This article was published in the South China Morning Post’s Post Magazine
Some jobs call for more concentration than others: surgery, snooker, murder, that sort of thing. Performing, say, a Mahler symphony, must be pretty demanding, too, what with all the time signature changes and demented scherzo-ing; and some things rather tend to break the spell – a phone ringing in the concert hall, for example.
Noisy audiences at a recent summer arts festival in Scotland prompted discussion about classical music concert-goers’ decorum there. Someone writing in The Guardian – betraying that newspaper’s vestigial 1970s radicalism, or hatred of all things “stuffy” – argued that making such music less accessible by expecting people to conform to norms of behaviour once a conductor raises his baton might put some of them off attending and should be avoided.
Well, of course, trying not to cough is tricky and in extreme circumstances may lead to death; and I have no issue with the ingenue who claps between movements – there is a difference between etiquette and manners, and those who possess the latter ought to know to join in so as not to make the clapper feel awkward. Efforts to make concert halls more welcoming or relaxed places must be resisted, however. It will only open the door to the kind of excesses that should be confined to American Pentecostal worship.
Now, reports tell us of a Canadian orchestra’s performance in Fuling, Chongqing, being marred by chatter, phones ringing (and being answered), and audience members filming proceedings. Hong Kong’s concert-goers tend to be more considerate but, even so, that most precious of commodities in these parts – silence – is never a given. Classical musicians deserve more: it should be remembered, after all, that many of them take rests during longer pieces to catch up on sleep.