Times follows up on Kyung-Wha’s coughing child

Times follows up on Kyung-Wha’s coughing child


norman lebrecht

December 03, 2014

Anna Picard has just posted her Times (paywall) review of the Kyung Wha Chung comeback concert.

She gives it two stars and reports (as we did earlierthe moment when, between the Allegro and Andantino cantabile of Mozart’s wistful Sonata in G, Chung turned to the parents of a child, whom I could not hear myself but was later told had been coughing, and said: “Maybe bring her back when she’s older.” With one shrivelling put-down, a tetchy atmosphere turned toxic.

We hear that other reviewers intend to mention the incident. Ms Chng would do well to apologise.

kyung wha


  • mark stratford says:

    The Telegraph review starts

    ==When a performer changes her frock half-way through a concert, it can only mean one thing: she knows she’s a star. Korean violinist Kyung-wha Chung is a “two-frock” performer, and she has the grand manner to go with it

  • Alexander Hall says:

    I am always on the side of performers whose concentration is affected by members of the audience who do not know how to behave and do not respect appeals issued in programme books and elsewhere to keep noise levels to an absolute minimum. Where was the parent at this point in the proceedings who should have had a tissue or handkerchief to hand in order to muffle the coughing? I regularly encounter patrons – often much older, who should indeed know better – who cough openly without any attempt to reduce the ensuing decibel levels. And by the way, in case anybody needs reminding, coughs and sneezes spread diseases.

  • SVM says:

    What petty hacks those critics are: too dim to comment on the music, they seek any pretext to create a scandal, irrespective of how reasonable the action may have actually been (a disruption does not need to be heard by the entire audience to be a disruption). Ban the lot of them, or, at least, stop giving them free tickets, receptions, and other perks!

    I sincerely hope that Chung does *not* apologise. As an esteemed soloist, she is in a better position than most to weather the storm of the unreasonable indignation of the political-correctness brigade; if for no other reason than to inspire the rest of the music profession to stand up to poor audience behaviour, she should stand by her actions.

    • SVM says:

      One more thing: has is not occurred to Picard that, for the performers, connoisseurs, and many non-connoisseurs in the audience, excessive coughing, fidgeting, and other noise render the atmosphere far more toxic than the awkwardness of a so-called ‘shrivelling put-down’ (which may actually come as a relief to some audience-members who have been getting fed up of the noise)?

    • MWnyc says:

      “What petty hacks those critics are: too dim to comment on the music, they seek any pretext to create a scandal”

      Did you actually read any of the reviews? You seem to think they commented on the actual performance not at all, only on the scandal.

      In the Guardian review, Erica Jeal devotes about half of one paragraph, out of four, to the coughing/scolding incident. And Jeal goes out of her way to explain how mentioning it is relevant – that it seemed to affect Ms. Chung’s playing and made the entire atmosphere in the hall more tense.

  • Anon says:

    I’ve seen several reviews of the concert and the pianist is getting much better reviews than the soloist. Seems like the Bach Chaconne was very romantic and indulgent.

  • Halldor says:

    Note to anyone who thinks music should be enjoyed in pristine silence without any possibility of human behaviour impinging on the experience (or, heaven forbid, the presence of “non-connoisseurs”): there are these things called “CDs”. And “headphones”.

    If even the more charitable interpretation of Ms Chung’s behaviour here are correct, she’s now a rather less “esteemed” soloist than previously, to this listener at least. Plenty of comparably great artists would never dream of acting this way.


    I don’t think she did say that. What I heard was something more like “perhaps you could get her some water”

    • Victoriarance says:

      So glad to see you write that as that’s what I heard and I was right over stage. Feel very aggrieved for her.

  • erich says:

    it is time that artists rebelled more against other appalling facets of audience behaviour: seen last night: eating ice creams (WHY are they allowed in the hall?), swigging from water bottles, reading and replying to emails etc.etc. The problem is that the RFH and other venues now seem to be Restaurants with incidental musical attachment.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      Hooray to somebody else who has registered a rapid downturn in the general behaviour of those who frequent the RFH. “The People’s Palace” is hardly much better than a doss house these days.

      • SVM says:

        It has been in downturn for years, I am afraid. I recall an orchestral concert conducted by Salonen, which took place just after Kurt Sanderling had died, and, as a tribute, Salonen prepended the scheduled programme with a short speech and a movement of a piece of early-Sibelius (I think it was from his Pelleas and Melisande suite). Sadly, an audience member about half-a-dozen seats to my left had failed to extinguish his telephone, and it bleeped during a very quiet passage in the music; I glared at the offender, but he showed absolutely no self-conciousness of what had happened, and made no effort to extinguish his device.

    • Erik says:

      Which hall was that?
      Ice cream?
      Don’t mix concert halls with cinemas…

  • Simon S. says:

    I’m not familiar with the Times’ starring policy – how many stars is the maximum?

  • Milka says:

    It’s only a violin recital,and Ms. Chung
    carries little import except to her fans .
    If the child was out of control in coughing excessively
    then the parents should have left the hall with the child ,they are at fault but Ms. Chung
    was stupid in making an unpleasant scene even more so .

  • Tim Walton says:

    Good on Kyung Wha Chung.

    I wish more soloists did this.

    When will be people that go to a concert realise that they are not just disturbing a soloist but thousands of others in the audience.

    I can well remember an early visit to Birmingham’s Symphony Hall when a ‘lady’ behind me (also on a gangway seat) coughed through out the first piece of music. Despite getting looks from me and others she just sat there and coughed.

    unable to stand it any more, at the end of the first piece I turned round and said

    ‘Please shut up, die, or go out’.

    Thankfully for everyone – over 2000 people – she took the latter option.

    Why should someone so oblivious to the annoyance they are causing be shown any respect when they are incapable of doing the same to other people attending the concert.

    • Boring Fileclerk says:

      Totally agree!

    • Tim Walton says:

      Obviously you’re one of those concert goers who has no thought about the enjoyment of others and are extremely selfish.

      Thankfully people with your kind of attitude are in the minority.

      • Tim Walton says:

        No, I spend thousands each year going to concerts to enjoy the music. Why should I have my enjoyment spoilt, along with many other people, because some ill manered oik doesn’t know how to behave and keep quiet.

        If they show me no consideration why should I have to put up with it. If these noisy people show no respect for others then then deserve all they get.

    • Violinclass says:

      I, too, completely agree with you. The audience absolutely does not know how to behave in concerts any more. Somebody has to let them know. And the best way to do it is from stage. It is the parents’ problem – not the artist’s – that they selfishly brought their sick child to spoil the concert for the soloist and for the patrons who were sitting nearby and had their enjoyment of the piece broken by their child’s unwanted noises. Do not bring your young – and/or sick – children to live evening concerts. It is utterly disrespectful to the performer and other audience members.

  • Roland says:

    I totally agree with Norman on this, that, as he said earlier, “A performer should not respond to audience disruption, accidental or otherwise. A performer needs to be ‘in the zone’, in a separate space, to maintain an illusion of inspiration that is unaffected by the mundane.”

    This entire event underlines for me why the classical music world is a decrepit and highly pretentious affair, alienating to all, but the initiated. What Ms. Chung did to that child will stay with that child for the rest of her life and the probable well-meaning intentions of her parents, to bring a child to such a concert, to expose them to great music, to a great artist, were ruined. I wouldn’t doubt if that child would now be revolted by the stuffy, pretentious world of classical music. If Ms. Chung is unable to concentrate because in an audience of nearly 2,000 people there are some coughs in December, then she must only play for small intimate, private gatherings with the prerequisite that all those in attendance may not cough, sniffle, fidget…and while were at it, neither breathe nor fart while she plays.

    May the “classical music museum” and all of the artists and public, who want to be its watchmen, rest in peace…forever!

    • Olaugh Turchev says:

      Have beer and popcorn too, belch and enjoy your recital while on the phone. The hall is yours… ciao.

    • Fubbs says:

      Oh Roland.

      >>“A performer should not respond to audience disruption, accidental or otherwise. A performer needs to be ‘in the zone’, in a separate space, to maintain an illusion of inspiration that is unaffected by the mundane.”

      Come off it. Why do they say ‘quiet please’ at the tennis, or golf? Try telling Tiger Woods that he should have been in the zone when someone let a klaxon off during his backswing. I’d LOVE to see his reaction.

      >>What Ms. Chung did to that child will stay with that child for the rest of her life and the probable well-meaning intentions of her parents, to bring a child to such a concert, to expose them to great music, to a great artist, were ruined. I wouldn’t doubt if that child would now be revolted by the stuffy, pretentious world of classical music.

      You’re right. I think she’ll probably come back stamping in about 20 years and lawsuit the hell out of Chung’s children. I’d love to find all the adults who told me what to do when I was a baby and pay them back for, you know, my LIFE.

      >>May the “classical music museum” and all of the artists and public, who want to be its watchmen, rest in peace…forever!

      Wait, why everyone all of a sudden? I thought you were just cross at Ms Chung, even though I think you may not have been at the concert. Now this envoi – apparently you’re cross at everyone in classical music. This is awful. You need some peace and quiet. Let me find you a nice little room with running water, balsam aromas, and a big ol’ coughing baby.

  • Nancy Wilken says:

    I’m in agreement with BOTH sides of the issue here. For me, the “modern”
    audience has not been “trained” for stretches of concentration needed to
    listen either to music or the theatre either. However, this “modern” audience
    can sit for hours watching a sports game or playing with computer games.
    Pinter commented on this when he said he’s written a play for 45 minutes
    & still “they” think it’s too long! On other side, when Artur Rubenstein was
    giving his 3 concerts @ 80 bithday celebration series @ Carnegie, while
    I could have “killed” the woman who came in late with rattling shopping bag
    for ALL 3 concerts (why she was admitted I don’t know–I complained). Her
    actions didn’t seem to bother Rubenstein’s concentration, went on playing
    Chopin’s nocturne unperturbed (while I didn’t). I still think it’s parents’
    failure to “train” their children how to sit & really listen to music or a theatrical
    performance (my grandfather instructed me very firmly HOW to sit, where your
    hands are, etc., very Germanic but excellent as I was going to live performances
    from age 5). Guess I’ll have to follow Rubenstein’s example (maybe all of us including performers).

  • Marshall says:


    The great Jon Vickers to a Dallas audience in 1975 during a performance of what came to be known as Dristan und Isolde

    Too bad Vickers isn’t around to deal with people and their damn cell phones and texting

  • Jeff says:

    Obviously the way Ms. Chung(and also MTT) handled this issue was rude and inconsiderate, and I definitely fear we just lost a few more future audience members during these outbursts, but as a performer, I do find it perplexing and often infuriating how 90% of soft, magical moments are interrupted by someone coughing right through them. I used to chalk this up to just the perils of live performance, but a recital of Thomas Quasthoff I saw in Boston changed my attitude. Quasthoff had been talking to the audience throughout the recital, but at the beginning of the second half, he politely and eloquently(sadly I forget what the exact words were) asked the audience to refrain from coughing during the music and(this was the amazing part) also in between songs. He didn’t shame anyone and he actually sympathized with the audience, but he theorized that it was impossible for so many people to have colds and asked that if you didn’t really have to cough, then why do it? No one I saw was offended by this(and most of the audience was guiltily laughing) and the amazing thing was, it worked! I heard one cough for the entire second half, and it was in between songs. The silence and attention that descended on the hall was breathtaking during that 45 minutes, and I’ll never forget it. So, it is definitely possible to make people stop coughing and making noise. Perhaps all we need to do is ask nicely?

    • Erik says:

      Well, not many people have the greatness of Quasthoff. That’s the way to do it I guess… Being polite and inviting people. Not awaiting respect, real respect is always two sided. Respect through authority or intimidation doesn’t work. Well, not really.

  • Prix d'excellence says:

    It is, to say the least sad, that there are still people who condone this kind of behaviour from concertgoers. As both a performer and a concertgoer, it has for years been evident that British concert venues have become glorified ear, nose and throat clinics. Between each movement of any given work, audiences in British concert venues believe it is their God given right to spew out their germs in public and ruin for the majority of listeners the ambience that only live music can create. For KWC to apologise for her actions last night would send totally the wrong message to those who belong to the “Tuberculosis club”. She, and other artists should stand firm on this issue, and reject that it is acceptable to trash people’s art by coughing loudly during a performance. If you are genuinely ill then do us all a favour and stay home, and spare us your germs.

    • Erik says:

      I think you quite misunderstood the point here. One should not point finger at one person or a child in a hall or anywhere addressing a general problem to just an individual. If she would have talked to the whole audience, fine. That’s all.

  • Mark Henriksen says:

    I would like to hear from the Ms. Chung, how the child disturbed her; maybe there were others things, like squirming or similar eye catching behavior. Also, she, as a soloist, was disturbed by a member of the audience to the point where she needed to say something. But here she is not being judged by her peers, who would perhaps understand “what its like”, but by people who are likely closer to being in the peer group of the audience member. I believe that accounts for the overwhelming outrage that a soloist could be disturbed by an audience member to the point of mild (and it was quite polite from what I’ve read) confrontation.

    • Erik says:

      Wrong, it is about arrogance and bad behavior. Or do you want to tell me, the people did go to the concert to disturb her or anybody in the hall? How unsocial to think that…

      Again, if the performers energy, spirit, devotion and concentration would be all in music, rather then on the peoples reaction, people would have no time to make a noise, because they would forget to breathe because they are dragged into the piece.

      Well, that’s a goal which can’t be reached probably by the most. But I have experienced it listening to great performances already. 2000 people. A vibrating beautiful silence.

  • Erik says:

    Obviously you’re one of those concert goers who are more focused about the people around you then on the music itself. That kind of rude talking deserves no tolerance. So you picked obviously on somebody who felt intimidated by your words. Bravo! What a hero, standing up for all people in the hall and telling somebody those rude things. Feeling strong now?
    Unfortunately people with your kind of attitude are in the majority.

  • Milka says:

    Next to the name Erik is a picture of a clown 00 speaks volumes .

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    There were a lot of ways this could have been handled, including ignoring it. Miss Chung picked out the worst one she could. Now there’s a 10-year-old child who will never want to go back to a concert hall.

    Classical music doesn’t have so many friends that it can afford to alienate them but it’s hard to think of another endeavor that treats its customers with such contempt. Look at the comments here that treat the audience as a coughing, sneezing nuisance. That’s about the only time the audience is considered anyway.

    100 years ago there were no alternatives to hearing classical music except attending a concert. 50 years ago, the alternative was difficult and expensive to obtain. Now there’s very little barrier to accessing a wider range of music than ever at low cost without leaving one’s residence.

    So my advice to any member of the general public thinking of attending a concert is: don’t. Don’t go. Deep down, they don’t want you there. You might screw up and cough and cause them to have a public tantrum. They think you should count yourself lucky they condescend to play for you. You can have a valid artistic exposure without them. What they will make from it is a pittance, but that’s a feature, not a bug.

    • SVM says:

      By failing to address poor behaviour on the part of some audience-members, loyal music-lovers and connoisseurs, both young and old, are being alienated. I know of people who have stopped attending concerts in certain venues on account of poor audience behaviour.

      Some people do not have the maturity to sit through a concert in a quiet and civilised manner — for the greater good of art, artists, and the rest of us, these people *deserve* to be discouraged from attending until such time that they are more mature.

  • Erik says:

    @ Tim Walton:

    I spend also thousands on concerts or something else. Doesn’t give you the right to talk to anybody that disrespectful, specially if that persons intentions, noises, weren’t the purpose to spoil your enjoyment. Again, if you would talk to me or anybody I know in that intimidating way, I would just ask you to come out and discuss your inappropriate behavior. Why did you pick that lady? Pick a gentleman next time.
    You are ill manared to talk to a person you don’t know like that. How weak is that. Not comparable to a caughing person.
    You want consideration? Probably that is your main problem. You can’t buy it with thousands. And certainly not by telling somebody to die.

  • Glenn Hardy says:

    Can’t we even have a discussion here without the testosterone-fueled aggression of a boys locker room?

    • MWnyc says:

      Glenn, have you not been around Slipped Disc for long?

      Unfortunately, experience suggests that the answer to your question is no.

      Just tune it out as much as you can. As they say in 12-Step program meetings, “Take what you like and leave the rest.”

  • Tom says:

    Regardless of what Ms. Chung actually said, politeness goes a long way in any “tense” situation. As the old joke goes “people with bronchitis don’t go to the doctor, they go to a classical concert.” I can understand that a musician performing a solo recital could get to a point of distraction due to persistent coughing. Ms. Chung was correct in making the remark between movements, but perhaps she could have said something like “I’m sorry, but it seems like your child isn’t well. I’ll wait so you can take her to the foyer to get a drink of water without disturbing other listeners.” But that would probably have been interpreted as rude too in some way.

    I do think that if you bring a child under 10-12 years of age to a concert, you shouldn’t sit in the front of the concert hall, since kids can be unpredictable. Or, if you know you have a cough, you should exchange your ticket for a seat in the back, preferably on the end of a row so you can leave and get some lozenges or water if you can’t stop coughing. It’s simple courtesy towards everyone in the hall.