1. Reject prejudice. Select the concert based on the programme rather than the performer and don’t always be led by the artist’s biography/reputation
  2. Support local and regional music-making: there’s plenty of it and it’s important to remember that the metropolis is not the only place where great music can be heard
  3. If you’ve enjoyed a concert, tell others and share your enthusiasm, especially with people who may be new to classical music (see 4 below)
  4. Go to concerts with friends, especially those who haven’t sampled classical music before
  5. Online reviews and blogs have real value. Read them. Don’t think the mainstream media always has the last word
  6. If you know musicians, support them by attending their concerts and buy their CDs – don’t expect friends to supply free tickets. (see 7 below)
  7. Musicians tend to command low or even no fees. Buy the goddam tickets (and CDs)!
  8. If you’ve enjoyed a performance, or recording, tell the artist! At places like Wigmore Hall, it’s easy to go to the Green Room afterwards to meet the performer/s. Alternatively, contact them on social media or email via their website. Go on – we really appreciate it!
  9. Please don’t tell musicians how to do their job: we are sensitive people who work extremely hard. And don’t ask “what’s your day job?” or hint that being a musician is some kind of superannuated hobby. It’s not, it’s a profession.

 

(Inspired by author Joanna Harris on Twitter)

Concert going is a social as well as a cultural activity and one of the great pleasures is the after-concert discussion with friends – and occasionally strangers who linger in the auditorium or foyer – keen to share their thoughts on what they’ve just heard. Sometimes a performance can be so profound, moving or thought-provoking that an immediate verbal response may be impossible, as we each privately digest and consider what we have just heard. At other times, the words tumble out eagerly as we rush to share our impressions of the event.

Last week I was back in London for a very special concert at Temple Church, part of a series hosted by Temple Music Foundation featuring pianist Julius Drake and friends. Here was Schubert’s heartrending song cycle Winterreise, a work written the year before he died which has been invested with all kinds of meaning and psychobabble by those who believe this painful narrative is an autobiography of sorts. Austrian mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirschlager was singing this great work for the first time – and for me this was the first time I’d heard a female voice in the role of Schubert’s lonely winter traveller (I’ve now heard the work performed by tenor and baritone voices and also in an excellent English translation). Seated at the back of the church, it took awhile to tune one’s ear into the church’s acoustic, but once settled, it was clear to me that this was a performance of exceptional intensity, drama and emotion. I couldn’t see Kirschlager very easily from my seat, but her projection and commitment to the role was clear, her voice at times rough-edged and richly-hued to bring greater meaning and expression to the text and music.

Repairing afterwards with friends to a cosy pub on the Strand, we discussed what we had just heard over wine and beer (we also discussed the vessel from which my friend Adrian drank – was it a “tankard” or a “glass with a handle”? Such is the way when lively, inquisitive minds meet….!). While I enthused about the intensity and drama of the performance, my companions were rather more guarded, and this provoked a vigorous, but always friendly and considerate discussion. This was not some dry bar-by-bar analysis of the work and its performance, but thoughtful, heartfelt and immediate reactions by people who really care about music and concerts. It proved how meaningful, subjective and, above all, personal our experiences of music are.

It was a real treat to hear such an absorbing gig, then ‘share’ it there and then, as if the evening re-booted into 2 great nights in 1 – Adrian (@adrian_specs)

Never before has a performance led to a spirited, respectful and absorbing conversation. Something that deepened my understanding about a work and a performer – Jon (@thoroughlygood)

As a writer and reviewer, I find such conversations can crystallise or adjust one’s thoughts about a concert, the works performed and the performers, offering valuable reflection or reappraisal ahead of a review or article being written. It’s also a healthy reminder that we do not all like or appreciate the same things – and thank goodness for that, for these differences make the concert-going experience far more rewarding and interesting.


Adrian’s review of the concert at Temple Church will be published on this site shortly.

 

One of the secondary pleasures of going to live music in concert is “audience watching”. Different artists and repertoire attract different audiences (the music of Scriabin, for example, seems to attract a particularly ‘unusual’ audience…..). The ritual of concert going and the habits of audiences have fascinated and intrigued me since I was a young child when my parents took me to the Proms and concerts at Birmingham Town Hall (where the CBSO was based before Symphony Hall was built).

I love the very palpable sense of “collective listening”, that curious vibration in the concert hall when everyone is listening very intently, or when the musician/s creates a remarkably intense connection via his/her performance and the power of the music. At the end of a particularly concentrated performance, one senses the audience uncurling and flexing, like an animal, before exhaling a collective breath and applauding. At a recent lunchtime concert at my local music society, I was amused to observe the reactions of several members of the audience to some rather outré contemporary music which was being performed by a piano and percussion duo. The final piece in the programme, during which the performers alternated between throwing themselves onto the piano keyboard and clapping (including some quite intricate “Pat-a-Cake” clapping patterns), seemed particularly “challenging” for certain members of the audience. Some people shifted uncomfortably in their seats, presumably because they found the music unpleasant or difficult to understand. Another person rested his head on his left hand, feigning boredom or sleep; others lowered their heads or looked down at their laps in embarrassment. Luckily no one walked out, though I suspect a couple of people might have considered doing so. When the piece ended, some of the applause felt like relief, that this curious “musical” experience was over, though in general I felt the applause was given generously, as it always is at my local music society’s concerts.

scientist-crowd-surf
Crowd-surfing is generally not acceptable at a classical music concert…..

I think it’s important to be challenged by music and that listening should not necessarily always be a passive activity – though of course a concert can, and should, be a relaxing and enjoyable activity as well. I have experienced sidelong glances from other audience members when I have laughed at the wit of Haydn or Beethoven, or a certain gesture by a performer to highlight a moment of humour in the music. These days I quite regularly cry at concerts, overwhelmed by the music and the emotional experience of hearing it (a friend of mine believes I suffer from Stendhal Syndrome with this regard). Yet the etiquette of the concert hall, a mode of behaviour which developed at the end of the nineteenth century when concert going became more formal, and largely remains so today, can make people feel constrained, obliged to sit in rigid reverential silence for the duration of the performance. It is this etiquette which can also put people off attending classical concerts, and the unwelcoming attitude of some fellow concert-goers, and the conventions of the concert hall – how to behave, in particular when to applaud – can make concert-going a behavioural minefield for the ingenue concert-goer. There is a small contingent of audience members who wish to maintain these conventions and they manifest their antagonism to the more relaxed concert-goer by curious (mostly) passive aggressive behaviour including glaring at the person who accidentally drops their programme or loudly shushing others. Sometimes these are the same people who bellow “Bravo!” at the end of the concert, or start applauding almost before the final note has sounded. All of this behaviour would probably seem very alien to the likes of Mozart and Beethoven, and even Brahms and Tchaikovsky, who were used to a much more rowdy and noisily engaged audience. Somehow we need to find a middle way between the very formal behaviour which still dominates classical concert going and a more relaxed attitude akin to an earlier age which allows people to react spontaneously to what they hear, feel and experience……

640px-james_tissot_-_hush21
Hush! (The Concert) by James Tissot