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.
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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