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To the jerk who shushed me in mid-concert

June 16, 2017 by norman lebrecht

102 comments.


I’m sitting in the Berlin Philharmonie last night listening to Ravel’s Mother Goose, a piece that does not engage all of the brain cells, when I feel an urgent need to check who’s playing second flute.

I turn the booklet page with barely a whisper.

The guy next to me goes ‘shhh’ and touches me on the arm.

He’s young, white-shirted, stone-faced.

Overcoming my natural instinct to realign his nose 30 degrees to the right, I swallow the rebuke and reflect that Berlin has its fair share of jerks and I was unlucky to find one in an adjacent seat.

Later, while Joyce DiDonato is lustrously dying on stage as Cleopatra (hey, Berlioz – she brought her own asp), the guy next to me yawns. Audibly.

After the interval he does not return, missing the chance to see Berlin Phil swagger through Stravinsky’s Firebird. Ludovic Morlot was making his debut, a decent effort. My shusher missed it.

What kind of inadequacy does it take in a person to feel a need to maintain concert silence, even when that silence has not been perceptibly broken? I could have made a call this morning and found out the offender’s name, but why bother? What perplexes me is why jerks like this go to concerts, or half-concerts. Is it only for the dubious satisfaction of shushing others who are actually enjoying themselves?

Your thoughts, please.


Comments (102)

  1. Giulio says:

    I had a similar experience at the Berliner Philharmonie. I was listening to Schoenberg’s Die Jakobsleiter and I took my iPhone to check the text during the performance (I hadn’t bought the programme). The hall was not in complete dark during the concert. The guy next to me felt so insulted by the inaudible light of my little smartphone (or maybe by the fact that I didn’t know the text by heart…) that he started to insistently urge my to shut down my phone. I thought that he was happy with that but I was wrong. During the intermission, he called the ushers and he had 3 of them in front of my seat when I was back just to have them lecture me that I should switch off the mobile phone during the performance, even if I want to check the text, because the light can disturb other listeners… I felt attacked as I was guilty of some unforgivable crime.

    1. Tweettweet says:

      Cell phone light can be quite disturbing indeed.

      1. Giulio says:

        One should wonder if it is more disturbing not to be able to follow the text during a concert performance of an oratorio or the mild light of a smartphone in a not-dark hall during a concert. It would be nice to have a dedicated app with texts and translations to use during the concert. We have to cope with the fact that younger generations enjoy using their smartphones during live events. Some clever opera houses even encourage tweeting during opera performances! This is a good way to attract younger audiences.

        1. John Borstlap says:

          Crazy. If listeners want to know what is being sung, they simply should document themselves beforehand.

    2. Ben says:

      So if you think checking text messages during a concert wouldn’t get people excited, you may as well try an electronic cigarettes or play Candy Crush on a 12″ iPad Pro next time then!

      P.S. Are you truly that bored, or you are the hopelessly lonely kind who must constantly type on a cell phone to show people how important / how popular you are? (Many Faceslap users are that kind!)

      1. Steve says:

        Ben, please go back and re-read the comment you seem to be referring to. The writer was looking at the text of Die Jakobsleiter, not his text messages!

        1. Giulio says:

          Steve, thank you for pointing it out for me!

    3. Anon says:

      I’m sorry to say that the light from a cell-phone can be immensely distracting to those sitting quite a long way away. In the lower light conditions of some concert halls I can see a cell-phone from the other side of the auditorium quite clearly, and as a user moves it innocently, the resultant effect many seats away is akin to a flashing light in the corner of a patron’s eye.

    4. bratschegirl says:

      I would have found the light distracting as well, and would have been pleased to see the ushers admonish you not to continue. The fact that you were looking at the text of the work rather than posting to Facebook doesn’t make the light any less noticeable or distracting to those sitting around you.

    5. Karakara says:

      Sorry but there is nothing more annoying that someone using their phone during a concert (even if it is for a good reason like reading the libretto of the piece that is performed)

    6. Rambo says:

      From the stage, it s terribly disturbing for the musicians to see a light from a mobile phone , making light on someone’s face . Because yes it can be seen from everywhere. It doesn’t matter if it is for whatsapp or the Oratorios Text.

      1. Frankster says:

        My Apple watch lights up when I move my wrist and is not always covered. I shut it off during a concert.

    7. Jaybuyer says:

      Giulio, you just don’t get it, do you? When my neighbour starts to reach into his trouser pocket or a woman fumbles in her handbag, I know what is coming. Whether your screen is ‘quite dark’ or ‘a little bright’ in a ‘not completely darkened’ hall, I am not interested. I can’t concentrate. And don’t tell me to shut my eyes. And please forget the old chestnut that allowing tweeting will attract young concert-goers. God help us!

      1. Wagamama says:

        I feel people sometimes go to concerts or the Opera with the specific hope of being able to shush someone. Not because they are really disturbed, but because certain type of comportment does not completely align with how THEY believe people should behave.

        Putting aside the fact that historically these venues were not funeral parlours but quite vivacious places, music tends to have an international audiennce and a concert hall might gather people from different cultures with different accepted or even expected behaviour.

        Honestly, if someone next to me wants to check their email, in what way does it exactly disturb my ears?

        Personally, I am more disturbed when German audiences don’t clap during an Italian Opera with closed numbers as it completely ruins the pacing. But still, I don’t elbow the person next to me in the hope that he/she might get the hint and get going.

        Therefore, people should just chill out and live and let live.

        1. Jaybuyer says:

          Wagamama, you’d love it in New York (perhaps you are from there?) The Met audience confuses opera with Broadway and applaud the staging when the curtain opens, applaud the ‘star’ when he/she enters the stage and, most amazing of all, applaud the curtain as soon as it begins to move, no matter how long the orchestra continues playing a Nachspiel. Yippee!

          1. Wagamama says:

            I’m sorry, but your snarky non sequitur answer makes no sense at all and is not what I would expect of this very civilized discussion board.

  2. Wai Kit leung says:

    Those with high-frequency hearing loss may not know how loud this can be, but I have often been distracted by high-pitch noise generated by plastic bags, pieces of paper etc. If the guy sitting beside you felt the need to do what he did, you can be sure the noise bothered him.

    1. BP says:

      Did you miss the part about him audibly yawning and not returning for the second half ?

    2. Irish Zen says:

      Why not try using an Irish version of Zen to block it all out like the sound of one hand clapping! I find if you buy a large round on both sides you will be ok! They will be asleep for the whole performance, works for me.

  3. Eric says:

    Annoying behaviour, I agree.
    But, hang on, you could have made a call and found out his name?! Why on earth would you want to do that?

    1. Steven Holloway says:

      A bit creepy, isn’t it? I’m guessing the answer is to let the shusher know just whom he had shushed. “Do you know who I am, Officer?!?!?!?”

    2. Kyle says:

      Norman asserted that he could have made a call to find out the other person’s name. I think he was feeling a bit puffed-out in the chest when he wrote that bluster, as an organization that freely gave out this sort of information wouldn’t have patrons for long.

      1. Simon S. says:

        Apart from that, if the person bought an ordinary ticket and paid cash at box office, there wouldn’t be any personal data available.

      2. Mikey says:

        If Norman felt the need to opine that Ma Mère l’Oie doesn’t “engage all the brain cells” then I am more than inclined to believe there was quite a bit of pomp and bluster in his comment.

        The more I read his blog the less I think I would care to meet him in person. I try to avoid people who would very likely push me to punching them in the nose for being pompous a$$holes.

  4. Dubliner says:

    Berliners are renowned for their bad manners and ignorance, other Germans have told me. My friends in Innsbruck told me, they are unfriendly. Yes there seems to be a problem here. Before the Staatsoper Berlin closed to remove the asbestos and other dodgy DDR materials, I attended a performance of Handel’s opera Agrippina, conducted by Rene Jacobs. This opera was quite long 4 hrs and I had booked my seat in the stalls for a change to see closer. Previously I had a seat up in the parkette for Lohengrin which was great for getting to the bar before the multitude. When the break came in Agrippina, there was mass panic as they all tried to get to the bar, I was dressed up in black tie unlike most of audience and in a sort of wobbly queue when an irate Haus Frau started bellowing at me in her incomprehensible lingo, I stared at her and said Madam can you not speak any English, a bloke near the bar helped me get a mineral water, after I pointed out there was no queue it was complete chaos, he said there is chaos in the UK, I replied yes indeed but I am from Dublin!

  5. Alexander Hall says:

    The strangest experience I have had in this regard was watching what happened to a critic sitting in the row in front of me in the RFH. He sat perfectly still but was making notes as the performance proceeded. As the end of the first movement approached, a woman in the same row and on his right touched his arm, pointing to his notebook, and shushed him. Can one really hear ballpoint pens at work in the concert-hall? I refer all those seeking vengeance for the shenanigans of other concert-goers to Julian Barnes’ magnificent short story “Vigilance” in the collection entitled “The Lemon Table”.

  6. Britcellist says:

    Whatever the incident is, however small, it interrupts one’s concentration on what’s going on onstage. Instinctively, if there is movement around you, you look around, and that breaks the connection between you and the performers. Phone lights are the worst, they grab you immediately. If people need to write or check phones, be considerate and sit in the back so as not to disturb those who are really “into” the music.

    1. Giulio says:

      How peculiar is to think that just people who stare at the performers are really “into” music…

      1. John Borstlap says:

        No, it is true. Sitting as if turned into stone, barely breathing, hands on knees, all like some yoga exercise, is an excellent position to enjoy lively music. The pant-up tension of suppressed emotions can then explode freely at the end when the players have stopped moving.

        1. Dubliner says:

          To be sure, you would get the same effect after 6 pints of Guinness and a couple of balls o’ malt. Drink always makes the Germans more relaxed. But their diet, I have say makes them constipated, perhaps that is why they always appear cross!

          1. John Borstlap says:

            That latter problem is a result from a porc-saturated dining culture. Concerts are in the evening, i.e. just after dinner, so in the following hours they are particularly vulnerable. The British, however, do their porc at breakfast with the well-know consequences of morning rudeness at work.

        2. Dubliner says:

          Porc? Never heard of it. Ah, pork you mean, we say ham, bacon, rashers the latter we have for breakfast in Ireland with Tattie bread and a wee farl and egg. I must say Germans inform me after a good session of Guinness they do not suffer any alimentary problems! To cheer up this discussion, here is a link to a rare recording made way back in 1972 by Sean O Riada, Irish composer who also was an expert on Irish folk music, he plays on a rare 1764 Upright Harpsichord made by Ferdinand Weber who moved to Dublin in the 1740s, he made instruments for eg Lord Mornington, the father of the Duke of Wellington. The music is mostly by Turlough O Carolan, a harper who lived between 1671-1738, his music can be compared to the lute music of John Dowland and Silvius Leopold Weiss. It works very well on this instrument, although the jacks sometimes stick as its upright. The instrument belonged to Lord Oranmore & Browne, at his residence, Lugalla, in the Wicklow mountains. Now for sale for 28m Euro!
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Yu3o_UtlYc
          http://www.harpsichord.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/upright.pdf

        3. Dubliner says:

          Here is the link to Lugala days showing the drawing room where the Ferdinand Weber upright harpsichord was. Lord Oranmore & Browne sold some of its contents back in 2006 in a grand car boot sale. Think the instrument ended up in a NY museum, am trying to buy it back. Only other one like it is in Belgium.

          http://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/luggala-days-book-ireland-castle-guinness-slideshow/all

  7. The Incredible Flutist says:

    To Mr. Shapiro who referred to the comments about Mere L’oye on Mr. Lebrecht’s FB page: checking to see who’s playing second flute on this work is a really really valid gesture, it is not at all “patronizing”.

    The “Pavane de la Belle au Bois Dormant” (a very quiet moment) begins with
    one of the most famous second flute solos in the repertoire. Second flute states the theme for the entire movement. Additionally the whole piece is a tour de force for the second flute who also doubles piccolo. The “Laideronnette” movement basically rests on the shoulders of that second flute/piccolo. The second flute/piccolo is the star player of this work. It makes sense to want to know who’s playing.

    Checking to see who’s second flute show that the concertgoer is engaged, paying attention and curious. I say “bravo” to this audience member for that.

    1. Graeme Hall says:

      Would it have killed Mr Lebrecht to wait until the end of the piece to check?

      1. Sleepy says:

        Ironic that a music critic can remember enough details to write something about a performance later, but apparently can’t remember to look up the name of a performer who impressed him after the performance is over.

        1. The Incredible Flutist says:

          I am not so much questioning the listener’s etiquette in looking up the name but the fact that Mr. Shapiro, under the post on Norman’s FB page, referred to this as a “patronizing” reference to the work being performed. That is an offensive comment to flutists. I am defending our honor.

        2. Max Grimm says:

          Even more ironic is a music critic calling a person “a jerk” for going ‘shhh’ before proceeding to tell us how he wanted “to realign [the man’s] nose 30 degrees to the right” and how he considered placing a call to an orchestra for the improper purpose of soliciting the name of a patron for, ostensibly, nothing more than retaliation and derision.

  8. Oded Zehavi says:

    You are absolutely right to be annoyed. I personally think that silence is not mandatory in any concert at any time. I did specify in a performance of one of my recent pieces that the audience is not required to turn off their telephones…We all survived this and other concerts/performances…..

    1. Ben says:

      Why don’t you tell the musicians that before the concert?

    2. Ben says:

      I stand corrected. You could be a “musician” playing in a bar or salon or night club or on a street corner, etc. In your case, audience silence is a real bad thing!

  9. Simon S. says:

    I am someone who did shush at fellow audience members more than once in opera or concert. However, I wouldn’t have done in this case.

    I certainly have zero tolerance if people feel the need to talk (whispering included). Mobile phone display light is a no go if the lights are off, ie in opera. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother. Page turning should be done as quiet as possible. And inevitable noises are this: inevitable, so no reason to rant.

  10. John Borstlap says:

    There is something to be said for deciding that when entering a concert hall, one leaves every connection to the modern world with its numerous noisy distractions, behind, and enter a very different wave length of interiority, where modern gadgets don’t exist.

    German classical music audiences are, in general, still cultivating something of the 19C notion of classical music as a spiritual experience, and I think they are right. It is part of their cultural identity – that is, as far as this idea has not already eroded under the influence of a misunderstood modernity. Mobile phones, smartphones etc. represent that modernity so of course they are looked upon with suspicion in a concert context.

    Checking the 2nd flute in the case of this story, seems OK though, because it concerns a music critic, but probably it would have been a better idea to have bought a programme – in case the booklet would have given the names of the players.

    1. Barney McKenna says:

      See how the legendary Ronnie Drew dealth with someone in the audience!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Txiv61s7eyw

  11. Rationalist says:

    I had a distant relation who failed a class four years in a row. Each year, he blamed something trivial and external: the old curtains let in too much light, the new blackout curtains didn’t let in enough light, he had been invited to too many parties, etc. It seems to me that many concertgoers have decided that some very specific conditions are necessary in order for them to have worthwhile aesthetic experiences, and that the world owes it to them to provide those conditions. “Tuning out” is a thing – a skill one can learn. A helpful skill. Rather than trying to control their environment, perhaps these concertgoers might try learning to control their own focus.

    1. Irish Zen says:

      Yes most here are OTT, I only had a row in the bar queue in Berlin, Agrippina 4 hours so during the break it was pandemonium!

  12. a dumb american says:

    Last year at Berlin Philharmonie I heard Rattle conduct Mahler’s 7th and several young (20-ish) women in the row ahead of us were busy texting at regular intervals.

  13. Bviolinistic says:

    In my orchestra we have an announcement made before every performance that the use of mobile phones is not allowed. I do think that people who use mobiles for any purpose at all are disturbing the performance ; certainly from a performer’s point of view it is extremely distracting if someone has that blue light on for any length of time. As for checking a program, l think your neighbour was a little bit over-sensitive!

    1. Bviolinistic says:

      Oh, and as for yawning audibly, I think that it’s probably a good thing he did not return… He obviously needed to get some rest.

      1. Simon S. says:

        You should of course try by all means to to yawn audibly (!), but if you have never had to fight against sleeping in opera or concert, you never went there after some hard days at work. (Yes, there are people in your audiences who have jobs and pay taxes outside the culture and music business!)

        1. Jaybuyer says:

          Didums….I have asked people next to me to poke me if I start to snore. So embarrassing!

    2. RAZZ MATAZZ says:

      We have announcements at our local concert hall about switching off mobile phones too and it doesn’t make one bit of difference. There are always people who think that it doesn’t apply to them.

      1. Mathew Dubourg says:

        I think both JSB and GFH would have more humour than present day audiences, I have never had a problem except in a bar queue at Staatsoper Berlin, Berliners are very grumpy folk all that Bratwurst etc. After a few pints of Guinness they wise up. Here are some amusing Handel anecdotes.

        When Messiah was first performed in London (1743), when the chorus struck up, ‘For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth’ [‘Hallelujah Chorus’), reportedly the audience and King [George II] stood and remained standing untill the chorus had ended. Some days after the first performance, Handel visited Lord Kinnoul. His lordship paid him compliments on “the noble entertainment”. Handel is said to have remarked,

        “My Lord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them; I wished to make them better.”

        Handel is said to have remarked to Christoph Willibald von Gluck (1714-1787) who wanted Handel’s opinion of his opera La Caduta dei giganti,

        “You have taken too much trouble over your opera. Here in England that is a mere waste of time. What the English like is something they can beat time to, something that hits them straight on the drum of the ear.”

        Charles Burney relates the following anecdote:

        In 1749 [recte 1750], Theodora was so very unfortunately abandoned, that he was glad if any professors, who did not perform, would accept tickets or orders for admission. Two gentlemen of that description, now living, having applied to Handel, after the disgrace of Theodora, for an order to hear the Messiah, he cried out,

        “Oh your sarvent, Mien-herren! you are tamnapble tainty! you would not co to TEODORA – der was room enough to tance tere, when dat was perform.” [Oh your servant, my lords! You are damnable dainty! You would not go to Theodora — there was room enough to dance there, when that was performed.]

        Sometimes, however, I have heard him, as pleasantly as philosophically, console his friends, when, previous to the curtain being drawn up, they have lamented that the house was empty, by saying, “Nevre moind; de moosic vil sound de petter”. [Never mind, the music will sound the better]

        Handel is said to have remarked about the contemporary English musical establishment,

        “When I came hither first, I found, among the English, many good players and no composers; but now, they are all composers and no players.”

        1. RAZZ MATAZZ says:

          If your only bad experience has been a scramble to get to the bar at the Berlin Staatsoper, you must have led a charmed life. The bars at the Komische and the Deutsche Oper are much better organised, by the way – no bun fights to get to the Sekt and sandwiches there!
          Thank you for all the charming GFH anecdotes; confirms my belief that he was a rattling good sort!

  14. Pianofortissimo says:

    How about turning the pages of a score during a concert, say one of those scores in pocket size?

    1. Wai Kit leung says:

      There are people who turn pages more quietly than others.

      1. John Borstlap says:

        The Guildhall School of Music offers an evening course of 3 months for future audience members of how to turn pages of a programme booklet during a concert almost imperceptively.

  15. BP says:

    One of the aspects of concert etiquette underscored in the comments that I think worth pointing out : most concertgoers have an expectation that the concert should be a silent and still moment (though their tolerance to this or that small disruption will vary). Any breach can then upset this balance and in the worst cases ruin the whole experience.
    The important thing here is the expectation set : a tennis player can be flustered by a few people talking behind him, yet a football player will shoot penalties with an entire stadium roaring. They’re no different, but just have to concentrate in different environments, the parameters of which are defined beforehand and presumed to be accepted by all.
    I happen to think the expectation of silence at a concert is a great thing and something to be preserved, especially in the noisy, shambolic world we live in.

    1. Jaybuyer says:

      +1 (×100)

  16. sl17 says:

    “I could have made a call this morning and found out the offender’s name, but why bother?”
    I am absolutely certain nobody would have given you that name. In Germany you have no right to demand any information about a private individual who didn’t offend you in a serious or harmful way. The thought of it is really laughable. Who do you think you are?

  17. Michael says:

    not such a serious incident Norman, relax. Much worse things happen in life, and I hope this is the worst thing that happens to you this year. So shhhhhh .

  18. Ceasar says:

    the problem is there’s no real retort for getting shushed. I would actually be glad knowing there’s a peacekeeper sitting nearby to call out the actual offenders…

  19. Edmund J cole says:

    When I go to a concert I want to interact with the music and musicians not the page turners and cell phone crowd. If I want someone to annoy or slobber on me I go to the football game have a pint and kick back for the afternoon. Now I admit I am near 80 and like the old standards of concert decorum.

  20. herrera says:

    I am so bothered by page turners that even the musicians turning their parts bother me.

    I hate it that at various times, half the string section is not playing because the junior stand partner is turning the page.

    Don’t even get me started on conductors who turn a bunch of pages at a time to catch up to the music.

    Audience members need to learn to memorize the entire program notes, including lyrics, the roster of players, as well as sponsors.

  21. IAN B. says:

    I’ve more or less stopped going to the Proms because of audience behaviour. A performance of Tchaik 2nd piano concerto some years ago was marred by a mobile phone buzzing (in the slow movement, of course). People turned round to look in my direction. The offending device was at the bottom of the bag belonging to the woman sitting next to me.The stupid woman didn’t even clock that it was her phone ringing.
    The constant noise and fidgeting from Proms audiences is just irritating. Also, in the last couple of proms seasons or so, there have been sudden, inexplicable thumps and bangs from somewhere in the hall (or backstage) in mid-performance.
    The Prommers are, of course, by far the best-behaved part of the audience, but I just prefer to sit rather than stand for two hours while listening to music.

  22. Norman Krieger says:

    Last week I played a sonata by Beethoven in the key of d- minor. During the entire performance there were 2 hearing aids going on stop. They were E flat!!!!!

    Not fun!!!

  23. Norman Krieger says:

    Last week I played a sonata by Beethoven in the key of d- minor. During the entire performance there were 2 hearing aids going non stop. They were both high pitch E flats!!!!!!
    Not fun!!!

    1. Sue says:

      Yes, that’s a problem. We have a member of our music appreciation group whose hearing aid is often louder than the music being played. Still, I hate the phones more than anything.

  24. Rose says:

    Next time you should turn a few more pages…loudly…while holding constant eye contact…

  25. Steve P says:

    So you got annoyed at being told you were annoying; you have a well-patronized blog and chose to seek agreement.
    Okay, you’re probably right: the guy sounds like a first-rate jerk.
    Flexing your self-importance muscle, though, by saying you could have learned the shusher’s name isn’t far away from jerk territory. What were you gonna do – call him up once a day and “shush” him? Post his info here so your minions would harass him?

  26. Dirk F says:

    “I could have made a call this morning and found out the offender’s name”

    Thanks for making my day, I have not laughed this much since a long time!

  27. Ian says:

    All your comments bring me to the wider point of how easily we are annoyed and distracted during a concert. Frankly, other people are a pain in the arse; wouldn’t it be nice just to have one’s own private concert? Just joking!
    Generally I find it easier to close my eyes and listen to the music. I might less distracted that way but it doesn’t stop me wanting to kill the person behind fiddling with a sweet wrapper or rummaging around in a bag.

  28. Joshua Chamberlain says:

    We should all try to get along….

  29. Hornbill says:

    In Singapore they are encouraging audiences to download concert programmes through QR scanners on going into the hall instead of picking up printed versions. They like to think it’s cool, green and hi-tec.

  30. Dubliner says:

    Oh really all this fuss, for heavens sake, in Bach and Handel’s day folk were more relaxed they played cards, drank coffee, beer, ate and farted during concerts, oratorios and especially operas! Imagine what the Crown & Anchor pub was like for Handel’s Acis & Galatea or Esther, or Zimmermann’s coffee house in Leipzig. Well this link to an old Bach biopic made in the DDR is fantastic, see how the audience behaved.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVwcxxhuDKE

    1. RAZZ MATAZZ says:

      Times changed. In Bach and Handel’s day composers and musicians were treated like servants. I bet JSB and GFH wouldn’t have minded a bit of respect!

      1. Mathew Dubourg says:

        GFH a servant, I don’t think so, he left a fortune, £20,000 (£2m today) including a Rembrandt painting and he was buried in Westminster Abbey.

        Handel was buried in the south wing of Westminster Abbey, and his funeral took place on Friday 20 April 1759. The funeral service was performed by Dr. Zachary Pearce (Bishop of Rochester), and took place in the presence of more than 3,000 visitors. The choirs of the Chapel Royal, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Westminster Abbey sang the Funeral Anthem of Dr William Croft.

        1. RAZZ MATAZZ says:

          Oops! I was speaking generally and irritated by the notion that because audiences behaved like complete slobs in the 18th century, bad behaviour should be tolerated now. What I meant, and should have said, was “I bet JSB and GFH wouldn’t have minded a bit of respect from their audiences”.

          1. Wai kit leung says:

            I agree totally. Just because people had intimate encounters in opera houses back then doesn’t mean that such activities should be encouraged or allowed in opera houses today.

          2. Ban e gadgets says:

            Audiences in JSB and GFH’s time did not have oiky folk with iphones, ipods, and other e gadgets, blame the modern world of technology, I manage without one, but I see folk constantly fiddling with the dam things all the time, madness. They should hand them in to the cloakroom beforehand.

  31. Maria says:

    If it’s not talking it’s clapping. If it’s not clapping it’s children. If it’s not children it’s coughing. If it’s not coughing it’s page turning.

    How have I survived so many concerts over several decades without getting into a fight?

    Good grief!

    1. Sue says:

      I give up. You’re an enabler?

  32. Listener says:

    Sorry guys, but the point is: do not disturb other people!! No matter if there’s even a good reason!! Listeners/spectators pay money to go to the concert and listen/enjoy the music/opera/musical etc. Many of them are hearing deep into the music and trying to enjoy it and forget everything around just to get closer to the piece and the musical moment. It is really disgusting to have the guy next to you doing whatever with his cell phone and taking you back to the reality. It has nothing to do with elite behaviors, but with respecting each other. Cannot wait to know the name of the second flute? You didn’t learn the text forehand? Maybe the weather tomorrow? Come on.

  33. Robin Landseadel says:

    To paraphrase Alfred Brendel—Concertgoers can be so bitchy.

  34. Sue says:

    Look at the number of responses to this!!! Everybody has a horror story to tell. Mine happened in the Gewandhaus, Leipzig, in April, 2015. I was sitting next to a stone-faced woman (presumably German) and when my right foot tapped ever so slightly to the beat of the passionate work she gave the filthiest look I’ve ever experienced (and that’s saying something) and gave a knowing and miserable look towards her husband. She was obviously disgusted that I should feel the rhythm in the music and I felt terribly intimidated because I wasn’t from Leipzig but had come all the way from Australia to hear it. Many others in the audience were very engaging before the concert, mistaking me for a German and speaking to me as I was alone.

    1. Maria says:

      “Everybody has a horror story to tell.”

      No we haven’t.

    2. Jaybuyer says:

      Here’s mine. I went to the Deutsche Oper Berlin at Easter for the final performance of Götz Friedrich’s ‘legendary’ production of Wagner’s Ring. All went well until ‘Siegfried’ (the 3rd opera) when a lady 2 rows in front of me primed her camera at “Heil Dir Sonne!”, adjusted the focus to capture the glories of Siegfried wading through the fire to awaken Brünnhilde, and proceeded to take photos for the remainder of the act. I couldn’t shush or poke her, as she was too far away, but I did have a newspaper in my bag, with which I was able to reach her shoulder and make my annoyance felt. She ignored me and continued. After the performance I approached her and asked her if she intended to take photos the following day during ‘Götterdämmerung’. “Aber natürlich!” she replied, no doubt in an attempt to wind me up. “Good, said I, then I’ll have you thrown out!” The next day I was well prepared, the house manager was most sympathetic to my complaint and appeared with his female assistant just before curtain-up. They made the house rules clear to her in no uncertain terms and after that she didn’t move a muscle, not even during the final applause, when most people take photos.

      1. Sue says:

        I want you on my team, come the revolution!!! You can be my wing man.

  35. John de Jong says:

    In the Netherlands some orchestras are using the Wolfgang App that gives real time information during performances. http://wolfgangapp.nl/ (with list of concerts) or http://wolfgangapp.nl/en/ It is terrible.
    It is very annoying when people are using it – even with its black background. The biggest problem is that users often start to check regularly their private messages on the phone, during the concert.
    Cell phones should be completely banned from concert halls. Using them is insult towards the music, the musicians and the fellow audience members.

  36. PaulD says:

    After all these comments, still no identification of the flutist. It was Egor Egorkin, the orchestra’s piccolo player.

  37. Helen Wynn says:

    Years ago at the Metropolitan Opera, I read in the program–before the opera started–“If you must tap time to the music, do so inside your shoe.” I learned as a kid to sit quietly at a concert. You don’t unwrap candies; you dont wiggle in your seat; you dont ruffle the program pages. Skills not taught or cherished today!

    1. Sue says:

      In the mid 1980s I was in the audience of the Sydney International Piano Competition and it was the Mozart section. I had a nascent cold and a runny nose; I couldn’t even super-slowly open a little packet of those tissues without the paper on it making a noise. I wasn’t sneezing, just wiping my nose. The looks I got were absolutely dreadful. And all the while the circle line train was heard in the tunnel below the conservatorium heading towards St. James Station and this seemed to affect NOBODY. Sheesh, or should I say, “ha-choo”!!?

  38. SR says:

    Maybe the poster need a break from all the ‘high culture’ for a while?

    1. Dubliner says:

      My point is I never have any I must issues with audience members and I have attended the same baroque festival for over 10 years. Baroque music attracts a nicer crowd. Some folk get plagued by coughers, sneezers, sweetie paper rafflers, handbag fiddlers, iphone nerds but I seem to be lucky I have never had a problem, except once in a bar queue in Berlin in a break during Agrippina, the audience was gasping and Berliners are not happy campers generally. All that Bratwurst makes em constipated! I must say discussions here are rather dull.

  39. Dubliner says:

    I have only ever had one problem in an opera house and that was in the bar queue at Staatsoper Berlin, during a break in Agrippina, the audience had a thirst like the Kalahari desert and so did I, an irate Hausfrau started jammering away to me in her Platt deutsch accusing me of jumping the queue, well for starters there was no queue, just an unruly chaotic mob of chancers, a Dubliner knows the best place to get a drink, no Guinness, but I downed a couple of Weizens pdq. I hope when the renovations have been completed they will have solved the problem of how to get out during the interval to the bar before the multitude descend on it.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      In the recently-built concert hall in Saint-Eustache-sur-Mont (Wallonia) they have installed the perfect solution for the interval thirst: a long row of some 50 taps extending from the wall, behind which an elaborate system of pipes connect to beer, mineral water (Chaudfontaine, which is close-by, with a direct pipe line), wine, and cola. Before the concert, plastic buckets are handed-out at the doors, which can be held under the tap of preference in the interval for free (in fact, the price is included, on average, with the ticket prices). This solution has proven to be hughely popular and has increased audience attendance by 230% over the 16/17 season. No matter what the orchestra is playing, classical, modern, film music, sonic art, or John Cage, audiences come in droves and this has given the staff a completely free hand in programming. (Source: ‘L’Observateur Tempêtueux’ de Namur, 16th march 2017, under ‘Nouvelles Flasques’)

      1. Jaybuyer says:

        You could have mentioned that drinks (coffee, water, fruit juice, wine, beer) at Concertgebouw Amsterdam concerts are free. There are plenty of well staffed bars and time isn’t wasted fiddling with money. I had a most pleasant time before and during ‘Lohengrin’ in concert two years ago (hic!)

  40. John Borstlap says:

    A rich harvest of irritation. I hope future perpetrators take notice.

    The only occasion where sounds from the audience are actually welcomed as part of the performance is 2’34” by John Cage:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oh-o3udImy8

  41. Hornbill says:

    A couple of months ago the Singapore Symphony Orchestra played a concert conducted by Tan Dun ( of Farewell my Concubine fame) in which the audience were encouraged to use their smartphones to play back recordings of birdsong. It sounded ghastly. I didn’t go.

  42. Bill says:

    I’ve had a few incidents but one I recall was a concert version of Lohengrin at the Edinburgh Festival. The man next to me slept thru the entire first act, much to the chagrin of someone behind him. Every three minutes or so, she would kick the back of his seat so hard that mine shook as well. I would turn around but everyone had an angelic look. At Act’s end I asked whomever was doing this to stop. No one admitted anything, so I asked the usher to get me another seat.

  43. Adriano says:

    People consulting smartphones during a concert or an opera are inconsiderate and egoistic. They don’t deserve attending artistic events and should be thrown out.


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