Baffled by the Bruckner row? Hear the concert, decide for yourselves (update)

Baffled by the Bruckner row? Hear the concert, decide for yourselves (update)


norman lebrecht

November 22, 2011

Argument has been raging on this site for almost a week as to whether it is legitimate for a listener to walk out in mid-symphony, shouting abuse, because he or she disagrees with the interpretation or is otherwise disappointed with the performance.

Well, a kind soul has n0w offered us the opportunity to hear the performance in question and decide for ourselves.

Listen up, listen here. Interestingly, no-one from the orchestra, the hall, or the conductor’s management, has uttered a peep.

Oh, and the Daily Telegraph has just taken up the story… attracting, amid some commonsense, the usual unmediated wittering of green-ink comments.


  • Mr Blue Sky says:

    I don’t think it’s remotely interesting that no-one from the orchestra, the hall, or the conductor’s management, has uttered a peep. Why on earth should they dignify with a response, or continue to justify and in-so-doing merely prolong, this gentleman’s attention-seeking rants any further. The reputation and standing of the orchestra, the hall and the conductor are long-established. The version of Bruckner 4 that Osmo Vänskä conducted was aired by him at the Proms in 2010. We knew it was coming. Mr Verney-Elliott knew it was coming. You can choose to critique a performance in a polite and civilised manner, that allows for the opinions and enjoyment of others to be respected, or you can choose to do what Mr Verney-Elliott did. It matters not a jot whether Mr Verney-Elliott could not even comprehend that anyone’s reaction could be different from his. The place to rage, blow and crack your cheeks is after the performers have finished. It is an act of profound disrespect to any performer to interrupt his performance, whether with a mobile phone ring, an obtrusive cough, or a stagey rant. Irrespective of your personal reaction, the performer is giving his time and his talent to do his job. Neither the version of the symphony, nor the interpretation of the conductor was under the control of the orchestral musicians, and they should not have had their work casually and rudely dismissed.

    • Dear Mr. Blue Sky:

      You said: “It is an act of profound disrespect to any performer to interrupt his performance.” But ironically, paradoxically, this is exactly what Vanska did ‘interrupting’ the flow of the music in an act of ‘profound disrespect’ to the composer. You do not mention how mannered (and bad mannered) Vänskä conducting was or that the LPO were in very bad form often playing out of tune and out of sync: are you deaf?

      I heard Vänskä conduct this discredited edition of Bruckner 4th Symphony at the Proms and it was superbly played by Minnesota Orchestra whom Vänskä had a far better rapport with but his performance with the LPO just fell part with a lack of rapport between conductor and orchestra who were not always in sync.

      My justified (but far too polite and far too civilized) walk out protest was not about the discredited edition of the symphony but the awfully dragged-out mannered conducting of Vänskä that resulted in a total lack of cohesion and communication between conductor and orchestra resulting in awfully bad playing of the LPO.

      The petty-bourgeois Royal Festival Hall audience are notoriously uncritical, supine, furtive, obedient, underhanded and deferential being subservient to authority and so ‘politely’ applaud any rubbish they hear which in turn is being ‘impolite’ to the composer: The largely backward and reactionary RFH audience is aptly typical of the English as a rule who never like to ’cause a fuss’ or ‘complain’ and so just suffer in supine submissive silence.

      Why ‘critique a performance in a polite and civilised manner’ if the performance is impolite and uncivilized? If more people protested during bad performances then maybe standards would not be so low as they tend to be today with dumbed-down conducting and dumbed-down playing largely due to dumbed-down audiences!

      Yours truly, Alex Verney-Elliott

      • Mr Blue Sky says:

        It is not the same thing at all. Disrespect to the performers is completely objective. If you disturb the performance, you show disrespect. Disrespect to the composer is subjective. What one person feels is disrespectful to the composer may not be seen in the same light by another person, and indeed unless the composer himself is able to comment on the performance, can never be proven either way. And crucially (and this is the whole point of the argument against your actions), these feelings can co-exist without one person disrupting the experience for the other person. You have an issue with interpretation, and performance standard. That is entirely valid. But it does not justify your behaviour.

        • Dear Blue Sky,

          You fail to register that it was Vanska that ‘disturbed’ the performance way before I did; and in actual fact, it was Vanska who disturbed the performance for a far longer period of time than I did; and If you disturb the performance, as Vanska did, you show ‘disrespect’ to the composer as well as the audience.

          My behaviour was totally justified for Bruckner’s sake – not for the musically-illiterate audience’s sake.

          You should be far more defensive and supportive of the dead composer Bruckner who cannot defend himself against vandals like Vanska who get obscenely high fees for (bad) ‘mannered’ and ‘impolite’ performances that ‘disturb’ and ‘interrupt’ the flow of the music.

          Yours truly, Alex Verney-Elliott

          • Mr Blue Sky says:

            No no no just listen to what I am saying. The performer cannot ‘disturb’ his own performance. The performance is as he intends it. You are saying that Vanska ‘disturbed’ your ‘mental ideal’ of how you would have preferred the performance to proceed. That is not the same thing. And by the way, no-one gets obscenely high fees for working with any London orchestra….

  • Gregory Lauder-Frost says:

    I am 100% in favour of this kind of protest. Never have I been so angry as during perfectly disgusting performances, and especially when, at the Proms, the leftists from the BBC slot in absolute filth by Birtwhistle and others, and then when the show is over everyone politely claps. I suppose this is symptomatic with what is wrong with the British people today: trible voting included. They now think to protest is bad manners. Not when someone is insulting your intelligence and charging you extortionate seat prices it isn’t.

    • Mr Blue Sky says:

      You are being deliberately obtuse. Protesting is not bad manners. Disrupting the hard work and enjoyment of others is bad manners. Listen, analyse, digest. Then when it is over, you may protest. And it’s ‘Birtwistle’ – get it right, and grow up.

  • amfortas says:

    I don’t condone what the man did but what he said was right. I was there and it was clear that Vanska had little feel for the music. This translated into slow and lacklustre playing. Real Bruckner-lite. However, the Tchaikovsky before the interval was marvellous.

  • LDenham1 says:

    I too was at the concert and saw the “protestor” leave his seat (which should be pointed out was in the choir stalls behind the orchestra – ie the cheapest available and where everything sounds different anyway). However, from my seat in the stalls I couldn’t hear a word he uttered – I had merely assumed he needed to take a “comfort break” and since that may have taken a while, took his coat with him ! Either that, or he was worried he was going to miss his train home, as this concert was generous in its running time, another point conveniently ignored until now. So it is very interesting to read afterwards that this was actually a “protest” – it clearly backfired as well, since conductor and orchestra were given a rousing ovation once the performance had finished. So much for all the nods of support he claims to have received whilst making his way out.
    Thus I can only conclude that not only does this man not know how to behave at a modern day music concert, nor is able to protest properly, but he doesn’t even know his Bruckner – it was the 1888 version for goodness sake. As Mr Blue-Sky says above, what was he expecting ? In his review of Vanska’s recording of the same version from Minnesota in Classics Today, Dave Hurwitz rather bluntly opens by asking: “How do you rate an excellent performance of a bastard edition of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony?” – which neatly sums up my own thoughts after the concert. So unless Mr Verney-Elliott is the pseudonym of a world respected Bruckner scholar who has access to the 1888 score as edited by Benjamin Korstvedt, in which case I apologise, I really think he needs help; urgently.

    • Dear L Denham:

      Of course I knew it was the 1888 version of the Bruckner 4th Symphony: I walked out because of the bad conducting of Vanska and bad playing of the lPO – which seems to have escaped your ears: For did you not hear that the brass were often out of tune and the players were often not in sync; or that the conductor had no grasp of the structure conducting in segments often slowing down almost to a halt with his mannered interpretation?

      Vanska vandalized the music – this man does not know how to behave at a concert!

      Yours sincerely, Alex Verney-Elliott

  • Alex says:

    I, too, was there, sitting close behind our unjustifiably outraged Bruckner purist. Interestingly, the man beside me for the second part of the memorable concert had moved away from V-E who had been behaving oddly during the Tchaikovsky, perhaps winding himself up for what seems to have been a calculated distubance, mid-movement. Possibly the final straw for the son (did I get this right?) of that creative iconoclast Ken Russell was the spontaneous applause after the second movement of the Bruckner – the LPO, far from playing “out of tune”, were accurate and sonorous in that well-judged slow march, the exposed viola line beautifully urgent yet mellow, all trills together. This orchestra’s listening skills (they are in an opera house for the summer, and it shows) secure the most refined ensemble of all the major London bands. Was V-E really listening to the poised wind chording? Was he aware that the sound from behind the orchestra always does emerge strangely balanced, that the horns, for example, seem a fraction ahead of the string attack?

    • Dear Alex,

      I must take issue with that liable false claim that I was: “behaving oddly during the Tchaikovsky, perhaps winding himself up for what seems to have been a calculated disturbance.” This is a total lie and a pure invention. I want an apology from you for this slander which you made up for cheap effect.

      I am well aware of the sound distortions heard from sitting in the choir seats but the LPO were out of tune and out of sync but you are obviously stone deaf as well as blind since your ears lied to you and your eyes lied to you: maybe you should become a music critic! ideal!

      Yours, in anger over your idiotic lies, Alex Verney-Elliott

  • harold says:

    Could we please all stop giving this moron the attention he craves for but does`t deserve?

  • I think it is a good thing that this happened. Classical music has become far to precious about itself, and as a professional classical performer and concert-goer, I would like to see more people shouting out and having diametrically opposed opinions or responses during concerts. Concert goers are far too passive and are leaving the role very public criticism in the hands of a few critics, who cowardly escape direct accountability for shouting out their views about concerts by hiding behind their newspaper column a few days later. Concerts in previous centuries were often rowdy affairs, both musically and socially, with much experimentation and conjecture going on, making concert-going a much more unpredictable environment. What fun! To pretend classical music is a holier than human event has robbed it of both the true musical spirit of inventiveness in the players, and subdued classical audiences to keeping their thoughts to themselves. The culture of music criticism as it is currently being practised is erroding the public’s confidence in their own responses, and creating a toxic climate which undermines appreciation of what is really important in the real high art of music making – and hearing the public’s opinion about it. I’m sure the guy who yelled out was probably a bit deranged, but I think to castigate a member of the audience for a spontaneous exclamation is downright oppressive, and such castigation should be re-directed and heaped upon those who really deserve it for ruining our experience of concerts weekly – the music critics, who often don’t demonstrate enough professional or humanitarian insight to deserve the space they get to air their views (with a few exceptions).

  • Istvan Horthy says:

    Verney-Elliott is clearly an obsessive and manic personality. He should be banned from all concert halls and opera houses.

  • Marcus Crompton says:

    I don’t see how this is an act of protest – it’s surely just an act of selfishness. If the performance doesn’t live up to your expectations, it’s just tough. If it’s too much to bear for your sensitive soul, and you really can’t get to the end without being mentally scarred. then at least have some respect for the rest of the audience and leave quietly.

    By all means go around to the stage door afterwards and berate the conductor, the horn player and the percussionist or whoever it is that has offended you, but don’t act like a three-year old and throw your toys all over the platform.

    If Mr Verney-Elliott is not capable of tolerating a few minutes of music that is not played according to his exact tastes, then he should refrain from attending concerts.

  • Pete says:

    OK, I took the bait and had a listen to this performance. Not a performance I would heckle, but it certainly is a Snoozer. And it really wasn’t even (what we used to call) a “party record.” It was just Lame.

    Speaking of other bad Bruckner performances, the Bruckner 9th performance I was at in 2001 with Boulez conducting the VPO in Carnegie Hall is at the top of my list. Painful.