“Non!” Screamed the rather large and overdressed lady sitting in the row near me as the audience burst into spontaneous applause between two movements of the piece of baroque chamber music that had just been played.
This happened last summer when we attended several concerts in the charming Romanesque church of the village of Boussac in central France. In the summer months four or five musicians from the Paris Symphony Orchestra come to the region to enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside and also to give a few chamber concerts for the benefit of the local populace. They are all excellent musicians, and it seems that one of them, a talented cellist who also gives explanations of the music before each piece, is originally from the region, and this partly explains their presence there each summer.
The rather large village of Boussac is unusual among the villages of the region. Like most of them, it has an ancient church, but it is distinguished by its imposing fourteenth century castle perched atop a steep rock overlooking the River Creuse that gives the region its name. It also seems to have a population that is particularly keen on classical music, and the village holds its own series of well-attended chamber concerts every summer.
The custom of clapping one’s hands to display approbation and appreciation of something seems to be very ancient, possibly even elemental, in human behavior. Little children do it spontaneously, and are happy when their actions result in the applause of others. I have noticed that in recent years, in the concerts I have attended in Israel, the applause at the end of a work is sometimes accompanied by shrieks and whistles, which apparently are a positive sign. This is something new to me, but seems to be considered a sign of approval. Well, so be it.
Now, what was surprising was the response of the musicians to the applause in between movements in Boussac – a behavior pattern that is not customary in major concert halls and might be considered by some concert-goers as demonstrating ignorance of the correct way to behave in that situation. That, indeed, was the case in the instance to which I’m referring, and obviously the lady in question wanted to show her superior knowledge of what is the right way to show one’s appreciation of a performance.
The cellist, who had by now established a genuine rapport with the audience, held up his hand and made the following announcement (in French, naturally): “Applauding is a sign of approval, so please feel free to show your approval even between the movements of the pieces of music we play.”
The audience was mollified, but the stout lady was mortified, and of course the applause burst out with renewed vigor subsequently.
It’s true, it is not considered de rigeur to applaud between the movements of a piece of music, but it seems to be happening ever more frequently. At last night’s concert given by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Jerusalem it could be heard between the movements of Schumann’s piano concerto, played brilliantly by Rudolf Buchbinder, and it was also in evidence at a concert we attended at St. Martin’s in the Fields in London last month.
Maybe concert-goers’ mores and manners are changing and spontaneous applause between movements is catching on to become a worldwide phenomenon. Or perhaps standards of audience behavior are dropping. And I certainly have a bone to pick with various aspects of audience behavior at concerts.
But that is another subject altogether.