Friday, November 20, 2009

Applause or not?

Recently, we've been experiencing more applause in between movements of a symphony or concerto, and while that's been frowned upon by long time classical music audiences, it's undeniably a result of us attracting new audiences. So ensues the heated debate between those who believe a symphony is a sacred musical experience that should not be disrupted vs. those who think that if a movement is played well, it should be acknowledged with approval. Another way to look at this is the desire for the experienced wanting to educate the newcomers.

One illuminating detail to this discussion is the actual history of applause. Throughout most of classical music history, applause between movements was accepted and even welcomed with delight by composers, including the most famous like Mozart and Beethoven. If the applause was great enough, the audiences were treated to a an encore performance of the movement. In an era without a recording device or replay button, this was indeed a gift by the performers. To read a fascinating perspective, read this description by a noted critic from the New Yorker magazine: It also strikes me as very funny that those who do not advocate applauding between movements, feel very strongly that one is equally "in the know" when applauding after a beautiful aria in an opera. This seems most contradictory as an opera is even more a continual dramatic thread and suspension of reality that is broken with applause.

One of the most negative reasons newcomers state why they don't attend classical concerts is the intimidating and sterile environment they find there. The last thing they want to hear is how they are to express their enjoyment of the music. For Orchestra Nova, we're also breaking the rules on how we are "supposed" to express joy on stage. We strive for real emotion, so we hope to get the same from our audiences.

It's clear orchestras around the country are struggling to gain relevance for an increasingly non-Euro centric and uninitiated culture. Nova been successful in bringing in a broader demographic, and our regular audiences seem to be very understanding that the spontaneous applause is perhaps a good thing overall.