To Clap or Not to Clap

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Do You Ever Clap Between Movements?

Never!
16
73%
I have on occasion.
6
27%
 
Total votes: 22

Ralph
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To Clap or Not to Clap

Post by Ralph » Sun Feb 04, 2007 9:33 pm

Applauding the relaxing of rules of clapping in classical concerts
As concert-hall etiquette evolves, many musicians say they don't mind premature clapping

Sunday, February 04, 2007
By Andrew Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

You are sitting in a concert hall, engrossed in the scintillating sounds of an orchestra. As the symphony builds to a stirring finish, the conductor passionately ends it with a flourish of his hands. Inspired, you throw yours together in vigorous applause.

One problem -- it's only the end of the first movement.

Longheld "rules" of longhair etiquette are notoriously arcane and frequently frustrating for casual concert-goers. These are usually unwritten rules. However, tucked in the penultimate page of Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra programs, the one about holding applause until the very end of a composition is actually spelled out:

"In a multi-movement work, it is customary to wait until the end of the last movement to applaud, so as not to break the concentration of the performers."

That program note, rare among top American orchestras, has been used for as long as anyone at the PSO can remember. Its origin is a mystery -- as is, why is it still there? That's because even the performers it purports to protect say it's a bunch of claptrap.

The so-called rules about applauding at classical music concerts appear to be relaxing. Even in the bastions of classical music -- New York's Carnegie Hall, London's BBC Proms at Albert Hall, the Metropolitan Opera and more -- you are likely to hear premature clapping.

It appears the experience of an orchestra concert, opera or recital is becoming less restrictive -- and that deserves a round of applause.

"I think that if they are so taken with [a performance] and they want to show their appreciation, they should just go ahead and do it," says conductor Leonard Slatkin. He is an outspoken advocate for changing this stuffy aspect of concert etiquette.

"The inhibiting of the audience has made it more difficult to attract especially a younger audience, which is used to showing its appreciation for almost everything else it goes to," he continues. "At the end of the movie, if it is really exciting and exhilarating, people will applaud. Our culture has returned somewhat to the way culture was a century ago, when the acknowledgment of the performance as it was going on was normal."

"In the classical arts, we tend to worry about what happened 100 years ago, but we have been moving away from that," says Christopher Hahn, artistic director of the Pittsburgh Opera.

For much of the past century, stern looks and curt shushes from other patrons greeted the person who dared clap at the "wrong" time at a classical concert. Conductors, too, sometimes got carried up in the idea, acting like policemen of propriety.

Such was the case when conductor Pinchas Zukerman rudely chastised the Heinz Hall audience during a morning concert by the PSO in 2000. Frustrated by applause in between movements of Mozart's Symphony No. 33, he turned to the audience after the minuet, held out four fingers and shouted "four movements."

Stories like this abound. Conductors might find support for speaking out against ringing cell phones and loud talking during performances, but these days it is they who are criticized for suppressing audience praise.

"In Washington, the first year I was there, a conductor was doing Tchaikovsky Six and the applause started after the third movement," says Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra. "He turned around and just glared at the audience.

"The orchestra came to me and said, 'He is a good conductor, but we never want to see him again, he insulted the audience.' He hasn't been back."

How should it have been handled? "Other conductors have skirted the issue by going [suddenly] into the last movement, which I actually think goes counter to the music," says Slatkin, who feels this moment "screams out for some sort of reaction. I would much rather have an outburst, give ourselves time to catch our breath and then really focus on the last movement."

What rules?

While the attitude toward clapping often appears to novice concert-goers as a secret code developed in ancient times, there's actually no historical precedent for it.

"It didn't used to matter -- people would clap whenever they wanted to, mostly," says Stephanie Tretick, PSO violist.

Centuries ago, applauding after movements, or even during pieces, was expected. Composers such as Beethoven ended first movements with potent cadences designed to incite applause. Brahms is reported to have complained about the lack of applause between movements when his Piano Concerto No. 1 premiered.

"Certainly, when a composer like Beethoven wrote the symphonies and piano concertos that we hear today in the concert hall, he himself expected that if a movement ended with a flourish ... the audience would leap to its collective feet and let the composer (and pianist) know that they had triumphed," wrote pianist Emanuel Ax on his Web site.

Ax, performing with the PSO this weekend, is another staunch advocate of applause.

There is ample historic proof of the expectation of applause. Mozart famously wrote to his family with pride in 1778 when one of his pieces was so well-received it needed to be encored. "At the premiere of Beethoven's Seventh, they applauded so vociferously they had to repeat it, right then," says Slatkin.

Opinions vary on when attitudes started to shift. Baron van Swieten, a contemporary of Mozart, was one of the first to impose the concept of silence during a musical performance -- often with an imperious, moralistic stare at an offender. There are instances of the issue arising in concerts of Wagner in the late 19th century.

But it was not until the 20th century that the pervading customs appear to have been set. Leopold Stokowski tried to get applause for the Philadelphia Orchestra abolished at the Academy of Music. The onset of live recordings for broadcast and for pressing onto records also may have played a role, as clapping could cost clarity, time and money.

Give them a hand

Many performers today are quick to dispel the notion that "errant" clapping breaks their concentration.

"In the middle of a movement it bothers me, but at the end of a movement I don't think it should be so staid and formal that people don't clap," says Christopher Wu, a member of the first violinist section of the PSO, whose section sits on the front lines of being affected by applause. "I have never been offended by someone clapping at the end of a big movement. It is not like we can't get the mood back."

"More and more people in the orchestra would like to know how the audience felt," says Tretick. "To ask people to hear this emotional and deeply moving music and just sit there is strange."

"They can't help themselves if it is electrifying," says PSO harpist Gretchen Van Hoesen.

One well-known point that usually leads to early clapping takes place in the fourth movement of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. The rousing music -- a timpani roll and multiple chordal hits simulating the end of the work -- is followed by a "grand pause," in which the playing stops. Audiences the world over find holding their applause nearly impossible here. However, seconds later, the main theme of the symphony roars, squelching their approval.

Slatkin believes that if clapping does occur, that soloists and conductors should acknowledge it but not take a complete bow. PSO artistic adviser Andrew Davis is particularly adept at this.

In opera, where the action is frequently interrupted by cheering after arias, any acknowledgment is forbidden.

"That is the unbreakable convention," says Hahn. "We never take a bow. There is never any acknowledgment of the applause because that would break the drama." Instead the singers usually freeze in place until the conductor restarts the music.

Some composers were smart enough to build time for the applause into the music itself. In "Madama Butterfly," Puccini continues the orchestra in the famous aria "Un bel di vedremo" for half a minute after the soprano sings the final rapturous note, to accommodate the shouts of brava.

When silence is golden

Classical music does require silence from the audience during a composition.

"Within a piece [clapping] can be unnerving," says Slatkin. This occurred at the Pittsburgh Symphony's BBC Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall in August, near the end of Strauss' "Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks."

"There are some pieces that the silence is so fragile that you hope no one claps," says Tretick.

But after a movement ends, most performers, conductors and composers would prefer that the audience feel so strongly about the music they can't hold back.

"All of us love applause ... it means that the listener LIKES us!" writes Ax. "I really hope we can go back to the feeling that applause should be an emotional response to the music rather than a regulated social duty."

How liberating for the audience to know that a show of appreciation is appreciated on stage.

"I think you gradually have to bring people into the idea that those of us on stage really don't mind it," Slatkin says. "Maybe there are a couple of my colleagues that do, but for the most part we are more than happy when people applaud."

(Post-Gazette classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod can be reached at adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750. )
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Post by Lance » Sun Feb 04, 2007 11:18 pm

I do not generally clap between movements. However, if I have been sooo moved by a piece of music's movement, I (and many others) let the artists/orchestra/conductor know about it.

I have told this story before, but it was pianist Artur Rubinstein who, in an interview with The New York Times stated that he did mind if people clapped between movements if they felt so moved. Sure enough, he performed a piano concerto in NYC a week after that article appeared. People clapped. Rubinstein stared. The audience was given a disapproving look by Rubinstein. The moral of the story: you can't have your cake and eat it, too!

[Edit] Otherwise - I am of the widely accepted opinion that it is more appropriate to illustrate applause at the conclusion of a piece of music rather than between movements. It is a courtesy to the performing artists.
Last edited by Lance on Tue Feb 06, 2007 1:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by RebLem » Mon Feb 05, 2007 12:13 am

Lance wrote:I do not generally clap between movements. However, if I have been sooo moved by a piece of music's movement, I (and many others) let the artists/orchestra/conductor know about it.

I have told this story before, but it was pianist Artur Rubinstein who, in an interview with The New York Times stated that he did mind if people clapped between movements if they felt so moved. Sure enough, he performed a piano concerto in NYC a week after that article appeared. People clapped. Rubinstein stared. The audience was given a disapproving look by Rubinstein. The moral of the story: you can't have your cake and eat it, too!
Maybe he just thought that particular performance wasn't that good.
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Post by BWV 1080 » Mon Feb 05, 2007 12:45 am

What about holding up lighters, is that OK now during slow movements?

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Post by Corlyss_D » Mon Feb 05, 2007 3:41 am

BWV 1080 wrote:What about holding up lighters, is that OK now during slow movements?
Only if you do it under the conductor.
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Post by Ricordanza » Mon Feb 05, 2007 6:51 am

I will confess to occasionally applauding between movements, but only if a significant segment of the audience had already started to do so, and the performance was truly deserving of the interruption. I would suspect that concerto soloists are much more amenable to this "faux pas."

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Post by Teresa B » Mon Feb 05, 2007 7:01 am

I only clap between movements if I happen to be the soloist. 8)

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Post by Ralph » Mon Feb 05, 2007 8:05 am

I've noticed that clapping between movements of symphonies isn't common but when a violinist, pianist or accordianist delivers a bravura first movement, applause is common.
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Post by jbuck919 » Mon Feb 05, 2007 8:18 am

The rule is simple: Only applaud after a piece is completely over--and then, only after someone else starts it so you don't look stupid if you made a mistake. :)

Several summers ago I attended a dedicatory recital for a new organ in Queensbury, New York (near where I live). Somehow or other they managed to "catch" Felix Hell, an 18-year-old Wunderkind who was busy making himself the best known name of organ recitalists in the world (our city New Yorkers will have heard of him). However, there were many problems (local organists now refer to it as the Battle of Queensbury) owing to the fact that the organ was not really ready. First, Felix had to change his program after the printing, meaning that no one but me and a few others knew what he was really playing, and second, the thing kept breaking down. So not only was there applause between every movement because the vast majority had no idea when a piece was really over, there was applause every time the music stopped because the machine konked out. This very gracious young man addressed the audience afterward with full acknowledgment of their enthusiastic level of appreciation in spite of the difficulties (oh, incidentally, his playing was beyond brilliant).

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Post by IcedNote » Mon Feb 05, 2007 10:42 am

I never do as I feel that it breaks up the performance. I mean, these works are written in movements for a reason: they're meant to be heard as one giant work. If you clap in between you're disrupting the composer's true intent. If the composer wanted you to clap, he would have written the four movements as four separate pieces. ;)

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Post by Werner » Mon Feb 05, 2007 11:39 am

I'm not sure that 'IcedNote's notion is correct. Remember, in the days of Mozart, Beethoven, and even a bit later, the symphonies, sonatas, etc., conceived as "integral" works, were presented in pieces, interrupted by different works for voice or other configurations.

Nevertheless, the idea of multi-movement works as complete units, to be presented without interruption, is valid, and I generally join those members of the audience who abstain from applause until the work has been presented complete.

The exception, generally when there is a solo performer of a soloist with orchestra, is when such a momentum of excitement has been created that there is a spontaneous burst of applause. I've been known to "let go" at such times, too.
Last edited by Werner on Mon Feb 05, 2007 12:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by IcedNote » Mon Feb 05, 2007 11:42 am

Werner wrote:I'm not sure that 'IcedNote's notion is correct. Remember, in the days of Mozart, Beethoven, and even a bit later, the symphonies, sonatas, etc., conceived as "integral" works, were presented in pieces, interrupted by different works for voice or other configurations.
I've been wrong before. ;) And I gladly stand corrected if what you say is true. :)

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Post by Steinway » Mon Feb 05, 2007 12:03 pm

I never applaud between movements and resent the too frequent necessity for people to do this. It breaks the spell of the total work for me.

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Post by lmpower » Mon Feb 05, 2007 12:54 pm

I have occasionally felt an impulse to applaud at the end of a stirring movement, but have always resisted out of deference to custom.

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Post by anasazi » Tue Feb 06, 2007 12:28 am

I concur with steinway and impower.

Although I too have a few times felt the urge to applaud, I always stifle it.
It does does ruin the continuity of the work and usually the mood that the music has created.
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Post by Jack Kelso » Tue Feb 06, 2007 5:51 am

Clapping between movements DOES destroy the mood---and if you start doing it for specific movements, then the conductor/orchestra will begin to expect it after the following movements as well, where they may be connected (Beethoven's 6th, Mendelssohn's 3rd, Schumann's 4th, etc.).

I applaud after the whole work is over; I applaud when the entire concert is over----mainly in the hope that (if it was good) that our cumulative clapping might bring an encore or two....

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Post by moldyoldie » Tue Feb 06, 2007 7:09 am

No, I don't initiate applause between movements. If I'm familiar with a work, I'll purposely squelch my urge to clap in spite of the exuberant applause of others. Why? Because of both tradition and it seems to annoy the conductor. Now, if the latter were to change....

A big, big "gotcha" -- Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 "Pathetique"; it gets the uninitiated every time.

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Post by Barry » Tue Feb 06, 2007 10:40 am

I don't applaud between movements. It used to bother me when others did, but not since I read about the tradition of people going nuts after movements to the point of insisting that one be repeated on some extreme occassions back in the 19th century.
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Post by Haydnseek » Tue Feb 06, 2007 1:06 pm

A bit of applause between movements would be acceptable to me. In jazz the audience usually applauds briefly after solos to a degree suitable to the quality of the effort. It adds to the excitement of a live performance and helps bond the musicians with the listeners.

I worry, though, that classical audiences are, for the most part, incapable of being discriminating with their applause. After all, every concert is giving a standing ovation these days. I’ve seen it happen with a performance which was a true disaster. The conductor was extremely embarrassed as the audience stood and called for bow after bow. It was reported in the paper a few days later that he had apologized to the orchestra for being so ill-prepared at the next rehearsal. In short, I fear that applause between movements would quickly become ritualized instead of spontaneous.

It’s a shame that classical concerts today are marked by both rudeness where things like talking and cell phones are concerned and fussy conformity regarding other types of behaviors such as showing appreciation. Let’s have more consideration for fellow concertgoers and more authentic and natural responses to the performance, I say!
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Post by IcedNote » Tue Feb 06, 2007 2:47 pm

Haydnseek wrote:In short, I fear that applause between movements would quickly become ritualized instead of spontaneous.
Well said.

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Post by Niki » Tue Feb 06, 2007 3:59 pm

Although sometime applause after a movement may be appropriate, I am very much against it. Quite frequently some in the audience explode in applause before the music ended.
The silence at the end of a composition- sometime a long one - is an integral part of the music, especially after a great, dramatic performance. Breaking that silence while the sounds are still resonating in the music hall shows a total lack of sensitivity. We need at least a quite moment to separate a great emotional experience from the mundane noise that follows.
This is not a matter of etiquette - it is natural common sense for a true music lover

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Post by Werner » Tue Feb 06, 2007 4:15 pm

I've stated my position on the subject of applause earlier in this thread, and don't need to repeat it here. But I'm reminded of an instance of applause that was NOT between movements but after an encore, no less, that was worse than anything referred to here.

Radu Lupu had given a recital that was up to his usual level of depth and expressivity, and played a final encore - the Brahms Intermezzo, op. 118, No. 6 - as desolate a piece as you can find. And before the final chord had sounded out, some idiot in the hall yelled: "BRAVOOOOOO!" Spoiled the mood completely.
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