between movements. And silence during a performance meant not “rapt attention but audience distaste.”
Another great article is “How Franz Liszt Became The World’s First Rock Star,” and talks about how Liszt revolutionized the art of performance. “Women would literally attack him: tear bits of his clothing, fight over broken piano strings and locks of his shoulder-length hair. Europe had never seen anything like it. It was a phenomenon the great German poet Heinrich Heine dubbed “Lisztomania.” Obviously, people weren’t quiet during the performance.
I mentioned in a previous post that the Great Eighteen chorales I will be playing in my upcoming concerts were perhaps meant as music during the distribution of communion. That means there would definitely have been talking and walking around during their performance.
However, since I will be playing these pieces in a concert, I will expect people to listen — and not chatter. Just thought I’d let you know!