Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Nose

No, this is not a post about Shostakovich's opera about a guy (who cuts hair) who finds a schnozz in his panini. (And who else but Dmitri could write music on such a subject?)

No, this is about the vagaries of performance, and the things that happen beyond the stage. This is about you, our wonderful audience.

Last night, after the orchestra and I completed our performance of Sibelius's Seventh Symphony, the marvelous pianist Andrius Zlabys came on to play Mozart's "Jenomy" concerto, K. 271. (No, it's not the "Jeunehomme;" more on that for another post.)

After the first movement, a few audience members could not help themselves, and began to clap. It was entirely appropriate. It felt right. But when only a few do it, these people can feel (and from reactions around them, made to feel) foolish.

I love it when this happens. It's a spontaneous reaction. Mozart would have loved it. Andrius smiled, acknowledged the happy few, and when I turned around to thank them as well, more people put their hands together. It was a moment of deep and abiding appreciation for a pianist who brings uncommon skill and panache to Mozart.

And Mr. Zlabys had played a different Mozart concerto (no. 24 in C minor) the previous night, dispatched with his customary brilliance and sensitivity. Truly, there are few pianists who can sing on the instrument at a dynamic level just this side of inaudible. With this young man, it's breathtaking to behold.

After intermission, we played Vaughan Williams's Symphony no. 5.

Now, the Hartford Symphony is a fine ensemble. And a professional orchestra always comes through for its audience. But there are moments when, together, we all strive together in lockstep. This whirlwind rarely happens, and when it does, one doesn't want the music to stop. The third movement Romanza, beginning with a glorious solo from English hornist Marilyn Krentzman, was stunning from start to end.

And then, in the closing moments, as lower strings gently expired, it happened. Someone blew his/her nose. It completely destroyed the canvas of silence.

Quietly, I remarked to the string players within earshot of me, "did someone actually just blow his nose?" Affirmative head shakes. Incredible. Was this some guy who'd been dragged to the symphony by his music-loving spouse? Or an aqualine-endowed woman who cane reluctantly with her husband? (Unlike approaching footsteps, or breathing, large noses that honk when blown belong to my sex and the fair sex.)

To add insult to injury, just as celestial strings finished the last page of the symphony, we were all treated to an encore. Yes, The Nose. Again. A passive agressive critic.

You, Ladies and Gentlemen, are on the other side of the proscenium, but you are part of the performance. Just with your attendance, you play an integral role in the action. You, as a group -- and as individuals -- have the power. Every one of you.

4 comments:

Doug said...

Heh, it's a good thing Keith Jarrett wasn't there!

manchester guy said...

But on Sunday afternoon we were such a good audience! We even got applause from Mr. Cumming at the end of the Vaughan Williams symphony.

David Brown said...

Sunday afternoon's was one of the best VW5 performances I have ever heard, and I have seen Boult and Barbirolli conduct it. Bravo to Mr Cumming and every member of the orchestra.

Jonathan said...

The NOSE reminds me of a patriotic concert I conducted once... I had arranged Gershwin's "Summertime" for strings, and was using it as a nice "catch your breath" moment to allow the chorus, audience (and myself ) recover from our salute to the Armed Forces...

The playing was lovely, I was enjoying conducting, intonation was good, the interpretation was very darn near close to what I wanted...

We made it to right before the closing chord, I cut them off, hands still raised, waiting for just that right psychological moment/split-second to bring them in for the last chord...

CLAP! CLAP!

Downbeat.



Oh well.