Thielemann concert is disrupted in Hong Kong

Thielemann concert is disrupted in Hong Kong


norman lebrecht

March 01, 2015

Apparently, someone applauded too soon. The conductor got annoyed. A ruckus developed in the audience. Story here.



  • Nick says:

    The regular audience for classical music in Hong Kong is quite sophisticated. I suspect the problem here was that the concert opened the annual Arts Festival. This has always had a commercial sponsor with tons of best seat tickets to dish out to its clients and VIPs, many of whom have never been to a concert in their lives. The same will be true of most government officials.

    It always amazes me that those who have little clue about what they are hearing take it upon themselves to lead applause. This seems particularly a Hong Kong trait. I heard a wonderful concert with Thielemann and the Staatskapelle in Taipei little over 2 years ago which also had a sponsor. You could have heard the proverbial pin drop throughout, there was no early applause and the cheering at the end only stopped when Thielemann led the orchestra off platform. That audience knew its music. The few that didn’t knew their manners.

    • Graeme Hall says:

      Arts Festival audiences are indeed always the worst. Socialites, tai-tais, politicians. You can always tell by the way they struggle to understand the concept of a letter indicating a row and then a number for a seat within that row. It always seems to baffle them.

      I always remember the look that David Atherton gave an audience when they applauded after the first movement of Beethoven 5.

  • Takis says:

    Early applause is surely a very disturbing fact .
    Thielemann was very angry, when a few years ago in Athens, the same happened during a Wagner concert.
    Maybe a solution is, an announcement before the beggining of music-by someone, maybe the conductor himself-not to applause for a few seconds after the last nores.

  • Andrew Condon says:

    A 20 minute Metamorphosen? I sincerely hope not!

  • Barbara says:

    Ooh, some real elitists here!

    • MacroV says:

      It’s not elitist to expect that people keep quiet until the music is done! And if you’re not familiar with the ritual – and EVERY activity, not just classical music, has a ritual known to the regulars and perhaps mystifying to the newcomers – keep quiet and watch what the others do. It’s both good manners and prudence.

      • DLowe says:

        Well said. This pathetic cry of “elitism” every time someone criticises rank misbehaviour from an audience member/members is tiresome. Grow up.

  • Lucy Harbin says:

    Yes, I can think of no better way to build the audience for classical music than to holler at a newcomer, “You IDIOT! You’re doing it ALL WRONG, you STUPID BARBARIAN!”

    The fact that the person was the only one applauding would have been clue enough of the gaffe, and they’ll almost certainly be more cautious and aware of this unwritten rule at the next concert.

    Remember, the idea of maintaining silence between movements and waiting until the conductor signals visually “the performance is over” is purely a convention, and no one is born knowing such conventions. Sometimes people have the advantage of learning them ahead of time, but other times they learn (as we all do) by making mistakes. Expecting 100% perfect adherence to the Rules of Audience Conduct is utterly unrealistic and can produce nothing but misery on both sides.

  • Peter Freeman says:

    To Macrov’s last two commodities I would add common sense.
    This has its counterpart in the opera house, with the artistically insensitive but widespread faux pas of clapping down the curtain when the music has not yet ended. I always suspect that the perpetrators of this custom are the stuffed shirts, perhaps reluctantly dragged there by wives or heads of sponsoring companies they work for, who are so bored and somnolent in their incomprehension that they are actually applauding with some relief the fact that their imposed ordeal has ceased.
    Decades ago during the ENO Goodall Ring cycles, this was brought up by an audience member at a seminar held in the auditorium. The late Lord Harewood observed in response that Wagner had indicated in his scores the precise point at which the curtain should fall. I then suggested instead doing a stage and pit blackout when the music had ended before dropping the tabs, nowadays quite a common practice, to which he retorted dismissively “we could but I don’t think we shall”. More’s the pity!

    • MacroV says:

      I hold special contempt for those pretentious twits – almost certainly not newbies – who applaud too soon at the end of most Wagner operas. It’s not ignorance, they know the music and the ritual. But I really don’t know the motivation – too quick to show their enthusiasm, in any case.

      Want to show your appreciation? Great. Just wait until until everyone else is doing it. There’s no particular merit to being the first mover.

  • RW2013 says:

    I don’t know how to behave at a football-, baseball-, whatever game, so I just don’t go.

  • Papageno says:

    After the L.A. Philharmonic played the final gorgeous note from Bruckner’s 9th a few months back, Herbert Blomstedt slowly lowered his arms over what seemed like 30 seconds. The audience was so utterly quiet that you could hear a pin drop (and in Disney Hall, you usually do).

    Made a flawless performance that much more ethereal.

    • Nick says:

      I do think conductors should be informed in advance when a large number of non-regular concert-goers will be in the audience. Through their actions they can do quite a bit to quell unwanted applause before it starts. Many times I have seen conductors at the end of a particularly triumphant brassy movement instantly drop their hands, put their baton on the stand and mop their brows, as if signalling to newcomers, “Well that’s it – we’ve come to the end!” But through their arm and baton movements they could with relative ease convey a different message, that there’s still more to come.

      I am absolutely in favour of anyone coming to concerts whether they have been before or not and whether they have heard the music before or not. Personally I have no issue with applause between movements. But attending a concert is a communal activity and disturbing the actual music should be actively discouraged by some means or another.

      Not long ago I heard another ‘touchy’ artist, Krystian Zimerman, perform a superb Brahms First elsewhere in Asia. Prior to the start of the concert, I noticed in the stalls there must have been 50 or more phone and Pad devices taking videos of the hall and the orchestra coming on stage. The usual announcement was then made prior to the overture about phones being switched off and no photographs being taken. Some were still being used. To meet the artist’s wishes, though, another announcement was made following the overture – this time adding a request for no applause prior to the end of the three movements.

      It worked! I have no idea how many newcomers to concert-going were in the audience, but with some 13 major and minor sponsors I’ll bet my hat that there were at least 50 or more. No-one was upset about the double announcement and everyone followed the requests. Thereafter I think all I heard apart from the music were a couple of muffled coughs and a thunderous standing ovation at the end. To me that goes some way to proving that you can indeed guide audiences without making them feel “admonished” (pace Ms. Fleming).

  • Peter Freeman says:

    Well said, RW! Same here!

  • Christy says:

    “We need people not to be afraid that they’ll be admonished for what they wear, how they look or if they clap at the ‘wrong’ times or respond in the ‘wrong’ way. We need people to understand that they’re welcome.” – Renee Fleming

    I am beginning to understand why some purist/elitists don’t like Ms. Fleming. Welcoming people to classical music is overrated.

  • Jerome Hoberman says:

    Sorry to disappoint those who write, complaining about ignorant elitists attending their first concerts, but I was at the concert in question — in fact, the fellow who shouted at the early applauder as the intermission began was sitting directly in front of me. The overly-enthusiastic applauder was in the cheapest seats (behind the orchestra, and so, in the conductor’s direct line of vision); he wasn’t a VIP by any means. But he was so intent on showing that he loved the performance more than anyone else had that he broke the mood not once but twice, while the conductor was holding onto the framing silence. Thielemann may (must) have been angry, but the only way he showed it was by perhaps ever-so-slightly tightening his lips; his and the orchestra’s discipline were admirable. There was quite a bit of applause for the man who shouted that the guy had ruined the performance and should leave. That episode, for me, was the only memorable thing about this performance, which was the first, of the many I’ve heard, that made me question whether Metamorphosen is, in fact, a worthwhile piece of music. The applause and following outburst were by far the most passionate parts of the performance.

  • Papageno says:

    Funny that you mention Ms. Fleming — one of my favorite singers who I’ve had the great fortune to see in London and Los Angeles. At a recital that I attended of hers in Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, she asked (politely, of course) after the audience applauded between songs that they not do so until the song cycle was completed. So her quote about not making people afraid to clap at the wrong times feels a tad hollow. But then again, I understand where she was coming from, and Renee was cool about it.

    • Christy says:

      Yes, I had a similar experience at one of her recitals just recently. But I’m not sure it had any effect. She made a humorous comment about waiting to clap until she finished Schumann’s “Frauenliebe und -leben”, although the audience (in the frozen, snowy East) didn’t obey when she arrived at “Spring is coming!”, which she actually encouraged.

      The audience also clapped over the music once and the end of her final note once in the second part of the recital, which included a sing-along. Conflicting signals. 😉

      It was a wonderful recital filled with many teens and young people in the sold out audience, with clothes ranging from jeans to gowns. It was encouraging to see, and probably the youngest average audience I’ve ever seen at a recital of pure art song (Joyce DiDonato may have matched it).

  • Eugene says:

    I was at the second night (Saturday), the situation isn’t much better. While Thielemann is letting the echoes of the last note of Ein Heldenleben to succumb and fade out, there is a “bravo” heard immediately after the players stopped playing. I haven’t attended the first night but the same had happened for Metamorphorsen.

    Here it isn’t about movement clapping – if comparing these two I would rather have people clapping after the likes of the first movement of Brahms’ First Piano Concerto or Tchaikovsky’s First or Second Piano Concerto, or even Pathetique’s or Mahler 9 third movement.

    I also reckon how people immediately burst into applause last year for Budapest’s Bruckner 9, and quite a few year ago the Bavarian Radio’s Nimrod encore with Daniel Harding.

    I agree with previous comments that this is “unique” for the Arts Festival, seldom occurs at the local HKPhil’s concert, but the music murderer may not be the tai-tai, the riches, and the officials. Among my friends we think that it’s those listeners who don’t quite know about the piece but want to show off how well they know where the piece ends. I hope they could reserve themselves to a Beethoven 9 or Mahler 1. These two Strauss pieces apparently is not of the mood for immediate applause.

  • william osborne says:

    Someone in Hong Kong clapped too soon in yet another of Herr Thielemann’s overly dramatic afterglows! What’s the world coming to? Some feel there are troubling motives behind the memorial aspects of Metamorphosen. Hope that isn’t why Thielemann got so mad about the fly in his ointment. Might fit in with his recent defense of Pegida. I wish Germany were a place where one no longer had to worry about such things.

    • Max Grimm says:

      He’s been known to get angry at early applause long before Pegida and I’ve seen it happen with Bruckner, Debussy and Verdi.

  • Iain Scott says:

    There’s something about all of this, the programme,the reverence,that just sounds so unwelcoming . It’s a miracle the hall was full with that programme anyway. Metamorphosen is not a crowd puller

  • herrera says:

    You clapping snobs…

    Oh, it’s not hard to be a clapping snob, after your very first concert, you would have learned all the rules to clap or not to clap, and by your second concert, you automatically gain entry into the clapping snob club.

    I’d put money on the “tai tais” that they appreciated the music much more than the clapping snobs.

    I’d certainly put money on the “tai tais” that they contributed more money to the Arts Festival than all the clapping snobs put together.

    Without the enthusiasm, appreciation, and largesse of the “tai tais”, you clapping snobs would have no Arts Festival to go to, either to clap or not to clap.

    Without the tai tais, you clapping snobs would have no concert to go to to clap or not to clap.

    • Nick says:

      Funny – but not true! The husbands of those tai-tais don’t give much to the arts despite all the sponsorship freebies they receive. A report last year in the South China Morning Post confirmed the Hong Kong Arts Festival is very heavily subsidised by the government, with relatively insignificant sponsorship from the private sector. Ticket Sales approach 50% of costs. The honourable exception in Hong Kong is The Swire Group which donates something in the region of US$1.7 million each year to the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

  • Dan P says:

    Who exactly are the “tai-tais?” Never heard the term before.

  • Michael says:

    In Italy, we used to play opera matinees, where a lot of people from the country used to be bussed in to attend the performance. They would always applaud before the music ended. The regular opera goers would always shush the people applauding, thereby making even more noise. The country people were never intimidated, and would keep on applauding, knowing that the music signaled the end of number, and was written in a certain way to be applauded to. The snobs just wanted to let the farmers know that they were not welcome to share the same theater with them.

  • Novagerio says:

    Mr Osborne, be assured that the Dresden Staatskapelle and Maestro Thielemann are among the few institutions of wich to be proud of in the cultural sector in today’s Germany. And please, keep the Pegida out of the concert hall.

  • Barbara says:

    When I mentioned elitists I was really thinking of the snobby people on this blog who thought that employees of the sponsors of Arts Festivals who therefore got free or complimentary tickets were ignorant peasants.

    • Jerome Hoberman says:

      Well, I did notice that C Y Leung — Hong Kong’s chief executive — who I’d assume was comped his ticket, didn’t return for the second half. Guess he prefers Strauss to Bruckner.

    • Nick says:

      Ah, but you are wrong! Those freebies rarely if ever go to employees of the sponsoring companies. The generally go to the mega-rich and the friends of the mega-rich and many are there only because it is an occasion on the social calendar at which they are expected to be seen (although I suppose that can be said of many high profile arts premieres). “Peasants” they are not. “Ignorant” they are.

  • William Safford says:

    With rare exceptions, when I hear applause at what is traditionally considered by us cognoscenti as an inopportune moment, I assume that the source is an enthusiastic newcomer to classical music, and cut him or her some slack.

    Our applause traditions may seem obvious to us, but they really aren’t.

    For example, we say that one shouldn’t applaud in between movements. Yet how can a newcomer know when one movement ends and another one begins? What if movements elide (e.g. Beethoven 5th (symphony or concerto!) from the third to fourth movement) or if there are grand pauses that could seem like the end of a piece (e.g. any Bruckner symphony)? Not to mention that rascally Haydn and his false endings, or the over-the-top PDQ Bach….

    What about operas? Do we applaud at the end of an aria, or not until the end of an act, or when? Or maybe after the tenor’s high C?

    Ballet? People applaud all the time. *I’m* not always sure when to or not to applaud.

    What if we feel moved to applaud at the end of a particularly inspired performance, even if it’s at the end of a movement but not the end of the piece?


    People sometimes make mistakes. I once applauded at the wrong point in a solo recital. The soloist smiled, shook his head, and continued playing. Kudos to him!