Permission to listen? And to share what I feel?

Permission to listen? And to share what I feel?


norman lebrecht

January 26, 2010

Richard Morrison, the Times music critic, had an eye-popping experience in New York. At a Philharmonic concert, he relates in BBC Music magazine, ‘audience members were allowed – nay, encouraged – to “live blog” or “live tweet” comments to each other, or their “followers” in the world outside, during the performances.’

Indeed they were, and we have read much about it elsewhere. What struck me here, though, was Morrison’s use of verbs and inverted commas to signify his distance – nay, disdain – from the ghastly modern practices he encountered. The idea that tweeting could be allowed, let alone encouraged in the sacred space of a concert hall is intolerable to a traditional listener.

His horror was aptly conveyed by a headline – Should an audience be allowed to tweet and blog during a concert? – that says all you need to know about the persistence of patrician, nay authoritarian, attitudes in 21st century classical music.

Most concert halls, the moment you enter, do not let you forget who’s boss. Go here, do that, switch off, please don’t, be considerate. You may cough between movements and discreetly fart, but do not applaud until signalled to do so and above all do not signify your response on an electronic device until you have departed the premises, preferably until you have read the authoritative review next morning in a respectable newspaper and have been told what you are supposed to think.

Small wonder that the coming generation refuses to accept classical music as part of its cultural spectrum. This is an art form that must urgently change its language, its top-down mode of address, if it is to have any kind of audience in the future.  



LATE EXTRA: Perhaps concert halls need to consider separate seating for electronics users. If, like me, you might resent being distracted by someone tweeting in a concert, you should be able to book a n on-tweet seat, just as you can book a non-smoking floor in most hotels


  • Norman, we struggle with these issues too in Buffalo, where people have been known to whip out their iPhones to check hockey scores! One thing I would worry about were this behavior legit would be that people would not be tweeting about how beautiful that Adagio is .. they’d be playing games, doing whatever. And part of the attraction of a concert hall is that you are in a room full of people concentrating on the music — and when you see that glow of someone’s electronic device, it ruins the karma.
    Then again, if I sat in the “electronics section” I could get my review written in advance and have drinks after the concert with everyone else! Hmmmmm…
    NL relies: You got it, Mary: left side for left-brainers, right side for right. And why shouldn’t readers hear from you at half-time, live on their lappies? They’d expect that in sports… and not only in Buffalo.
    I hate it when someone’s fiddling either side of me, whether for sweeties, cocaine or incontinence pads. Let’s have quiet sides and busy sides on concert halls, as in other public gathering places. But let’s have no more ‘allowed’ and ‘forbidden’.

  • Victor Eskenasy says:

    No, Norman, please don’t encourage another political correcteness segregation… The next step will be fighting for popcorn eating seats in the concert hall ? No, please!

  • a curious reader says:

    then how do you decide which tickets cost what? how do you separate the hall? do you have the Attentive Listeners sit up front so a constant glow cant be seen? Or do you split it in half length wise? what about the people who are on the edge of the electronic side and dont want to deal with somebody tweeting?
    dunno…just seems like a decent theory; would be really hard to put into practice.
    Why not offer a tinted screen cover that attendees can rent/buy for a few bucks that users can place on the screen:

  • Eddie W. says:

    I had to tell a USC punk sitting next to me at Dudamel’s opening weekend to dial down his device after the opening chords began. No way. Blinding electricity is the visual analog to shouting, sorry. Not for my $160, buddy. He got the ‘message’.

  • Yoshiyuki Mukudai says:

    Norman, your comments are always not only allowed but welcome with many thanks as always. 😉

  • Peter says:

    I’m not a particularly ‘patrician’ or ‘authoritarian’ or even terribly old (early 40’s) audience member and I actually find a lot of concert hall performances pretty dry and stiff. My favorite performances have usually been in small intimate venues where you can just about touch the players, and even better, drink beer during the show.
    However, I share something of Richard Morrison’s horror at audiences being ENCOURAGED to tweet. I’ve been to shows where the dork in the row in front of me is texting away and it is distracting in the extreme. It has less to do with being proper and controlled than with showing disrespect to both the performers and the fellow audience.
    In theory I don’t really care one way or the other whether someone is tweeting during a show, but the reality of it is that it’s difficult or impossible to do it surreptitiously unless you’re in the back row of a half empty hall. And is what’s being tweeted REALLY so important that it can’t wait at least until between pieces, or maybe an intermission? Highly unlikely.
    In the case of the NYPhil, and truthfully with most large arts institutions, the whole tweet thing feels rather forced anyway. Like they’re trying to jump on some ‘hip’ youth bandwagon. Trust me. Tweeting does not automatically guarantee coolness or interest. My sense too is that those of you in the media and blogosphere are much more enamored of the Tweet than most of us in the real world. An awful lot of the folks in my circles couldn’t care less.
    Now, we’ll never be able to force people to pay complete attention to the music, nor should we even try. The guy in front of me at a very small venue (40 people) the other night was reading his opthamology journal during the performance, and it seemed like a bizarre choice but he wasn’t distracting others so whatever.
    But we’ve got a million choices for entertainment distractions these days, most of which are not live. If you have to tweet during shows, at least wait for a suitable break and show respect to those around you. Trust me, your followers aren’t going to know the difference if you wait 10 or 15 minutes and the rest of us who actually come out to live shows to see live performers will thank you.

  • M. Villeger says:

    One truly wonders WHY these people are going in these halls? Is it to listen to a piece of music or to check the violin section babes live rather than on facebook?
    May I also suggest in the no more “allowed” and “forbidden” that orchestra musicians may be allowed to bring their dinner sandwich and consume it with whatever beverage suits them, that unions authorize them to twitt during performances as long as they do not play and that conductors drop the formal attire and showcase their favorite T-shirt.
    Let also insure that the paying audience could demand instant replay of a mangled chord at the piano.
    At last classical music would finally find its real public: the world wrestling federation fans.

  • AVI says:

    A similar theme was taken up by Jurowski on this morning’s “Today” programme on R4. Audiences at the OAE’s Roundhouse gigs should be allowed to drink beer and eat crisps, apparently.
    I’m all for a relaxation, but crisps? Honestly… Still, I would rather depend on the decency of my neighbour not to rustle & crunch than be told hat to do by an officious theatre or concert hall, I agree. Mind, they could just be clever and not sell crisps at the bar.
    One of the best comments was from one of the two players interviewed, who commented (I paraphrase loosely) that audience members should be able to do what they like – once they are there, it’s the performer’s responsibility to make the performance so engaging, so musically thrilling, that the audience are compelled to listen.
    The real difficulty, I guess, is getting bums on seats on the first place; once we can get them in the concert hall, it’s the artists job to make them want to come back again. Sadly I’ve seen all too-many concerts where the players frankly can’t be bothered. That’s not going to encourage repeat visits.

  • Paul Somers says:

    I was lecturing about Rossini to a small group of high schoolers who were working on some of his music. This was not informal; it was why I was in the room. Right in the middle of the talk one girl whipped out her cell phone and began talking to one of her friends. The rudeness was shocking, but I was told later that this kind of behavior is now common in high school and college classrooms.
    I find it to be dreadful and utterly disrespectful, not only to the teacher but to the subject at hand. She wasn’t there playing Rossini because the alternative was some dire punishment; she had signed up for it of her own free will. I am a good lecturer — at least according to the other four kids in the ensemble — so I have to wonder what was going on in this girl’s random mix of a mind. But the idea that it was disrespectful to me, to the other four kids, and to their attempt at playing Rossini well never entered her head.
    The word “focus” comes to mind as something which is lacking in such behavior. Whether it be crisps and drinking in a concert hall or texting or the unspeakable twittering (trumpet your own self-imposed illiteracy) during a performance, it demonstrates a willingness, even eagerness, to lose a wide focus by drifting into a self-contained “bubble-boy” world of free-wheeling ego-centrism.