In praise of concert formality

Elaine Fine has posted a beautifully written love note to the traditional classical concert.

Through my whole childhood and much of my adulthood the concert would begin when the house lights went down and the stage lights went up. I would savor that moment of expectation between audience din and audience quiet that would be broken by applause for the musicians, and then the music. For me there is a separation of the secular and the sacred in these moments. It is the separation of the everyday world and the world of music.

A concert she attended recently was presented informally, with the director of the series and the musicians talking to the audience.  The musicians were “charming and entertaining, actually, but as an audience member I was there to listen to music, not to be entertained.”  The performers spoke for those on the novice level.  “The audience, by the way, was not a collection of novices. I hope that the colloquial nature of this series doesn’t insult other regular concert-goers and keep them from going to concerts in the future.”

The problem, of course, that there aren’t enough Elaine Fines and other of us non-novices out there, buying tickets, to sustain traditional, formal concerts.  Like Elaine, I’m perfectly happy with the traditional format I grew up with.  But if there’s no one to play for . . .

She also points out that the event took about two hours, and would have been 70 minutes without all the talking.  That’s an excellent point.  I recently attended two conversational concerts myself, each of which was overly long (especially if meant to be inviting for new-t0-classical-music concerts) and for which the speaking seemed under-planned and under-rehearsed.

It’s quite easy to talk too much. It’s one of my specialties, evidently.  I once gave a lecture recital on the Dvorak cello concerto.  I thought I had talked and demonstrated for 10 or 12 minutes;  turned out that it was 45. Thankfully, all the students who where there have now graduated so I’m no longer teased about it.


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One response to “In praise of concert formality

  1. Terry

    I usually like to hear a performer/conductor address the audience and say a few words (truly a few) words.

    Isn’t there a middle ground, where the performer/conductor introduces an important something/someone, or gives some background on a performance choice, or acknowledges someone, for just an {authentically} short time, yet still maintains an overall formal setting and focus on the music, rather than talk?

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