What to do when Maestro gives you flowers

It’s a delicate etiquette point.

The concert’s over. It’s been pretty good. Some flunkey or fan comes on and gives the conductor a bouquet of flowers. Which he then thrusts on you.

What to do. Do you:

(a) blush

(b) blush and curtsy

(c) say thank you

(d) say thank you and dismantle the bunch, sharing it around your section?

Definitely not (d) we hope, though we have seen it done.

The question was prompted by this:

melanie kutschinsky

A lovely tour post by Melanie Kupchynsky of the Chicago Symphony second violins, titled: “Oh no. He’s going to give ME the flowers!”

Melanie writes:
I think I know why it happened.  Right before the last note of the Tchaikovsky Fourth Symphony, as I was watching him for the final cue, our eyes met for a split second, and I could tell that he was pleased.  I’m not sure if everything I was thinking and feeling showed on my face, but it went something like this:  “Russian music sure sounds different to me when it is performed closer to Russia, without an ocean in between…..I wonder how the Chinese people feel about Russian music……Wow, I love how Maestro is really firing up this last page, it’s faster than last time but it’s like the orchestra isn’t even breaking a sweat……the percussion section sounds fantastic…..let’s see where he is going to put this last note….BOOM!  applause……

Read the full post here.

It’s the sound of a happy orchestra.

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  • (e) if the flowers came from a fan/audience member, courteously decline and inform the conductor that it is rather impolite to pawn ones gifts off, especially when the giver is still watching.

    • Applies only if the audience member didn’t say to the conductor: “waiter, could you please give these flowers to the pretty lady in the flute section.”

  • From the article:

    “In a lovely, old-world gesture, when our Maestro receives flowers at the end of a tour concert he usually hands them to one of the ladies of the orchestra. Tonight that lady was me.” She doesn’t say how the ladies usually handle it; but this was obviously not a one-time occurrence that was going to set tongues and eyebrows waggling among the musicians.

    If receiving flowers from the conductor makes you uncomfortable or “singled out,” I don’t see anything wrong with distributing individual flowers to section mates. After all, as she makes plain in her essay, others contributed just as much to the performance as she did.

  • Such a lovely post, and so nice to read about this side of Maestro Muti! Being a great flower lover myself, after nearly 25 yrs. on the job, it’s always a point of interest who gets the flowers. It’s especially nice when a conductor makes a thoughtful gesture and gives the flowers to someone unexpected.

    There are good and bad sides to flower giving. Guest conductors who try to curry favor with certain players by giving them the flowers for no reason other than that person’s presumed importance are pretty transparent. Yes, we know you want to get invited back and you think that the person you gave them to will help you. Guest conductors tend to repeat themselves and we see this a lot.

    It’s also kind of tedious if the Concertmaster or a 1st chair violin gets the flowers simply because they’re convenient to the conductor. These women, by virtue of their proximity to the conductor ALWAYS get the flowers and they’re often blase about it, throwing them away or passing them to someone else.

    I love it when a woman who has played especially well, or has faced some challenge – like being 8 months pregant and cheerfully playing the concert – receives the flowers. Or someone who’s retiring or who has a birthday. A good conductor observes and knows this stuff. But most deserved is when a woman plays well.

    Another class move is if the conductor isn’t sure about who to give them to, he just leaves them on the podium. I like that. It’s impartial. Some really great conductors do this, and it’s fine.

    I really hope that conductors realize that for many women in the orchestra, flowers are a very big deal. Especially if you’re not a front chair string player and seldom get them. As you can see from this violinist’s reaction, it can mean the world for a player to be acknowledged in this way. Bravo, Maestro Muti!

    • I remember a nice gesture by Manfred Honeck conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at the Philharmonie in Berlin a few years ago. After receiving the flowers, he went into the viola section, lead a (male) violist – who I assume was about to retire – to the front of the the stage and handed him the flowers to the applause of the musicians and the audience alike.

  • I loved this anecdote!! Thank YOU for it!!! I’ve often wondered about the flowers. Nelsons seems to give his to somebody further down the back!!

    I’ve seen Muti a few times in Vienna. His Beethoven tempi I don’t agree with, but I’ve enjoyed his other works!!

    • BTW, one of those appearances with Muti was with the CSO in Vienna. And they were on fire. In fact, I’d say the two greatest orchestras in the world are the BPO and the CSO – in that order, absolutely!!!!

  • After performing the Saint Saens Organ Symphony and receiving the bouquet, Zubin Mehta walked through the orchestra and handed them to Sarah Willis, the 4th horn, who promptly used the bell of her horn as an impromptu vase!

  • Most of us violinists in the CSO grew up groomed to be soloists. This is different from the wind and brass players for whom an elite orchestra position was always the “brass ring”. Ironically relegated to the largest tutti section in an orchestra (albeit a great one) with constant admonitions to play softer and to never stick out, it is difficult not to feel demoralized at times. We feel like the only person who even notices whether we play well or not is our stand partner. Because of this, we are always susceptible to “phoning in” performances at times. But never Melanie. She puts her heart and soul into every piece, and her concentration and love of what she is doing is palpable with every note. Last year, her face was beet-red when Maestro Muti named her in front of the whole orchestra during a rehearsal as a stellar example of a devoted musician. Despite her discomfiture (and the fact that I suspected he was doing this as a sly way of scolding all the others who were not similarly enthusiastic), I was so glad he noticed and acknowledged a tutti player. (Indeed, there is very little that escapes his piercing gaze.) It is no surprise to me that he chose Melanie out of the hundred musicians on stage to give the bouquet to at the end of our concert in Beijing. Well done and well deserved!!

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