UK orchestra starts talking to audience

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in the Daily Telegraph:

In the hope of breaking down century old barriers between an orchestra and its audience the performers will step up to the front to talk about the piece they are about to play, its history, how the rehearsal process has impacted on the finished piece and what it means to them. The orchestra’s conductors will also introduce themselves and the music,  

The first concerts to be staged in this innovative way will be a performance of Brahms’ Requiem and Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme, to be conducted by Marin Alsop at Basingstoke Anvil on Saturday and the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, on Sunday, marking the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.

Before the concert begins Maggie Faultless, the OEA’s lead violin, will introduce the music from the stage.  

She said: ‘Not everybody has a programme or wants to read one and so what we’ll say before we play will be significant. It will be a case of putting the music into context and explaining why its being played in one way and not another and how that has come out of the rehearsal process…..’

So what orchestra players say off the cuff is bound to be more ‘significant’ than the learned programme note? If that were the case, why don’t more orchestras get their players to write the notes? It would be a darned site cheaper.

Professor Faultless, by the way, teaches at Cambridge and blogs for the Guardian, so she’s not your average tongue-tied front-desk violinist.

More here.

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  • Maybe she can start by explaining why they are playing Vaughn Williams. For crying out loud, does “early music” now mean whether a musician wakes up before 10:00 am?

  • Don’t go overboard on that talking. In-concert talks can get very tedious. Especially the ones intended to be humorous.

    In Dallas, an hour before the concert, they have a talk by someone knowledgeable about the program and the hundred or so people who are interested in that show up for that.

    • That’s the way to do it. The Boston Symphony does that too, drawing from its substantial local community of scholars.

      • Problem there is, the experts usually are paid. With the artists, whether the resident orchestra/conductor or guests, it can be included as part of their compensation. As audiences are rarely charged for pre-concert talks, there is no way to recoup the cost of experts’ fees without a specific sponsorship.

        Of course coming from a culture where programmes are handed out free to ALL patrons at every sort of event from orchestra to theatre, even when the event is free, I am not used to not having an option. I still find it maddening every time I revisit Britain to be expected to pay for a programme at an event whose ticket has usually been pricey to begin with.

      • With our orchestra, the conductor gives the pre-concert talk, part of which is an interview/ conversation with the guest soloist. I don’t know if there’s extra pay involved; pretty sure there’s not.

    • Agreed. I just attended an excellent performance of Britten’s War Requiem where a presentation was given an hour before the performance, the program book had an excellent description of the music and background, and then when the conductor came out to begin the concert, he felt a need to spout on and on pretty much what was in the program notes, and not too well at that. It really took the edge off of things.

    • I know it may sound odd but, in my many years in orchestra management, I’ve noticed that the large majority of those who attend pre-concert lectures generally are the “die hard” classical music lovers, not the “newbies” who we all say we are providing the lectures for!

    • I couldn’t stand it when David Zinman did it. Now, at a Rug Concert, with Leonard Slatkin, that was another story.

  • One problem with musicians speaking to an audience is that most people nowadays don’t know how to do public speaking. Even if one has a microphone one needs to do more than just talk as if one were talking to an individual across the dinner table.

  • Why is a “reverend silence” [sic] “something that is not at all inclusive or for them”? They wouldn’t be there otherwise and they might actually want to hear the music, particularly if it starts quietly. Discussion can be difficult to stop – which is why applauding the arrival of the leader and the conductor serves a useful purpose.

    Not all musicians are capable of speaking in an engaging way. Or conductors for that matter – remember the conductor known as “Talkalotsky”?

    We need to get more people listening to the stuff outside the concert hall, not patronising those who’ve already taken the step. Classical music needs to be seen as “normal” by ordinary folk. At the moment I get the impression that it’s moving the other way due to neglect on TV and elsewhere.

    • “We need to get more people listening to the stuff outside the concert hall, not patronising those who’ve already taken the step. Classical music needs to be seen as “normal” by ordinary folk.”

      Well said.

  • Glad to see this. In certain situations, this can work well. In 1988, in Lucille Ball’s home, she asked, ‘Don’t you talk to your audience before you perform?’ I replied, ‘Not usually.’ She was surprised and said, ‘You should. It breaks down that wall between you and the audience. We always conversed with the studio audience before the film shoot.’ Since that day in November 1988, her words were herded, and it is good to see it reaching further with orchestras. Admittedly, I have seen many music directors talk about the program before performing, and they do a fabulous job of bringing the audience closer to the experience.

  • For its best effect, music should be preceded and followed by silence. Talk is not wanted at concert halls. Everyone talks too much as is; we are there to ESCAPE from talk. For me, it spoils the concert–and musicians are usually not good public speakers.

  • Some 10 years ago, the Orchestre National de Montpellier had René Koering as a director, who introduced most concerts with a short talk, welcoming the audience, saying something about the pieces which would be played, and that worked very well – building a personal ‘bond’ with the audience. Such thing makes the audience being addressed personally, including the music that follows. Some concerts, like a chamber music evening around a programmed theme, had some longer talks but they were functional. But one must have someone who can do that well and has the right personality.

  • The RLPO has tried this. For those of us who like to experience the music, before being told what we *should* experience, it gets in the way. Not an improvement on reading the programme notes (which are always available free online before the concert) for those who like explanations before they listen.

  • If you don’t like that style of presentation then there’s no need to feel that you must go and see it. It will work for some people – and allow them to understand and be influenced more by the music – but not for others. Horse for courses, and all that.

    It’s just a shame that Norman doesn’t realise that many 1st violinists (as well as their colleagues in other sections) often put on their own chamber concerts, give talks, teach…they know plenty about the music, and are often eloquent themselves. They may not be all that interested in providing a programme note that analyses the harmonic structure of the piece, but they can give a hell of a lot more information about what goes into actually playing the piece than most of the learned experts who write dry programme notes with the help of Google. They’re the ones making the sound and playing the music – why continually dismiss them as worthless?! After all, without them, you wouldn’t have had much of a career, Norman!

  • Gee, such original music to do with this. Tell us how it feel to play Brahms’ German Requiem for the fortieth time? Why not Beethoven’s fifth?

  • And so we descend still further into hell. Who wants to have sex with someone who needs to explain everything first? We should be teaching audiences to have the confidence of listening to music without preconceptions.

  • ‘So what orchestra players say off the cuff is bound to be more ‘significant’ than the learned programme note? …

    Professor Faultless [is] not your average tongue-tied front-desk violinist.’

    1. The article doesn’t say that she claimed her comments would be ‘more’ significant than a programme note. Just that it would be ‘significant’ (a slightly inappropriate use of the word, admittedly) because not everybody has or reads a programme note.
    2. The article doesn’t say, or imply, that the introduction will be ‘off the cuff’.
    3. Anybody who uses the term ‘average tongue-tied front desk violinist’ is an offensive idiot (I am one too, for saying that, but I’m too long in the tooth to be bothered about the propriety of insulting other offensive idiots).

  • I cannot abide when classical musicians speak to the audience. It is an offense to the ears, to the music and to the event. If you want speaking, hire a professional speaker with a mellifluous voice and prepared remarks. Anything said should be on the same level as the music, which it never is. It is a total letdown of all the energy in expectation of great music. It is pandering and pathetic. If you can’t believe in what you are doing, don’t do it!

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