The Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra Spring Concert series is well under way, but tonight was special. The orchestra members were all in fine form under the baton of Perry So, the soloist, Alissa Margolis on violin, was superb in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in e minor, and the programme which started with Smetana’s Overture to The Bartered Bride and ended with Tchaikovsky’s last symphony, No 6 in b minor, also known as the “Pathetique” was a delight.
But it was the misbehaviour of some (adult) audience members and the lesson in tardiness from the conductor which will make this concert one of the most memorable ones, not only of the season, but of all time. After interval, after the orchestra had tuned and the conductor already on the podium, there were still audience members streaming in from all sides. Our lovely conductor, Perry So, politely and pointedly waited until everyone was in and seated. The orchestra sat, poised to play, for the several minutes that the late audience members needed to settle.
So the first lesson in concert etiquette must be: Don’t be late either at the start of the concert or after the break. Of course, if the door attendants simply denied entrance to those who are late it would help to reinforce the lesson. Perhaps they should be granted this power.
I was rather pleased that the audience members remembered, after some verbal prompting, not to leave their mobile phones on. This was much appreciated. So the second lesson in concert etiquette is to turn mobile phones and other electronic devices off. It should go without saying that it is not acceptable to record the performance or take photographs, especially with a flash.
Also with some educative prompting, the audience got it right not to applaud between the movements. Some people started applauding before the conductor put his baton down and turned around, but they were subdued into compliance and the applause really began when the silence at the end came to its respectful end. Wow! That was really well done.
The orchestra members are all dressed to a specific code. They look elegant, even formal, they have no jangly jewellery which accompanies the music whenever they move. Audience members are not on display, but it is good to see that our local audiences usually dress appropriately in business smart attire. Our audiences are usually pretty good about not smelling of anything – neither body odour nor perfume. Rattling bracelets and neck chains are also not usually a problem in our particular audience. However, it is a lesson worth thinking about.
Again with some educative announcing before the performance, audiences are reminded that drinking anything but water during the performance is inappropriate. The announcer neglected to ask audience members not to eat during the performance. Most audience members are not inclined to take their fast food takeaways out and eat it in the concert hall. The thought of burgers and fried chicken seems somehow obscene during a classical music concert – well other than the picnic concerts specifically designed for that. For this reason, the “oversight” of the announcer can be forgiven. However, the audience also does not want to hear paper rustling, with excruciating slowness, as someone takes a packet of sweets out and opens it, passes it along to their friends and each of them takes some sweets and then proceeds to eat them before repeating the entire process. So … NO EATING. And the wrappers on your lap or in your hand still make a noise. Put them in your handbag or on the floor.
The audience gets dressed, moves through traffic, pays money for tickets, arrives on time, puts their mobile phones on silent or off, reads the programme to know when to clap and then sits down to listen to the eighty or so professional musicians who have studied for about fifteen to twenty years and then practiced for the rest of their lives, give a performance. The next lesson should be fairly obvious. The audience don’t want to hear you hum along to the bits you know, or watch you beat time to the bits you like, or chat to your neighbour (and, yes, between the movements is not interval – it is still part of the concert). Keep your comments for interval or the way home.
Applaud if you loved it. Stand up if you want to really show the performers how much you liked them. Stay absolutely still if you hated it. While it is often considered to be wrong to whistle or shout approval or otherwise after the concert, my feeling is that one can shout “Bravo/brava!” or even “Boo” at the end of concert. However, everyone should stay until the end. The concert is not over until the orchestra members stand up to leave and the house lights come on. Then audience members can run to get to the parking and leave before anyone else.
Seriously, a lot of work goes into each concert by the musicians, the venue management and support staff, and a huge investment of time and money is made by the audience. Respect that. Be nice. Enjoy and let everyone else also enjoy.