A Stand, uh, a Sitdown Against Conformity

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Ralph
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A Stand, uh, a Sitdown Against Conformity

Post by Ralph » Sun Oct 08, 2006 3:30 pm

HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com | Section: Classical music


Oct. 6, 2006, 1:38PM

Attack of the standing ovaters: Vol. 2
By DENNIS ABRAMS,
For The Chronicle

It's time again to take a stand against standing.

About a year ago, I wrote a piece for the Chronicle describing an epidemic of standing ovations at public performances. Nearly every performance here, I noted, receives a standing ovation, whether deserved or not. And this, I felt, had to stop.


But this past Sunday, a new line was crossed.

I attended a concert of the Houston Symphony. The soloist, Louis Lortie, performed two piano concertos: Tchaikovsky #3, and Prokofiev #1. He did, I felt, an admirable job.

The crowd, of course, gave him a standing ovation. I remained in my seat, applauding at a level somewhere between polite and enthusiastic.

A woman in front of me, one of the standers, turned around, saw me still sitting, and asked, "Why aren't you standing?"

I was startled by her question. Why should I have to explain my response to the performance? I shrugged.

"Didn't you find the performance ecstatic?" she asked.

Not having achieved a verifiable level of ecstasy, I replied, "No, it was OK."

"Just OK?" she asked.

"OK," I responded. "It was good."

"I guess it takes a lot to get you to stand up."

"Yep," I replied, hoping that would end the discussion.

She turned back to the stage, then back toward me, trying to understand why I obstinately refused to go along with the crowd.

"You must be a Sagittarius," she said.

I would have liked to reassure her that the fault, indeed, lay in my stars. But I answered truthfully: "I'm just picky."

She tried one more approach, "You must be very discerning."

I stifled the impulse to say "I guess you're not."

And blessedly, the ovation reached its end, and she left to enjoy intermission.

I was stunned: No longer content to give standing ovations to performances that don't warrant them, the ovaters have begun to question why others aren't standing too.

I'm willing to make a deal. I won't question why you're giving a standing ovation to a performer who doesn't deserve one if you don't question my right to sit and applaud as I see fit. Be forewarned. I'm not a Sagittarius, but I do stick to my guns.


HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com | Section: Classical music
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Post by jbuck919 » Sun Oct 08, 2006 4:54 pm

I've only ever been to one performance that deserved a standing ovation. It was a performance of Pierrot Lunaire by students of the Manhattan School, including a soprano who was almost from another planet, and it was in the tiny, inadequate recital room at Princeton. Those kids had obviously rehearsed themselves into a stupor in order to present a performance that Schoenberg himself could not have imagined in his wildest dreams. If Milton Babbitt stands up at the end of a performance of such a work, and even at that age I knew exactly what was going on, so then will I.

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Post by paulb » Sun Oct 08, 2006 9:08 pm

Thank you Ralph for posting this article that addresses a subject one would think is untouchable. I do not attend many concerts, but do know New Orleans rise to their seats after most every concerto. I'm sure this custom is practiced world over, not just limited to Houston having habitual ovaters.

I do not own any Lortie cds, but am familiar with his style of playing.

I'm wondering if these over-excited concert goers are really showing their praise more for the artistic quality of the piece written and less so the quality of performer?
In the Prokofiev's 1st, I would tend to believe this is the case. The exuberance and beauty of that concerto is enough to get one to the feet, regardless of how mediocre is the talents of the performers.
Still Abrams has a point, lets not all stand and make the performer think we are standing for him.
I think in these cases there should be a big picture of the composer that would unfold from the ceiling and there the performer/orch/conductor and audience should all applaud the composer, stand if you like.
Lets give the ovation where its due, to the glory of the composer.
Only in rare exceptions as Dennis Abrams perceptively and wisely points out, should the artists be given an ovation as well.

So I for one, most like;ly the ONLY one in the audience will give Dennis Abrams a standing ovation for a very well written article in truth and for its humor.
BRAVO Dennis!!!!
Psalm 118:22 The Stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord's doing , it is marvelous in our sight.

Brendan

Post by Brendan » Sun Oct 08, 2006 11:10 pm

I've never seen nor participated in a standing ovation in Australia, nor in England. We sometimes have to restrain American guests from applauding between movements.

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Post by Lance » Mon Oct 09, 2006 12:19 am

Brendan wrote:I've never seen nor participated in a standing ovation in Australia, nor in England. We sometimes have to restrain American guests from applauding between movements.
Thank you, Brenden, for pointing this out. Sometimes I question the mentality of those in attendance, especially American audiences, and I am an American, but on occasion am hesitant to admit it! It is simply a matter of being uneducated - and believe me, there are many Americans who are simply not educated in the concert-going process. Going to a concert is for many like going to a movie. I have even seen Americans clap after a movie has concluded with no one there to accept the applause! Giving applause between movements breaks the performing artist's concentration. If it is a piano concerto—and if he/she is kind to their public (most are)—all the audience may get is a bowing of the head from the piano bench to acknowlegdge between movement applause.

At a recent vocal recital, someone came forward to remind everyone to turn off their beepers, cell phones, and watches that give signals. Simultaneously, this person also asked attendees to hold applause until the conclusion of each "group" of selections. Most people simply do not know this kind of concert etiquitte.

On the other hand, I recall reading an article by pianist Artur Rubinstein some years ago in The New York Times. He said that if people wanted to clap between movements of a piece he was playing, he would not mind at all ... they are simply showing their enthusiasm as the piece progresses. After the article appeared, Rubinstein gave a concert the next day and people began to clap after the first movement. He looked down at his audience unapprovingly. Consequently, they did not do this again. One can't have it both ways even though one thinks he can!

I have been to a number of concerts where people start clapping after the first movement, and others in the audience loudly "shsh" them (also disrespectful to everyone). Another bothersome thing, for me at least, is the unwrapping of cellophane candy. People who do this have no regard for the artist nor other concert-goers. I have also seen people fall asleep and snore loudly and noticeably. An elbow in the ribs usually stops this promptly.

Probably the most notable experience I observed was that someone found it necessary to pass flatus just before the middle movement of a symphony when everything was ultra quiet and the conductor's hands were in the air, ready to start. It was a lady in front of me. It was very loud - and the audience went wild with laughter. I'm sure she had cabbage soup for dinner. And then there are those who do this silently because one ... well ... one observes this rather swiftly. The next thing is that people are looking at each other to determine if YOU are the one responsible. On another occasion, I heard a person in the front of the concert hall belch so the entire hall could hear it. Art Linkletter said it best: people are funny!

Perhaps one solution would be to either give attendees a small sheet of paper defining concert etiquette ... no clapping between movements, no cell phones, etc. But they would probably make much noise, collectively, in crumpling the paper only to have it end up on the floor for someone else to clean up.
Lance G. Hill
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Post by jbuck919 » Mon Oct 09, 2006 6:34 am

Brendan wrote:I've never seen nor participated in a standing ovation in Australia, nor in England. We sometimes have to restrain American guests from applauding between movements.
Well, I hope you don't use physical force. :) I've encountered sophisticated American audiences in as obscure a place as Syracuse, New York, where Union College has a chamber music series. Unfortunately, I've also encountered the more provincial kind, including in the nearby city of Albany. Go figure. The rule should be, wait until you see somebody who seems to know what he or she is doing to applaud before you do. And I imagine that is the way it works even in Australia.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by paulb » Mon Oct 09, 2006 9:12 am

Brendan wrote:I've never seen nor participated in a standing ovation in Australia, nor in England. We sometimes have to restrain American guests from applauding between movements.
But thats taking it too extreme, lack of emotion when called for. Almost every (99%) of the pieces in my 15+ Elliot Carter cd collection would get me to my feet. Why? Takes abundant talent and there is so much genius behind the music, its truely high art in today's world.
So i would expect the audience to stand with me. If they fail to I may think they lack feeling and the appreciations for the arts.
I imagine the british have a bit of this diciplined self control, as theyy have concerts going on all the time, every day. So it really takes something special to get them to their feet. But the australians? i guess you guys are cousins after all.

New Yorkers would surely rise to the feet after a carter piece, the music is like their city.

My guess is that Houston gives up a ovation way too easily, due to its guilt of conscience from being "filthy" rich from all the petro $'s. So its like, "see we care as much for the arts as we do our money". Makes them feel better.
New Orleanians stand because they 1) are happy the concert is over 2) makes them look the part of high culture 3) "please come back Mr artist, and tell your other friends to come, look how we love you" 4) "well we stood for the previous artist, and the one before that, and ...so i guess its the right thing to do is stand"

Every city has its reasons for ovating.

Now if a schnittke work, or pettersson sym was played and the audience did not stand, I'd know that particular city is not undersytanding the music. If they did , they stand.
Oh but play a Brahms or Beethoven the following week and watch them stand.

The classical audience around the world is still pretty dull in some ways. as Dennis clearly shows. I do not expect any changes anytime soon, for more maturity and keener sensibilities. Nor do I have any hopes to see such changes.
That idealistic ballon I've carrying around has been deflated.
I do not go to concerts.
Last edited by paulb on Mon Oct 09, 2006 9:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
Psalm 118:22 The Stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
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Post by Heck148 » Mon Oct 09, 2006 9:43 am

jbuck919 wrote: I've encountered sophisticated American audiences in as obscure a place as Syracuse, New York, where Union College has a chamber music series.
JBuck - I hate to be a PITA - :) - but Union College is in Schenectady, NY, not Syracuse....I've played many times in both places....I grew up in the former...
Union College did have a very fine chamber music series. many top artists and chamber groups came thru.

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Post by Barry » Mon Oct 09, 2006 10:05 am

The performance of the Tchaikovsky Pathetique that I attended this past Saturday had the fewest applause I've ever heard after the third movement; only a very short and very small smattering. I guess the announcement before the performance that it was being recorded for later release accompanied by a request to refrain from the usual noise (coughing, ruffling about, etc.) had some influence, because it was certainly the most exciting performance of that movement I've heard live.

I also get annoyed by the practice of giving every performance a standing ovation, although I don't mind standing when I think the performance has been outstanding, which I felt both last week's Shostakovich fifth and this week's Tchaikovsky sixth under Eschenbach were.

On applauding between movements, I never do it, but I've got mixed feelings. I'm sure many of you know it was common practice back in the 19th century. I've read of premiers of works by major composers where the audience would keep applauding after a movement until the orchestra played it again. So while I don't do it, I can't say I'm particularly bothered by it after a truly exciting performance of something like the third movement of the Tchaikovsky sixth or opening movement of Beethoven's fifth.

Interestingly, while there was a smattering of applause after the third movement of Tchaikovsky's sixth Saturday night, Eschenbach was successful in getting the audience to completely refrain from applauding for what must have been close to a minute after the finale by not moving after the finishing note (he had his arms raised, but not in the traditional way of asking for quiet).
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Post by jbuck919 » Mon Oct 09, 2006 10:15 am

Heck148 wrote:
jbuck919 wrote: I've encountered sophisticated American audiences in as obscure a place as Syracuse, New York, where Union College has a chamber music series.
JBuck - I hate to be a PITA - :) - but Union College is in Schenectady, NY, not Syracuse....I've played many times in both places....I grew up in the former...
Union College did have a very fine chamber music series. many top artists and chamber groups came thru.
Well, if you've been around here, you know I can make the stupidest mistakes. I meant Schenectady, of course, and have never even been to Syracuse. The connection is that both have great colleges little known outside of New York so--major thinko.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Brendan

Post by Brendan » Mon Oct 09, 2006 5:22 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
Brendan wrote:I've never seen nor participated in a standing ovation in Australia, nor in England. We sometimes have to restrain American guests from applauding between movements.
Well, I hope you don't use physical force. :) I've encountered sophisticated American audiences in as obscure a place as Syracuse, New York, where Union College has a chamber music series. Unfortunately, I've also encountered the more provincial kind, including in the nearby city of Albany. Go figure. The rule should be, wait until you see somebody who seems to know what he or she is doing to applaud before you do. And I imagine that is the way it works even in Australia.
A quiet word beforehand usually is usually sufficient, and an icy glare from the conductor the first time it happens in an evening also works. I'm told Dame Joan received the last known standing ovations Down Under on her farewell tour, but then again she's a living legend and national treasure.

We're a bit wary after Dame Nellie's never-ending comeback tours, however. To this day folks who have never heard an opera talk of not doing a Melba when they retire.

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Post by anasazi » Tue Oct 10, 2006 12:54 am

Well strangely enough, although most of my concert-going has been in the boondocks of Bloomington Indiana, or Indianapolis, I don't believe I've ever been to concert when the audience applauds between movements, although I have read about it.

Although I have seen the trend toward giving neraly everything a standing ovation. One good way to look at this custom is that it gives you chance to stretch your legs a bit. :D
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Post by Lark Ascending » Tue Oct 10, 2006 2:33 pm

Coughing and fidgeting are my dislikes. I attended my first concert at a major British venue (London's Barbican) last July and even though it was hot summer's day the coughing and spluttering of the audience was more in keeping with the depths of winter. I also had the misfortune to be seated behind a constantly fidgeting child (and yes, the parent was totally oblivious of its beloved offspring's poor etiquette).
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Post by Barry » Tue Oct 10, 2006 3:28 pm

Lark Ascending wrote:Coughing and fidgeting are my dislikes. I attended my first concert at a major British venue (London's Barbican) last July and even though it was hot summer's day the coughing and spluttering of the audience was more in keeping with the depths of winter. I also had the misfortune to be seated behind a constantly fidgeting child (and yes, the parent was totally oblivious of its beloved offspring's poor etiquette).
I've had a few bad experiences over the years where I sat next to, or even a couple seats away from someone who spent almost an entire performance leafing through his or her stagebill. The turning of pages can be incredibly annoying during soft parts of a piece.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

http://www.davidstuff.com/political/wmdquotes.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pbp0hur ... re=related

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Post by paulb » Tue Oct 10, 2006 5:35 pm

what really gets on my nerves is when audiences stand for the old war horses, tchaikovsky, beethoven, Brahms and such.
Basically everyone is telling everyone else.
"yes please more of the same" Thus no new compoers (read Elliot carter) hardly ever, if ever get performed. This ovation tells the orch and conductor, the patrons "you are doing a good thing with this programming'.
Thus new compoers get the "crumbs that falls from the war horses table'
Stinks.
Psalm 118:22 The Stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord's doing , it is marvelous in our sight.

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Post by Ralph » Tue Oct 10, 2006 9:39 pm

Applauding between movements was common in the 19th Century. Concert-going etiquette has change as has expected attire.

I have attended concerts where after the first movement of a concerto the entire audience burst into applause and, usually, it was after hearing a quite extraordinary performance.

I only stand when I find the concert was truly first-rate and that isn't very often. But what's the harm? If those who stand lack the musical sophistication of some here but have been deeply moved (or even entertained) by a piece no one is hurt by the outpouring of regard.
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Brendan

Post by Brendan » Tue Oct 10, 2006 11:40 pm

If a standing ovation is the mandatory/standard response, then there is no room for the spontaneous expression of admiration for a truly outstanding performance - any ordinary performance gets the same.

Maybe folk could bring some fireworks along to let off if they really like the show.

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Post by jbuck919 » Wed Oct 11, 2006 2:52 am

Ralph wrote:Applauding between movements was common in the 19th Century. Concert-going etiquette has change as has expected attire.

I have attended concerts where after the first movement of a concerto the entire audience burst into applause and, usually, it was after hearing a quite extraordinary performance.

I only stand when I find the concert was truly first-rate and that isn't very often. But what's the harm? If those who stand lack the musical sophistication of some here but have been deeply moved (or even entertained) by a piece no one is hurt by the outpouring of regard.
Everything Ralph has said is true. (Everything Ralph says is almost always true.) However, there is a tendency in provincial audiences to respond with inappropriate recognition.

When I was back in New York, I attended an organ performance by the Wunderkind 18-year-old organist Felix Hell (yes, that is his name--he is German, though he speaks perfect English, and in German "hell" means "bright"). It turns out that a lot of important organists were there, though it was a new organ in an obscure Catholic church, and the recital is now widely called the Battle of Queensbury because poor Felix had to fight that damn thing which was poorly built in the first place throughout. But the point is that the "congregation" applauded every time he stopped playing, even if it was because the organ had broken down. Felix is everything but perfect, and deserved better recognition than the assumption that he was a boy doing a man's job.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by Jack Kelso » Wed Oct 11, 2006 4:38 am

We usually attended concerts in Mannheim (National Theater), where season tickets take up the first rows. I have yet to see those rows give a standing ovation. They're the rich, the ones who come to be seen more than to listen.

I've given a standing ovation alone, when it was obviously earned. Once, after a superb performance of Schumann's Second Symphony, I called out "BRAVO!" ---and the music critic mentioned it in the paper as support for his own positive critique.

Usually the orchestra will applaud the audience (with their bows, etc.)---showing appreciation for appreciation.

German audience members mind their own business; if someone doesn't wish to stand, no one even glances in that person's direction.

Jack
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Post by jbuck919 » Wed Oct 11, 2006 10:51 am

Jack Kelso wrote:We usually attended concerts in Mannheim (National Theater), where season tickets take up the first rows. I have yet to see those rows give a standing ovation. They're the rich, the ones who come to be seen more than to listen.

I've given a standing ovation alone, when it was obviously earned. Once, after a superb performance of Schumann's Second Symphony, I called out "BRAVO!" ---and the music critic mentioned it in the paper as support for his own positive critique.


Jack
Good grief, Jack, give us a break. I'm not doubting you, but that would have singled you out as a stupid American, which I know you are not. German audiences almost never call out "bravo," and it's wrong in the first place because if you were congratulating an entire orchestra, it would be "bravi."

The only time I've ever said one of the variations of "bravo" is in small-scale performances where I knew the performers (say at my last church), and they had really done an incredible job within their frame of reference preparing difficult music, perhaps handbell music. And then I spoke it quietly only for them. It would never occur to me to do that in a major concert hall.

In case anyone does not know, it's "bravo" for one male, "bravi" for multiple males or mixed sex forces, "brava" for a woman, and "brave" for multiple women with no men involved.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by Jack Kelso » Thu Oct 12, 2006 12:11 am

I'm sure the conductor and orchestra members don't care whether it's "bravo!" or "bravi"----they enjoy it when the audience is responsive to a fine performance.

See it from the human side, John----not the grammatical. Besides, the many students who attend these concerts are very enthusiastic (like Heidi and I am) and DO shout "bravo" and "Zugabe" (encore) quite often.

Don't belittle the Germans by suggesting they think I'm a "stupid American" (they can't tell anyway!) because I am enthusiastic. Many of them are as well.

Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

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Post by Ricordanza » Thu Oct 12, 2006 6:11 am

Barry Z wrote:The performance of the Tchaikovsky Pathetique that I attended this past Saturday had the fewest applause I've ever heard after the third movement; only a very short and very small smattering. I guess the announcement before the performance that it was being recorded for later release accompanied by a request to refrain from the usual noise (coughing, ruffling about, etc.) had some influence, because it was certainly the most exciting performance of that movement I've heard live.).
On Thursday night, besides the usual announcement, a member of the orchestra (I don't recall his name) spoke for a couple minutes about the music. Among other things, he noted that audiences sometimes applaud after the third movement of the Pathetique. He asked us not to applaud at that time, but to save our applause for the Eagles "when they beat T.O. and the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday." The audience complied (well, at least on Thursday night. But my wife and I did applaud the Eagles on Sunday, even though we were watching the game on TV and no one was there to receive our applause.).

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