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Barenboim stops concert twice to harangue audience

July 18, 2018 by norman lebrecht

53 comments.


Daniel Barenboim is having trouble with his Buenos Aires compatriots.

His Brahms concert started at 8.20 because the audience were late to arrive.

They applauded between movements.

Barenboim stopped the music and asked for them to wait before clapping until the sound had died away. He also put in a request for no applause between movements.

The next time he stopped the concert was because people were taking phone pictures.

‘It hurts my eyes,’ he said.

Read here.


Comments (53)

  1. Barry says:

    I attended a piano recital of his in Philadelphia once and he made a point of telling the audience how important it is to enjoy themselves and be at ease at a classical concert. He went so far as to say that we shouldn’t let anyone tell us that it’s wrong to applaud between movements and to have at it if we wish.

  2. PJA says:

    Blimey. Next he’ll be objecting to them opening crisp bags and chatting in the quiet bits.

    1. Una says:

      Good for him. Sick of people doing what they do as if at the cinema. Why people can’t stick their phones away and just listen just beats me. Yes, enjoy the evening but it doesn’t mean do what you want and spoil it for the rest of us and be a distraction to the musicians themselves. They can see you!!

  3. Steve says:

    I am often in the presence of an individual who feels compelled to yell “bravo” first and loudest following a performance of which he approves. Sometimes the final notes haven’t even been sung or played. It becomes impossible for the rest of the audience to bask in the glory of the performance for even a second because the audience has become focused on the one who is shouting his approval.

    1. Robin Smith says:

      Covent Garden ?

      I’m often witness to a disappointed (possibly angry) conductor when that happens – sat in the Lower Slips above the Orchestra pit.

    2. Thomasina says:

      I remember the concert of Berlin Phil (Brahms cycle with Abbado) in Paris. Clapping happened before last note at the end of the 4th movement of symphony. I was still very young, I remember that it was early in 1993 at the Salle Pleyel and with piano concerto no.2 (Pollini) but not symphony…Does anyone remember what no. it was?

      1. Bruce says:

        No idea, but the end of #1 and #2 often elicit that type of reaction.

        1. Thomasina says:

          The person who accompanied me forgot the details (he is now 83 years old) but he insists that he took me to two concerts. I don’t remember that and I’m confused…

  4. Geoff Cox says:

    I’m with Barenboim asking people not to applaud between movements. His explanation (Google translate..) being “From one movement to another there is a change of tonality; if you applaud, that relationship is lost,”. Surely this makes sense?

    1. Sue says:

      Absolutely!! For once I agree with Barenboim on all of this. Clapping between movements is a relic of the late 18th century, high childhood mortality rates, horses and carriages and flickering candles. In short, the product of a much-bygone era.

      As to the appalling manners; tell me something I don’t already know!!

      1. Brian says:

        Looked at another way, applause between movements was what came naturally to audiences and composers for much of classical music’s history. Only in the mid-20th century did things begin to change, and concert halls acquired a church-like atmosphere thanks in part to the standards of conductors like Toscanini and Reiner. Patrons could no longer talk, eat, drink or do any number of other things that they do at pop concerts, movies or sporting events.

        As a result, classical music lost its connection to the masses and became “elite” and “highbrow.” Younger people didn’t find this enforced decorum particularly fun and left in droves. And we’re left with the crisis in declining audiences that we have today.

        1. AZ Cowboy says:

          Whenever I hear people gripe about talking, noise, clapping in concerts, I always remember a story by Walter Damrosch when he was playing in Fargo, North Dakota. Bear with me:

          “…I should like to relate what happened another time when we were giving a symphony concert, perhaps the first ever heard there, at Fargo, North Dakota. Efrem Zimbalist, delightful man and artist, was our soloist on this tour, and after the concert, when we met for supper, he related with shouts of laughter that while I was playing the “Lenore” Symphony, by Raff, he was sitting behind the scenes of the “opera house”…listening to the music, when a cowboy, young, handsome, in flannel shirt, high boots, slouch hat, etc., came on the stage and sat down amicably next to him. The cowboy was perhaps a little “mellow”, as this was before the days of national prohibition, but he evidently had a musical ear, although he had never before in his life heard a symphony orchestra. Every time that the music developed into a kind of joyous climax, he would grab Zimbalist’s knee in convulsive delight and shout: “God damn it, but I like that music!” Then he would sit in rapt silence until the next outburst, when he would again grab Zimbalist and shout: “They can go to hell, but they know how to play!” We all envied this man, because, no matter how much we may appreciate music, we have heard so much that we can never again experience the thrill of hearing a symphony orchestra for the first time..”

          Shouting with joy or not, I wish we had more cowboys in our audiences. As a southwestern-ranch-raised cowboy, this story has always hit home.

    2. Frank says:

      It makes sense to the connoisseurs who follow key relationships or even know what tonality is.

      But to the person who’s attending their first classical concert this looks as such: A self-righteous prima donna on stage is chewing me out for some perceived breach of concert etiquette that seems completely strange and foreign to me in the first place.

      And people wonder why classical music is struggling.

  5. Clovis Marques says:

    Barenboim is the only musician I EVER saw actively and ostentatiously show his contempt for the audience, in my forty something years of concert going. And with a vengeance, a really really bad temper and disposition. This was in Rio de Janeiro way back in the eighties. Same reasons: late arrivals disturbing the music making (it was the Orchestre de Paris). He had just began, he stopped, he sent furious looks to the parterre and he started again from scratch. “You oafs there should know better hu…”

    Then at the end there was this infallible and odious patron of the Teatro Municipal who always wanted to cheer and applaud before everyone else and always insisted on very explicit and showy terms to have some extra numbers. He’s known among Rio concert goers as “Maravilha” or “Sublime” (Mr Wonderful or Mr Sublime), for the words he invariably ejects in that magic moment when the music has not yet died away completely and the rest of us have not yet come back from wonderment. That’s exactly the moment this individual wants to hear his own voice. (I must admit to his good taste: it’s one of the best moments ever!). Well, when he was at it, begging Barenboim for more, more, pleeeeeaase, the maestro again convoked his hate look and this time peppered it with ugly arm and face gestures imitating this person, and then head-cocking and chin-throwing to signify his contempt for such inconvenience and bad manners. Never in my whole life seen any other artist behave like that on a stage

    1. Antonia says:

      There’s an equivalent of Barenboim in this regard in the jazz world: the mega-talented Keith Jarrett.

      You can even see him throw a hissy-fit at a coughing audience member during a concert in a video on YouTube!

  6. william osborne says:

    He’s also in hot water with people in the brass community. He gave an interview and concerning low brass players said, “it is probable that women do not have the strength to play in purely symphonic formations.”

    Women trombonists have been in top orchestras for years such as the London Symphony, the Hallé Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Toronto Symphony, the St. Louis Symphony, the Oslo Philharmonic, the Montreal Symphony, the Louisville Orchestra, and the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra to name a few. The tubist of the Philadelphia Orchestra for the last 12 years is a woman.

    I don’t mind if conductors are arrogant S.O.B.s. They are, afterall, conductors. But I do mind if they are sexist S.O.B.s. Anwyay, I think Barenboim is in many ways an enlightened person. I hope someone will clue him in about women brass players and how his view of them is anachronistic, to say the least.

      1. Sue says:

        Oh, so he’s not a luvvie anymore? He will be again – just as soon as he talks about how bad Israel is!! (Looks at watch.)

        Shut up and play, Mr. Barenboim.

        1. william osborne says:

          Not sure if the above comment is general or directed toward me, but for the record, I would reject unfair criticism of either side in that conflict, even if objective judgments are often difficult. Forgive me if I am otherwise not drawn into any additional remarks on this topic.

          1. Phillip says:

            Give it a rest, Osborne. Make your life be about more than singing the same tired old tune over and over.

          2. Bruce says:

            Sue is good at turning the conversation to whatever topic she wants. You have a choice about whether to take the bait.

          3. Sue says:

            Not about you specifically; of course not. But since the topic IS Barenboim it’s appropriate to talk about his choice of fights to pick. He does it so well!!

      2. Mario Roberto Lutz says:

        “Somos un pueblo muy talentoso, pero muy creído”
        It is hard to translate the last two words of this title:
        “We are very talented people, but very vain”

        Perhaps I can explain this in two jokes about ourselves
        1) Cardinal Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis told sometime:
        “Everyone was very surprised by the election of my name,
        they thought that since I am Argentine, I would be Jesus II”.

        2) How does an Argentinian commit suicide?
        First you get on his own ego and then … jump

        Regrettably, the appropriate explanation for the misunderstanding of Barenboim’s words is that 52% of graduates not only do not understand what they read; they cannot expose an idea in a minute either”
        Twelve years a person goes to school in Argentina and it may happen that, at the end of the route, they do not understand what they read.
        I’m sorry for this.

    1. Ilio says:

      Didn’t he hire Sarah Willis into his horn section before she went off to the Philharmoniker?

      1. Glerb says:

        Horns aren’t low brass. Low brass would be trombones and tubas.

    2. Mario Roberto Lutz says:

      QUESTION:
      (…) What do you think of the MeToo movement? How does it affect you in the operation of the orchestras and in your own life?
      D.B.
      -I believe that in music there were never problems with women. There, women reign. There are great figures, and Argentina has one of them, none other than Martha Argerich. Women have had no problem in taking their place as great interpreters. It is true that there are still few directors, at least well known, but they are beginning to appear. The Staatskapelle will be 400 years old, and when I assumed the position of director I already had many women. Of course there were orchestras that were clubs deprived of men.

      QUESTION:
      for example?

    3. Mario Roberto Lutz says:

      QUESTION:
      for example?
      D.B.
      -I remember when I was in New York with the Vienna Philharmonic, and there were constant demonstrations because the orchestra did not have women. Once, in conversation with a director -which I prefer not to mention-, he told me that he felt that women could not play instruments like the tuba or the trombone. He spoke in terms of physical strength. I replied that it is probable that they did not have the strength to blow in a purely symphonic format, but that something important was lost if I could not think that a woman’s subtlety would sound in an opera passage that asks for trombone or tuba.

      these are the translation of part of this interview, the young Barenboim in a educated manner would not argue with the anonymous conductor, but suggested to consider the subtlety in the women. Years ago this word could be a compliment a flattering. From yesterday somebody told me in Abbie wall, that it is “machismo” wording.
      Stop this world, I want to step down.!

  7. Doug says:

    Norman, since you censored my simple observation/question, perhaps that reflects on your level of guilt over the matter?

  8. Zalman says:

    I once saw Nicanor Zabaleta stop a recital to harangue a man in the front row. Apparently, he fell asleep and was snoring! Sadly, up in the balcony, we couldn’t see what was going on, so it just made Zabaleta look temperamental.
    Roberta Flack once stormed offstage at Chatauqua, because the temp sound engineer kept fiddling with the sound controls, instead of leaving them where they should be, so it kept dipping, going off, coming back. He utterly ruined the performance, but it still made her look temperamental. But we could not have heard her small voice without amplification.
    Performers just can’t win.
    I think the best strategy is to have someone come out before the start and ask everyone to take out their phones and other devices, wait for them to do it, then tell them to shut them off. There’s always at least one who hadn’t done it. It ensures (not insures) fewer interruptions. So, now one also has to say, no photos or video taking. What else? No eating, no screwing, no talking, no sleeping, no undressing, no sewing, no writing, no reading, no taking off shoes……..

    1. Cubs Fan says:

      I’ve been to concerts in Beijing, China. They know a few things about how to get audiences to behave. Cell phones are not allowed – period. At the entry they have a phone check – just like a hat/coat check. You must surrender the evil device to enter – and a metal detector checks you, too. Then, during concerts there are people who are in the rafters above the stage watching the audience with red laser pointers. If you’re talking, trying to take pictures or managed to sneak a phone in, they point the laser at you. They shame people. I’d rather have some rude patrons drawn and quartered left outside the hall as a warning.

      1. Jerome Hoberman says:

        Yes, but in China they’re afraid to applaud even after pieces end. Tepid applause at best, until the very end of the concert, when there’s still-tepid but persistent clapping to demand an encore. You get used to it, but I’d much prefer a relaxed audience that isn’t there to be educated or to show its cultural credentials but to enjoy and be transported, even if that means applause between movements.

        1. Nick2 says:

          That is absolutely not true! I have attended many concerts in various Chinese cities where audiences have been hugely enthusiastic often with cheering at the end of each work. If you want mild applause, try Japan. Their audiences are knowledgeable and very respectful to the artists, but wild applause is not in their make-up.

  9. William Evans says:

    This year’s opening night of the BBC Proms was similarly (if less noticeably) affected by applause between movements of ‘The Planets’. While it’s great to know that the audience is truly enjoying the performance, this behaviour does break the atmosphere and must annoy both the conductor and performers.

  10. Musician says:

    By all respect to the lovely argentinian people: anyone who knows how argentinian public behave in concerts, they know, Barenboim was not exaggerating.

    1. John Kelly says:

      Agreed. I had a woman singing along to Butterfly at Teatro Colon last time I was there and nomatter what I did (including remonstrating/begging after Act 1) there was no stopping her – and she was pretty loud. In tune, granted, but was indescribably annoying. Not the cheap seats either – I should have gone for those because, as Stokowski once noted, “you meet a better class of person in the cheaper seats.”

  11. MacroV says:

    I’m with Barenboim. Taking flash photos during a performance is an unacceptable distraction. And while I’m agnostic about applauding between movement, if the performer makes a point of asking the audience not to do it, then don’t do it! The 20-minute late start is I assume just a local cultural thing with which the great man is presumably well familiar.

  12. Nick says:

    If a conductor does not want applause between movements or prior to the last note of a movement fading to silence, he can help control the audience. Too many conductors immediately drop their arms as though this is a signal to start applause. If instead they just kept their arms raised for 2 or 3 seconds and then slowly lowered them, that would solve the problem in many works. Not all, but I am certain the audience would get the message.

  13. Bruce says:

    Flash photos are bad. For one thing, they do not help AT ALL in such a large space — your picture comes out with a bleached-out view of the back of the head of the person in front of you, and the stage is barely visible — and for another thing, they are VERY distracting to people onstage.

    I honestly don’t mind applause between movements. The problem comes when a symphony that has a first movement with an impressive ending — for example, Tchaik 4. Some people will clap whether they know the piece or not, and others will follow their example. Then people seem to think they are supposed to clap after every movement, so there’s a half-hearted smattering of applause at the end of the slow movement, too. And then depending on how quickly the conductor goes attacca from the scherzo into the finale, they may just be starting to applaud when the finale begins. It doesn’t ruin the concert, it’s just kind of an “oh well, at least they came” moment.

  14. Pianofortissimo says:

    Bravo maestro Barenboim!

  15. Matt says:

    All of this turning up late,clapping at wrong times and in particular using phones in concerts, all stems from “popularizing “ classical music! There’s a generation out there who think they can behave as if at a pop concert and consideration for the musicians and audience is if no consequence !

  16. Whimbrel says:

    I rather sympathise with Barenboim. His behaviour seems entirely reasonable, unlike an eminent conductor at Covent Garden some years ago. The audience was laughing at some of the antics on stage and, without stopping the music, the conductor turned round and said in a loud voice to the front stalls, where I was sitting: “Listen to the music – it’s pretty”. One can only imagine the relationship between the conductor and director of this very entertaining, and well reviewed, production.

    1. Deborah Mawer says:

      ==“Listen to the music – it’s pretty”

      So, Whimbrel, who was this ?

      1. Nik says:

        Yes, why not name the conductor and production? Weird.

  17. Karen Fodor says:

    DB knows the audience there. He should have started both Brahms concerts with an overture (Academic, Tragic), giving the punters 15 mins to assemble.

  18. Dieter Stern says:

    Barenboim asked the audience “to wait before clapping until the sound had died away” because the production was being recorded for television.

  19. LK Berlin says:

    When he conducted the Staatskapelle in an open air event (for free) at the Bebelplatz, Unter den Linden, a few weeks ago he stopped the performance of “Sacre” after a few notes of the bassoon, turned to the audience and told them to be quiet because all the talking would take away the concentration.
    It was, given the circumstances, maybe a bit harsh, playing for people maybe not too farmiliar with Stravinsky, but I liked it!

  20. mhtetzel says:

    A friend of mine went to this concert and I sent her the Clarin post. At the very last minute she was able to buy a return chorus ticket. This is what she told me:

    “I could see Baremboim directing frontly from about 10 meters and watched all the performance related in the Clarin. Exactly as they tell it. And I was shocked at the stupid Bravo!

    This auditorium was built by Cristina and people who go there are not the same of the Colón, but the Colón rented the auditorium because they had no days free and Baremboim insisted in playing. Performances there are mostly free. My cousin, a phanatic for music with Colon subscription for 50 years, had never been there.”

  21. Name (required) says:

    He is obviously trying to keep pace with Muti.

  22. c bell says:

    In 1953 John Barbirolii rebuked a Covent Garden audience for their premature applause in Boheme. This provoked quite a stir in the press and their was sume angry reaction. Nevertheless at the next performance,which I attended, he repeated his criticism. By the way, in recent years some conductors stem the tide by freezing their final gesture

    .

  23. Mario Roberti Lutz says:

    I was present at this performance, the third of five concerts that the Staatskapelle Berlin offers at the former Post Office Palace transformed into a cultural center and concert hall.
    In the first two concerts the audience behaved correctly we would say that in a traditional way. I checked it on the radio and streaming transmissions.
    The third concert, delayed by the traffic congestion, part of the audience clapped between movements, these would be tolerated, same thing happens in Paris… but near the end of the symphony, a vociferous madman Bravo! before three final chords, the “herd” followed that scream with applause drowning out the orchestral sound. This filled my patience and of a part of the public, Mr. Barenboim immediately turned on himself to silence the widespread applause and said:
    “”I know we are all very excited,” he said. “But, please, listen to the end””
    Then, he tried to teach:
    “”From one movement to another there is a change of tone; if you applaud, that relationship is lost “”

    The second part of the concert began with the usual audio-warning about not allowing recording, taking pictures with or without flash, and turn out cellphones.

    The giant tumble into its own steps in the cymbals by the flash from the seats located behind the orchestra:
    ” Do not take pictures, please! First, because light hurts my eyes, which are sensitive. Second, because it is not allowed, ” Barenboim said, before finishing the sermon with a joke:” Finally, because with those machines in your hands you will not be able to applaud the orchestra”
    I fell ashamed by my countrymen misbehavior.

  24. Mario Roberto Lutz says:

    by the way, on Saturday night, a group of fanatics could be silenced in the last fermata of Tristan und Isolde

  25. Anon says:

    I remember Barenboim’s speech after the end of his Ring cycle at the BBC Proms in 2013 when he particularly thanked the audience for being so quiet and attentive throughout each concert

  26. Willen van IJperen says:

    DB is right, but what about the breaks in Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s St Matthew Passion? You can’t be to orthodox on it. Trying to be tolerant, sensitive and respectful will solve it. Don’ quarrel, just listen to the music.


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