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Jessica Duchen
Wednesday 24th February 2010
Drinks in Concerts: Poll Says No

The other week I put up a poll at my JDCMB site asking whether you think we should be allowed to take drinks into concerts. Two-thirds of those who responded voted NO. I'd expected a resounding YES. But it seems that a strong majority is still in favour of good manners at good concerts. And frankly after this past week, having voted 'yes' in my own poll, I'd now join the 'no's instead.

The vast numbers of reviews of Zimerman's recital are mightily amusing - maybe all of us should have our ears syringed before going into a concert hall, just to make sure we're at the same gig. The write-ups range from three stars to five, and in tone from the admiring to the superior to the politically bonkers, and naturally everyone has different views on what worked and what didn't. But everyone seems to agree on one thing: the audience was awful. Noisy, bronchitis-ridden, sweet-carrying, intrusive, annoying, ignorant and largely there to be seen to be there, leaving a great many genuine music lovers languishing in the Returns queue. And that's before we get to the guy who was annoying the pianist in the second half...

It's still only a week since the LPO's Romeo & Juliet concert - an event that missed Valentine's Day by a whisker and was populated by couples celebrating late. This time it was all chatting, canoodling and snogging... though luckily Jurowski's back was turned, since he had an orchestra to look at. 

So maybe the move towards a "relaxed" atmosphere, as trailed in my piece about the Roundhouse's Reverb series, is not altogether marvellous. The bottom line is that in a concert you are not watching TV: this is a live performance and both performers and the majority of the audience are there to experience the music. This takes concentration. A concert is primarily aural rather than visial, and we are primarily visually-oriented beings, so extra concentration is required. If you're listening to something, you don't want other noises to intervene, fin. The better you know and love the music, the more likely you are to insist on other people behaving themselves; this is why the Promenaders are traditionally the quietest audience in town, even if also the largest.

A couple of weeks ago I was at yet another concert when a teenager a few rows in front started texting on her iPhone. Flashing lights, colours, fiddling. Distracting? Of course it's bloody distracting. Unrelaxed to say so? Of course it's unrelaxed. We're not trying to relax: we're trying to follow a big complicated musical argument taking place in real time, requiring a consistent train of thought. The lady behind her asked her to please turn it off. The kid got up and walked out. I didn't think: "Oh what a shame, another youngster put off music by us Nasty Demanding GrownUps." I thought: "Phew."

Still, it's usually the GrownUps who are the worst offenders...I hate to say it, I really do, but the bottom line is that in the "Me" generation, a lot of people have no idea about manners and think of nothing but their own immediate gratification. But concerts are a collective event and require you to consider others. You do not have the right to be disruptive. If you want to cough through Chopin, snigger at Shostakovich or munch over Mozart, for God's sake just STAY HOME. And please do not attempt to record the concert: to do so is illegal.

Vote changed. Let's not take drinks into concerts. It might just be the beginning of the end.

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April 12th, 2010
12:04 PM
I don't attend many concerts of any sort, but a couple of years ago I went to see the rock band Muse. Despite being a very different type of event froma Chopin recital, I really wish people had not ben allowed to take drinks in there either! As some got drunker & drunker, they became highly objectionable, not to mention that there was spilt beer all over the floor. I certainly don't think drinks should be allowed into the sort of concert you describe, but neither should they be allowed in any other sort!

Sarah J
April 9th, 2010
3:04 PM
You remind me that a year ago I started a group on Facebook for sufferers:!/group.php?gid=46452162561 there are 150 members now, I notice!

February 24th, 2010
4:02 PM
Having got pretty angry at the Zimerman recital, as I said the other day, it's no surprise that I completely agree. A Chopin recital like this is the most intense listening experience that you can find perhaps anywhere. Next time that batty lade behind me loudly shouts 'bravo' in her poshest drawl after a sonata movement, I might follow through with my instincts to throw her off the balcony. As long as she lands quietly.

Jessica Duchen
February 24th, 2010
3:02 PM
With all due respect, Herman, I don't think so - this concert was a one-off, and it really *was* a 'society event'. That doesn't mean that any Chopin recitals, beyond next Monday's, will be too. I personally don't have the power to perpetuate anything at all, and as for shaking hands with the Duke of Thing...come on, lighten up & have a laugh! That's all I'm doing.

February 24th, 2010
2:02 PM
Well this was a no-brainer from the start. If the audience at the Zimerman recital was noisy and impatient, that's maybe because there were a lot of society folks (as you previously reported) who, by and large, are too busy being society to be aware what Chopin or any fragile kind of music is about. By reporting about the Zimerman recital partly as a society event (I shook hands with the Duke of Daff, golly!) you make sure this behavior will be perpetuated.

Jessica Duchen
February 24th, 2010
1:02 PM
The behaviour of my immediate neighbours was impeccable too, but they happened to be Mrs Zimerman & daughter!

February 24th, 2010
11:02 AM
I very rarely attend classical concerts - my main interest is dance – however the audience behaviour near me at the front of the balcony was impeccable. My feel was that the applause after the first movements started behind me (towards the back of the balcony?) and only then spread to the rest of the auditorium. This surprised me as I would usually expect the balcony, e.g., for Bolshoi' s Spartacus at the Coliseum, to be the most knowledgeable audience in the house. Having said that, I sensed that people were clapping because they were just so excited to be in the presence of Zimerman and to hear him play live. And of course I loved the performance – I had no idea that classical music could be so powerful

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About Jessica Duchen

Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.

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