Swedish orch shows how to handle concert disruption

Swedish orch shows how to handle concert disruption


norman lebrecht

April 12, 2015

There were noises off stage at Friday night’s concert at the Gothenburg Symphony hall.

A disabled teenager, brought by her parents, began expressing loud approval of the music. A member of the audience got up and told the family to shut her up. The family left.

After the interval, Sten Cranner, the Gothenburg Symphony president and artistic director, addressed the audience. He said: ‘In 25 years in this sector I have never experienced anything like this. But I think one should be tolerant’. He added that he had spoken to the family and assured them that they were welcome at any of the orchestra’s forthcoming concerts.

The audience gave a one-minute standing ovation.

Report here.

The conductor was Santtu-Matias Rouvali and the visiting orchestra the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic.

gothenburg sym

UPDATE: The audience member shouted at the child and her family after the opening work, a piece called Threads by Paula af Malmborg Ward.

The concert continued with Prokofiev violin concerto no.2, soloist Valeriy Sokolov, and Shostakovich 9th symphony.



  • SVM says:

    If the teenager “began expressing loud approval of the music” whilst the music was ongoing, then I applaud the action of the audience-member who “told the family to shut her up”. It is quite reasonable for paying audience-members to expect to be able to enjoy a concert without any interruption from others; if the teenager in question were simply incapable of staying quiet, the family should not be taking him/her to concerts (at least the family had the decency to leave as soon as they were reprimanded). Audience-members travel far and pay good money for the very special experience of live music in an environment that is as free of other noise as is humanly possible.

    • Robin D Bermanseder says:

      So if your partner were so moved by the music that he/she was driven to loud sobs of joy, in a moment of epiphany and life changing inspiration, you would not object to me asking you both to leave?

      • MWnyc says:

        Quiet sobs are fine and dandy. Loud sobs? You’d be totally within your rights to ask us to leave, though you should ask us to keep quiet at least once before trying to evict us. And I’d have tried to quiet the sobber down myself first.

        Part of the implicit deal we make when we go to grown-up concerts is that we’ll display the self-control of grown-ups and emote quietly enough not to disturb our fellows.

      • cabbagejuice says:

        Maybe in a camp revival but not a concert hall does one expect to hear loud sobs prompted by “I got religion!”

      • cabbagejuice says:

        I really question how many times in one’s life are there instantaneous epiphanies caused by music that one would be moved to shout with joy. I can see this happening in religious revival camps where shouting is the norm. In Western concert halls such outpourings of emotion are reserved for clapping at the end. Otherwise it is a damned nuisance.

    • Olaugh Turchev says:

      Don’t you get it? They are supposed to pay good money to hear the teen enjoying herself while music is being played.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Oh what a dreadful selfish thing to say.

    The teenager was enjoying herself and the audience and the orchestra could see this.
    Ever heard the saying there but for the grace of God go I?

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    According to the article in Göteborgs Posten that was the teenager’s first orchestral Concert.

    • SVM says:

      That begs the question: did the parents clearly explain the importance of observing silence during the concert, prior to the concert? If not, they have behaved most irresponsibly, and should take the full blame for what happened. If they did, then we should be less judgmental of the *parents* (but very judgmental of the teenager, whose behaviour was unacceptable), since children can be unpredictable — especially when in a new environment for the first time — at the best of times. That said, a parent has a responsibility to deal with his/her child’s misbehaviour *before* someone else complains. If that means (quietly and discreetly) leaving the auditorium, so be it.

  • bratschegirl says:

    One of the orchestras in which I play has the pianist Stephen Prutsman as a regular soloist. He has a child with autism and is very active in the community of families who have children thus challenged. I suspect that he has a depth of experience and understanding of this issue that none of us can match.

    When he comes to play with us, at his request we open our dress rehearsal – not a performance – to these families. The children and their parents can experience the music free from worry about the consequences of any otherwise inappropriate physical or vocal activity, and on the following days all of us onstage and off can have the undisturbed concert atmosphere that is what performers need and what the paying audience deserves.

    • SVM says:

      Open rehearsals in the manner described are a laudable thing, but the commentator should be careful not to make the implicit assumption that all autistic people were “challenged”. There is no doubt that some autistic people (and their families) truly struggle to go about their daily lives, but many are in no way disabled, and are perfectly capable of (and, in some cases, even better than “normal” people at) respecting simple etiquette such as staying quiet at a concert. To even suggest otherwise is as offensive as homophobia (it is worth remembering that the first edition of DSM classed homosexuality as a “disorder”).

      • cabbagejuice says:

        Lest we insult by implication and scandalize the thought police, please be aware that autism is a neuro developmental disorder characterized by poor impulse control. Of course this is a spectrum and so-called normal folk may have trouble containing themselves when stressed out or ill.
        The point is, like cutting a person in line at the supermarket or train, what IF everyone were permitted to act out? OK, it might happen that a kid might make an outburst but that should not become the norm. Put it this way, what if even a small percentage of a listening audience were shouting with joy?
        And really what in tarnation does homophobia have to do with it, except it is on the list of politically correct crimes against humanity?

  • Olaugh Turchev says:

    Organize special concerts so regular audience can listen to the piece and disabled teens can listen to the piece, in their own way too. respect for both.

  • Maria Vlachou says:

    Orchestras and theatres in a number of countries are introducing the so-called “relaxed sessions”, wishing to be more inclusive, also for people with autism and mental disability, their families and friends, who, as things stand today, have rarely got the opportunity to enjoy a performance or a concert together. It’s a pity the audience that gave the standing ovation did not prevent the family from leaving in the first place…

  • William Safford says:

    It seems that the “cure” (the member of the audience) was worse than the “disease” (the ebullient teenager).

  • MacroV says:

    I do feel some sympathy for the annoyed audience member. People pay good money to hear concerts and are paying to hear the performers, not other audience members. And can we give the person the benefit of the doubt that he/she was not aware of the child’s disability and inability to keep quiet?

    That said, I do wonder about what seems to have been a relatively un-subtle manner of admonishing the parents; surely there are tactful ways to do these things. And I surely don’t want to discourage anyone from exposing their child to live musical performance.

    I hope the discussion would degenerate into one of those “This is the kind of thing that will kill classical music…” things. Audiences at lots of events – plays, movies, lectures, etc., also don’t appreciate noise from fellow audience members.

  • Alexander says:

    I always struggle with this question. On the one hand, I would like to think that I have nothing but sympathy for people who have to deal with these additional challenges in life, whether for themselves or family members (usually their children). I would like to think that I would make people in this situation feel welcome in any area of my life. On the other hand, it can be very difficult when somebody cannot help making significant interruptions. A few years ago I was at a performance of Die Dreigroschenoper and found myself sitting directly in front of a young gentleman who made involuntarily noises throughout the performance and at times sang along with the music loudly enough that people several rows forward began turning around to ask him to be quiet. One person became very abusive. I really don’t know what the solution is. I instinctively feel that classical music should be as accessible as possible to all, but I also recognise that it is highly unsatisfactory when one audience member ruins a performance for everybody else. It probably depends upon the extent and degree of the interruption. I was once at a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall sitting nearby to an older person who evidently had a physical illness which caused him to experience some sort of physical spasm accompanied by a noise. One clearly could not complain about this. On the other hand I once sat next to an elderly lady with a younger woman whom I took to be her daughter. The older woman clearly was suffering from some kind of dementia and kept asking her daughter questions, speaking at normal volume. I think that should a time come when I am too unwell to enjoy a concert in silence (or near silence) I would probably prefer to withdraw from the live music scene and listen to recorded music at home without the worry that I was interrupting other audience members’ experience. But I can say that in the knowledge that I have already had the privilege of attending hundreds of live performances, probably already well over a thousand. If I had been denied that opportunity all my life I would probably feel differently.

    • Alexander says:

      Just to clarify, I didn’t mean to suggest that I find a mental disorder in some way more offensive than a physical disorder. The distinction was that the person I was sitting near to who had this physical spasm only experienced it once in the whole concert, whereas the lady with dementia (or whatever the technical term should be) kept up a pretty noisy conversation throughout.

  • Paul says:

    What is needed is good customer service by the organization. If a particular performance is not up to a customer’s standards, whatever that means, they should be given an immediate refund of their ticket. No questions asked!

  • ES says:

    Much got lost in translation/reporting of this story.
    Yes, the child, attending a live concert for the first time, reacted joyously to the music in a way that irritated one (1!!) man sitting relatively close by. However, HIS loud criticism and apparent insensitive intolerance caused upset feelings for MANY…
    The parents – surprised by the degree of enthusiasm their kid showed, and mortified by the criticism – immediately took the child outside… Mom in tears, Dad embarrassed.
    The general manager went to see if they were OK, and through conversation agreed they would come back for the child to experience a rehearsal instead.

    In order not to leave the matter unresolved for ALL the other audience members who had noticed the conflict, he chose to let them know the family was OK, as well as make a statement about the orchestra’s commitment to serving ALL people, regardless of issues, under circumstances tailored to special needs.
    That prompted a standing ovation.
    As it should.

    The point is to address, publicly, the issues that keep people out of music’s reach…

    Personally, I would have to say that cell phones and candy wrappers, people running to their coats and cars before the last note of an epic musical journey, or judgmental running commentary are far more offensive than the occasional (!) expressively joyous child, whose parents have the audacity (!?!?) to experiment with live concert attendance… And as a performer, although a momentary adjustment of concentration might be necessary, it would be worth it to get to play that role in someone’s life!

  • Jaakko Kuusisto says:

    Clarification: Sten Cranner is not the president of the orchestra that played this concert, but of the Gothenburg Symphony and their Symphony Hall, where the concert took place.

  • Jonas Erkman says:

    An also-ran who does not dare to write her/his own name seldom contrubutes to a dialogue. This is the case here too: “….irritated one (1!!) man sitting relatively close by”. Mr “ES” obviously did not attend the concert.