Tensions simmer in London concert audience

Tensions simmer in London concert audience


norman lebrecht

March 25, 2023

From the weekly review by Fiona Maddocks in tomorrow’s Observer newspaper:

Feelings run high in classical music, especially now. You sense it in audience behaviour. At the Festival Hall last week, Crispin Woodhead, chief executive of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, came on stage before a performance of Bach’s Mass in B minor. The gist of his brief welcome, of which more shortly, was to thank the audience for buying tickets: in so doing, they were supporting an organisation that believes in excellence and in making music available to all. We all knew what he meant. No need to say the words “BBC” or “Singers” or “Arts Council” or “cuts”. But there was unexpected opposition. A man at the front started shouting and gesticulating. The crowd jeered back in an effort to silence him, some in language even more colourful than his own. For an instant, the atmosphere was nasty. He was escorted out. The performance began, magnificent and affecting, and the loss was his….

Read on here.


  • CarlD says:

    Personally, I loathe when some sort of administrative officer comes out to do the “It takes a lot of money to put on …” routine. Pretty common with community orchestras. but the Florida Orchestra is quite professional and has the biggest operating budget of any band in the state. So when one of the suits comes out and does even a brief beg-a-athon, it grates. Especially so in light of the utter predictability that then the orchestra’s maestro will insist on spending 5-10 minutes impressing us with his knowledge of the night’s program even though a half-hour pre-concert lecture has just concluded. … OK, I feel better now, LOL.

    • SVM says:

      As a general rule, I would say that political, fundraising, or other speeches not relating to the music should be made only upon the conclusion of the advertised programme or wholly before the advertised starting time for the concert. In other words, it is unacceptable for such a speech to delay the advertised programme at a time when said programme is due to take place (having said that, where other factors are causing an unavoidable delay, it is acceptable to fill some of the time with such a statement).

      Once the advertised programme is concluded, then the performers have every right to address the audience if they wish. I still remember conductor François-Xavier Roth’s speech at a Proms concert where he condemned the imminent demise of the orchestra that had just performed — this speech was made at the end of the advertised programme, just before the encore, and was followed by applause (in which I partook vigorously) until the last member of the orchestra had left the stage.

      Audiences have every right to get angry if the concert for which they pay good money to attend is being delayed needlessly. It is important to keep in mind that some people in the audience may have to leave early or very promptly to catch the last bus/train home; delaying the start of a concert to accommodate a speech may have an impact on how much of the programme such people are, regrettably, forced to miss.

      Possible exceptions to the above general rule:

      a) where the event is advertised explicitly as a “fundraising gala”, “charity concert”, or something of the kind, it would be appropriate for a statement to be made about the causes for which funds are being raised;

      b) where the event is advertised explicitly as a “memorial concert”, “anniversary concert”, or something of the kind, it would be appropriate for a statement to be made about the person/organisation/&c. being commemorated;

      c) where the event is advertised as having a sponsor, it may be appropriate to include a *brief* statement thanking the sponsor and/or advertising the sponsor’s goods/services (the customary place for this is just after the interval);

      d) where a prominent person who has a significant association with the performer(s) or composer(s) has died very recently, it may be appropriate to make a *brief* eulogy at the beginning and/or add a short piece to the programme /in memoriam/; and

      e) where a major disaster resulting in multiple deaths has taken place very recently in the local area of the concert or the performer(s), it may be appropriate to make a *brief* statement and/or add a short piece to the programme.

  • Ὀρφεύς says:

    This is nothing less than the corrosion of civilization.

  • Southbank audience says:

    Thank heavens there are still elements of the Southbank programme which have quality as their yardstick. The rest of the season, programmed by one Toks Dada, prioritises ‘gay’, ‘handicapped’ or ‘diverse’ over ‘excellent’. It is a scandalous politicisation of a great institution and a shocking waste of public money. Dada should be sent back to Cardiff from whence he (or is that ‘they’?) came.

    • MJA says:

      @”Southbank audience” – thank you for illustrating so neatly, with your rather unpleasant little comment, the nature of the problem.

    • Come on now… says:

      Have you been to any of those events? Or are you taking one look at something you don’t recognise and assuming that you won’t like it?

      If, as I expect, the latter is correct, then you completely forfeit your right to speak to its excellence.

      As for Toks Dada, HE has been in place for just over a year and I would imagine inherited a lot of this season, give him time before you start throwing stones, especially in such an ugly manner.

    • AndrewB says:

      With respect may I say that the use of the term ‘handicapped ‘ in a negative comparison about ‘excellence’ is illadvised.
      I know several musicians with disabilities who have / had fine careers making music excellently much to the delight of their international audiences. How would they feel reading this comparison?
      Do those of us with disabilities not have the right to enjoy live music or musicmaking?
      The written word has impact and even if , in frustration, a commentator wants to be dismissive of parts of a concert series , surely they need to be careful of the comparisons they make .
      Inclusivity doesn’t have to be a political question or compromise excellence, but like accessibility, it can be a feature of music programmation simply because music is for all society, for everyone.

      • Maria says:

        American versus British English again? What word would you suggest in playing golf????

        • AndrewB says:

          This is about context as much as vocabulary and a negative comparison that is made.
          I believe that the US has the ‘ Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’ ( IDEA) so I am not sure there is any transatlantic vocabulary misunderstanding here ?

    • John A says:

      AU USUK « diversity » theatre.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    100 years ago they had riots over “Le Sacre”

    Today we have riots about budgets.

  • Carl says:

    The fact is, British arts organizations really need to diversify their funding streams. That the government is such a large source of their revenue seems wreckless. Hire some top American fundraisers if you must, to hit up corporations, foundations, and wealthy old ladies. Otherwise, this will keep happening.

    BTW, I don’t get why this audience member was upset. He wants more funding cuts? Strange.

    • Maria says:

      Are you American?

    • SVM says:

      Maybe the audience member had to leave the concert early to catch the last train home, and was rightly upset because the speech would result in missing more of the advertised programme than anticipated. The speech should have waited until the end of the advertised programme, as is the custom at civilised concert halls.

  • Clemente says:

    And the musicians get paid shit and have to wait 15 to 30 days for their paychecks. They do all the work and are the first ones to suffer. Pancake you all.

    • Maria says:

      I was never paid rubbish in Britain or Europe, and got paid on the night or a few days later by my concert agent after commission taken off. Most people in normal office or salaried jobs get paid monthly.

  • Tibor says:

    Can we have a campaign called STAMP = stop talking and music please. Way too many musicians or their admins these days seem to think everyone is interested in their views on world politics or activism of one sort or another. Hint, we’re not. Play the music, that’s what we came for.

    • Maria says:

      Exactly, please get on with the music for which you were employed to play, and preferably the way the composer intended not some self-indulgent misguided way.

  • Doc Martin says:

    Audience behaviour seems a major problem everywhere. I carry a Blackthorn walking stick!

    I attended the Ulster Consort concert in St. Malachy’s Belfast. Byrd Mass for four voices, Tallis, Lamentations, Lotti Crucifixus, Allegri Miserere. All sung well fine performance, apart from the two auld women near me who insisted on chatting through it. I glared at them like Prof Sir Lancelot Spratt FRCS, telling them they should have brought their knitting!

  • Margaret Koscielny says:

    It is anti-climatic to begin a concert with a speech from some hyper-inflated ego of an Orchestral Association President. The reasons for these annoncements are meant to remind all of us that the great spiritual experience we are anticipating is funded by millionaires’ money, and you had better be damned grateful for their largess. It takes quite a bit of effort to calm one’s mind to listen, finally, to what one came to the concert hall to hear.