Chicago Symphony audience is accused of ‘disrespect’

Chicago Symphony audience is accused of ‘disrespect’


norman lebrecht

February 10, 2015

A young man went to hear the orchestra play music from The Godfather. He was surprised that many in the audience behaved like moviegoers (exactly the demographic the CSO and every other US orch is trying to attract). So he wrote a letter to the local paper:



chicago so godfather

I think Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert goers need a refresher course on civility. Last night’s performance by the CSO, playing the score to “The Godfather,” was remarkable and very well played by the orchestra.

Unfortunately, the audience members, by and large, behaved like they were at a showing of “The Godfather” in Millennium Park. The transgressions ranged from constant chatter, cell phones ringing, cell phone use, sneaking in crinkly chips and candy wrappers and inexplicable laughter and cheering for once classic movie lines, now made into a gimmick by the audience. It was readily apparent most in attendance took neither the movie nor the performance seriously.

What bothers this writer most, however, is that nobody seemed to remember they were not at a viewing of “The Godfather,” but they were at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and while the audience ruined both, the disrespect for the performers was truly astounding.

The biggest atrocity of the evening came upon the closing scene of the movie. As the credits began to roll, the audience simply gathered their things, spoke at normal volume and proceeded out the aisle; perhaps unaware the lights remained off (due to the glow of their cell phones) and deaf to the Orchestra completing their performance (by those talking around them).

I am 26 years old. While I do not pretend to be a snob for high-art, I certainly know how to behave at performances. I hope those going to the encore performance tonight, or any other performance in the future, enjoy it. I also hope they can pay the orchestra and fellow audience members some respect and show up on time, sit, be quiet and put their phone away for a few hours.

— Thomas Carol, Chicago


  • Susan Bradley says:

    He may be young, but this person understands.

  • RW2013 says:

    The general public should be banned from public places…

  • Rgiarola says:

    20 years ago the complaint was that people were dressing too casual, as if they were going to the movies. Are there any complain now a days concerning it? Or there are people that still thing audience should go black-tie, or at the least with a jacket?

    • Mikey says:

      The way you dress has zero impact on the listening experience of others around you.
      The comparison you make is false.

      • Rgiarola says:

        I agree with you Mikey. I was not comparing, but just asking. I’m sorry for the lack of clearness.

        The point is that noise/lights also disturb a lot at any movie theater, and especially during a classical such “The godfather”. There isn’t any reason to believe that silence is a high-brown snobbism during any artistic presentation. If you’re there to talk but not to pay attention, you must go to a pub. However We cannot mix up the fact that disturbing noise/lights aren’t just produced by people on casual behavior/dress, like the ones that attend regularly movie theater but not concert hall. There many regular concertgoers with and without jackets that do a lot of the bad things described by Mr. Carol, especially during pianissimos at very high intellectual pieces of music .

        I hope I misunderstood it at all, but in some ways Mr. Carol makes me thing that he was focusing during most of his lines. Unfortunately in a way that sounds really snobbism concerning the seventh art.

        Ps: By the way, Riccardo Muti venerates Nino Rota, Morricone, Fellini, Antonioni etc.

  • John Kelly says:

    After superb concerts recently at Carnegie Hall, this is surely a case of “from the sublime to the ridiculous.” Maybe the CSO won’t sign up for this nonsense again…………….

  • SVM says:

    Unfortunately, London is almost as bad at some concerts. My listening experience at last week’s BBCSO concert at the Barbican was marred by a woman behind me repeatedly doing her shoelaces during the music, a man crinkling the pages of the newspaper he was reading so loudly that I could hear it from the other side of the stalls (he also noisily put on his coat about five minutes before the end of the concert), and incessant applause between the individual Strauss songs, which, besides gratuitously obliterating the musical atmosphere, often started before a song had actually concluded (and to add insult to injury, one couple not far away from me made no attempt to disguise their scorn at my silent glaring at the premature clappers).

    Fortunately, the BBCSO performed superbly on that occasion (I particularly enjoyed the second movement of Kagel), but I still felt somewhat cheated of the money I paid for my seat on account of the absence of any attempt by either the conductor or the house staff to do anything about the despicable audience behaviour (particularly shocking given that the concert was being broadcast live on Radio 3).

    • Anne says:

      “doing her shoelaces…….crinkling the pages of the newspaper……put on his coat……incessant applause……my silent glaring at the premature clappers”

      You must be an absolute joy to be with. May I suggest you invest in a CD player?

      • Alexander says:

        There’s no need for the sarcastic comment. SVM simply knows how to behave in a concert hall. During a performance, short of medical emergency, there really is no excuse for talking, reading, even moving (as this can cause your chair to make a sound, and seeing movement can be a distraction). Particular hates of mine include (a) unwrapping sweets, (b) putting on and taking off spectacles, (c) wearing two or more bracelets, which invariably make a noise as they touch each other, (d) men with stubble who touch their faces, as this makes a very unpleasant noise, (e) people who breathe loudly through their noses, (f) applause between movements, (g) people who conduct from their seats. Listening to music requires silence and stillness, as these are essential for concentration.

      • Brian says:

        Misplaced sarcasm, Anne. It’s not elitist to point out that a classical music concert is not a mosh pit.

    • John Kelly says:

      Guy at Carnegie Hall last Sunday afternoon was trying to eat a sandwich from the Deli during the first movement of Beethoven #2 (Met Orchestra/Levine) – in the Dress Circle no less. Noisy, ignorant and stupid. After several attempts by the ushers he eventually (noisily) put it away. 40 years of concertgoing and I have never seen that. Nonetheless, he refused to turn off his cellphone as he needed the light to read his programme. He left after the first movement of Schumann #2, an exceptional performance, but there you have it.

  • Outraged says:

    Pawlowian dogs. Film music starts… think they are in a movie theater.

  • JAMA11 says:

    Some day, someone will collect sets of comments like these. They will be published in a book, and the book will be titled “Why Classical Music Is No Longer a Going Concern.” I don’t think anyone will have to look much farther than this blog for all the evidence needed.

    • Mikey says:

      So it becomes of no import because people actually want to hear it and experience it without being disturbed by noisy, inconsiderate individuals?

  • Doug says:

    To give this some historical context, the notion of a live orchestra concert being like a “solemn religious service” was started by none other than Leopold Stokowski in the United States. Somehow the notion spread from the early 20th century to where it is today. Until then, people were simply being “social” as they instinctively knew how at concerts; talking, eating, and including openly commenting on the performance. So you might want to consider first of all to burst your 20th century bubble before issuing any more fatwas.

    • John says:

      I never went to any concerts in the early 20th century. Do you have a primary source that indicates that audiences ‘talked, ate and commented socially’ at performances prior to Stokowski? I would tend to doubt it, beyond secondary comments describing a first performance, etc.. However, I would be interested to know if there’s a book that addresses this aspect of the history of concerts. I’ve looked long and hard for one, but have been unsuccessful.

      I suspect this person’s experience with the Godfather had to do with the type of audience who might come to a concert like that but not be likely to be the same audience that would attend one of the CSO subscription concerts with standard symphonic repertoire. I’ve experience that in other cities.

      Vis a vis Doug’s comment, if I paid a couple hundred bucks to hear the LA Phil in Disney Hall, I’d feel somewhat entitled to an ‘unobstructed view’ of the sounds coming from the stage.

    • Brian says:

      I don’t think Stokie is to blame, can you please source your allegation? GBS was complaining about behavior of toff boxholders at Covent Garden in the 1890s, talking, laughing, coming and going during Wagner performances. Similar complaints appear in NY papers in the same period. Why does anyone think they have the right to spoil other’s enjoyment of the music?

      • John Kelly says:

        Stoki’s speeches to the Philly audience were a response to talking and putting shopping packages on the front of the stage during Matinees which were frequently retrieved by departing audience members long before the conclusion of the last work on the program. Haven’t seen that of late.
        I did however experience, in Buenos Aires, a lovely Brazilian couple in our box who chatted their way through Butterfly, except for when they sang along to the few bits they knew………………

  • Brian says:

    I’m curious. How do people feel about score readers at concerts? It’s usually to dark to consult one without severe eyestrain, except at some choral concerts where the lights are partly up for the audience to see the text in the program. Personally, I have no objection sitting next to one as long as they’re not conducting, and let me peer over their shoulder. Other I’m sure find it an annoyance…

  • Ann says:

    To the disgruntled concert goer – I don’t think you fully understood the context of the performance last week. Which, by the way, I attended, thoroughly enjoyed, stayed in my seat until the last note was played then gave an enthusiastic standing ovation.

    You can’t criticize audience member reacting to the dialogue or to scenes in the movie just like you can’t criticize audiences from laughing or crying or gasping during a live theatre performance. The medium of film and theatre is an interactive one, so I am pretty certain that such behavior was not only appropriate but expected!

    I will agree, speaking as a frequent theatre goer and as an occasional performer, that noisy food wrappers, loud chattering and cell phones qualifies as rude audience behavior whether you’re seeing the symphony, a play or the opera. I will also agree that the people jumped up to leave the minute the credits started rolling was unfortunate. But I think those people were there more for the movie than the orchestra. Like I said, I stayed until the very end and am very glad I did. It was a glorious evening and I can’t wait until they until they perform another movie again. Bravo CSO!

  • Allen says:

    It’s a matter of degree. We actually have complaints here about people doing their shoelaces, crinkling a newspaper, applauding inappropriately, moving, reading, putting on and taking off spectacles, wearing two or more bracelets, men with stubble touching their faces, and people breathing loudly through their noses.

    I couldn’t satirise a precious classical audience better than this. If these self-righteous whiners want to ensure that the current audience for classical concerts is the last, this is the way to go about it.

  • Tesse says:

    So we should sacrifice our concert listening experience in an effort to attract audience that we hope never to see again after one night of this behavior?