South Bank concerts chief lashes into her audience

South Bank concerts chief lashes into her audience


norman lebrecht

September 16, 2015

Gillian Moore is unhappy at all those misery-guts who spend their concert time finding fault with others, usually other people in the audience.

The woman in the seat behind vigorously poked my friend on the shoulder. ‘You were moving your head up and down during the music,’ she said. ‘You need to learn to behave in concerts, or stay at home!’

The woman in the seat behind had paid for her ticket. The woman she was criticising, a music biz insider, had not.

This is possibly more complicated than it looks.

Gillian wants to introduce courtesy rules in concert halls. Read her rant here. Maybe there should be special rules for people on free tickets. Have your say below.


UPDATE: Here’s a nail-on-the head response.


  • Halldor says:

    Everything she says here is perfectly valid, and her final conclusions are remarkably measured. Audience members who take it upon themselves to police the behaviour of other audience members (usually singling out the very young, the very old, or solitary women) are one of the most toxic phenomena in modern concert life. I’ve witnessed people being abused for turning pages of programmes, stifling a sneeze, shifting slightly in their seat or (in one memorable case) having a “very loud watch” (it was their pacemaker). “I’m very sorry” muttered the chastened old gent. “It keeps me alive”.

    Everyone accepts that certain norms are worth observing in concerts, and most people, most of the time, have the courtesy to do their best not to spoil others’ enjoyment of the performance. But humans are humans and concerts are live events. Concertgoers who can’t tolerate tiny, unavoidable disturbances to their listening are better off at home, with their CDs, enjoying the unblemished perfection they clearly crave – alone. A cough or fidget is a tiny, momentary disruption. An aggressive rant at a complete stranger poisons an entire evening – and leaves a nasty aftertaste for those who overhear it, too

  • Graeme Hall says:

    Oh the irony…Unless my memory deceives me it was Gillian Moore’s phone that went off a couple of rows in front of me during Opera North’s Gotterdammerung in Leeds last summer. Had I been a row closer there would have been more than a polite poke in the shoulder.

  • Tommy says:

    Time, once again, for this:

  • Songfest says:

    As a professionally trained musician and a concert-goer for some 50 years, I have observed the steady deterioration of the public’s behavior: NEVER has adult ADD been worse! I am constantly disturbed by people flipping pages in their programs, talking out loud, texting, and taking photos — all while music is being played. Having paid full-price for my ticket, these folks who don’t know how to listen quietly & intelligently to music are disturbing ME (and everyone else who came specifically to listen carefully to the music) – and so I’m one of those people who tells such folks “Please don’t take photos, please stop talking, please stop rattling your program, please stop unwrapping your candy, please stop squeezing your plastic water bottle”, etc. And of course they look at me like I’m the crazy one. At a recent performance of Beethoven’s 3rd piano concerto, the 2 ladies in front of me were chatting away during the 1st movement’s opening tutti. I asked them to stop talking, and they replied “Why can’t we talk? The piano player hasn’t even started to play yet!!!”

  • Will Duffay says:

    Her points are all reasonable (and it’s not at all a ‘rant’). Silence is the main one. That’s it above all else. If you’re making a noise, you’re stopping other people from enjoying the music.

    I don’t mind movement (though it can be distracting and irritating to have somebody’s tapping hand or jiggling knee next to you for an hour) but movement which makes a noise or bangs against me is annoying.

    Clapping is a big issue, and I’m not talking about clapping between movements: I mean clapping the moment – the precise exact very moment – the piece has finished. And of course it’s the seasoned concertgoers who are the worst for this. They just have to demonstrate that a) they know the piece, and b) they have the ability to appreciate it hugely. And yet ironically by ruining the end of a quiet piece by vulgarly launching in with a brutish ‘Bravo!’ and loud clapping, they just demonstrate unmusicality and insensitivity.

  • SVM says:

    I think a little bit of *quiet* movement is acceptable, but the other examples cited by Moore are beyond the pale. I was at the LSO’s performance of Bruckner 7 last night (which, by the way, was an astonishingly good performance, easily comparable in quality and artistic depth to even the Vienna Phil, which I have had the pleasure of hearing in Bruckner 8 & 9), and was very irritated by the man next to me, who was flicking through his programme absentmindedly in many of the quiet sections. I can understand some page-turning noise when following a libretto, but not this.

    As for the case of the 12-year-old child cited, how will she take the prohibition on photography seriously if there is not a serious rebuke? Part of growing up entails sometimes learning right and wrong *the hard way*, and it can be emotionally tough at times, but that is life. But in any case, the priority is to prevent the picture from being taken, and if that means some damage to emotions or to the camera, so be it.

    Ultimately, I am sick and tired of hearing influential figures such as Moore vacillating about this. A person who fails to respect concert etiquette needs to be prevented from disrupting the experience of others by any means available (provided that such means do not cause more disruption in the process). If this puts them off attending concerts in future, that is a price eminently worth paying, for the sake of those of us who care about our live music (and who are being put off attending concerts *because* concert-halls are not taking their obligations to us, their most loyal customers, seriously).

    • V.Lind says:

      Agreed. But don’t you know that Other People’s Children are beyond criticism these days?

      As I have said otherwhere, all that’s required is sit down, shut up, follow rules of the house — which are usually announced before they start. It’s not rocket science. It’s common courtesy — which is, of course, rocket science to the cell phone generation and those who enable them.

    • John Smith says:

      I was at the concert of the LSO playing Bruckner 7. I was disturbed by the couple next to me taking photos during the performance. Just a very gentle touch on the elbow and “Er…I don’t think you are allowed to take photos” and a smile was all it took. They said they didn’t know and we had a lovely chat about the concert, which they both really enjoyed. Really, being patient and polite and gently explaining the rules is all it usually takes: no need for anyone to have their evening ruined.

  • Anne says:

    A concert ticket generally costs more than a CD. If a CD is faulty, I take it back. If part of a concert is obliterated by noise, the moment is lost.

    Speaking purely for myself, I don’t go to concerts any more than I read a book in order to get a warm, fuzzy sense of community. I go to hear the music, that’s all.

  • Peter says:

    You reap what you sow. The SBC’s relentless drive to fill the foyers with multi-cultural crap has a direct effect on the quality of their audiences. The Barbican is hugely better.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      So glad that other people have noticed the huge deterioration in atmosphere and surroundings, not to mention the state of the loos, at the SBC. Jude Kelly’s reign there has been an unmitigated disaster. She hasn’t succeeded in getting any of those who frequent the place for entirely non-musical reasons to attend any RFH concerts. Oh, but we don’t want to be elitist, do we? That would never do! Please may we have our old Festival Hall back, with chamber music and piano recitals during the daytime, exhibitions focusing on the rich heritage of 400 years of classical music, and any number of other events I can easily think of?

  • Gerry J says:

    i was recently at the Opera North Siegfried in Leeds Town Hall and, during the first act, someone coughed behind every couple of minutes, quite loudly and seemingly not making any attempt to stifle it – and also not trying to use the loud sections to minimise the impact.

    Exasperated, I spoke to the person concerned and said it was ruining it for me and for others. There was almost no cough for the rest of the performance, so it was pretty obvious the noise was unnecessary.

    I was thanked by several other audience members but there was no apology forthcoming from the cougher.