30 Days of Performing Arts

Day 7: A Symphony Concert: It’s not what you think

A general aim of these posts is to provide some sense of what to expect at  performing arts event, and to answer the questions, “what’s it like?” & “what’s in it for you?” Both turn out to be a little hard for me to answer–in part because of the wide variety of what people want to do with their recreational time, but also because my perspective is informed, and limited, by already being interested in this. The insider status doesn’t always help.

(If somebody were trying to convince me I would enjoy watching cricket, and came at it from the perspective of an intense expertise and enthusiasm, I would appreciate the fervor, but that probably wouldn’t, in itself be persausive*).

So that end, sharing something that caught my eye this morning, the last episode of a a PBS web series on the Louisville Orchestra and their charismatic young conductor (is there any other kind) Teddy Abrams,

He, and they, may or may not grab you, but I’m betting it’s contrast with what you might have had in mind as a conductor from central casting, to wit:

The great Arthur Nikisch conducting one of the earliest recordings of Beethoven’s 5th (with a expressive elan and freedom of tempo that even the most renegade of conductors today probably wouldn’t dare). Reports of of Nikisch disclose that he controlled the orchestra mostl with his extraordinary eyes.

30 Days of Attending Performing Arts

Day 6: When to Clap?

The whole clapping thing, like clothes, is one of these concerns that looms large–larger than it should. The problem: in classical music concerts, works are often composed of several movements, and or performed in sets. If you are unfamiliar with the music, it’s not necessarily clear whether a stop in the music represents the conclusion or just a pause between movements.

The program may or may not help.

To wit, if you see:

Beethoven, Symphony No. 5 in C-minor, Opus 67

Allegro con brio
Andante con moto
Scherzo. Allegro

But all you have ever heard are the famous first measures, what do you about the rest? How do you know when the whole thing ends? How do you keep from being the only person in the concert hall who reveals that you don’t know when to clap?

My first advice is not to worry about it. You are not on trial. (And even you were, the most you might be sentenced to is a raised eyebrow of a neighbor.) Although it’s not appropriate to clap (or make any sound) during the music, after it ends–particularly when there is a big finale–somebody is likely to clap. Sometimes the conductor or soloist will acknowledge and even appreciate it, other times, if they want to go on and maintain the mood, they will you let you know that too. (I once heard Renée Fleming ask a Boston audience not to clap between songs in a lieder recital and the arresting Jaap Van Zweden, a conductor to see if you get the chance, managed, with a shrug of his shoulders, to silence a hall that began to erupt after a radiant movement in a Rachmaninoff Symphony.)

Context is all too. A singer doing a star turn in an opera or a dancer executing an extraordinary solo in a ballet will get applause. It’s a human connection.  (The clapping for the reveal of a set is another matter, and that usually seems a little weird to me. Although I have seen shows in which the set was by far the most impressive creative achievement, so I guess it makes sense.)

Part of the context is community. The pleasure (at least in ideal circumstances) of going to a live performance is that you are there with the artists and with your fellow listeners. (That sometimes this is a mixed bag, I’ll address in a future post). When something special is happening–I recall the rapt magic that Leontyne Price could summon in her recitals, something that was followed by a tumultuous roar of applause–everybody is in it together, listening, rejoicing, then clapping. If you are tuned into that, your applause will join in with your fellow listeners. A wonderful thing.




30 Days of Attending Performing Arts

Day 3: Where to start?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, live performing arts opportunities are widely available in large and mid-size cities, and often within reach in smaller areas via colleges, civic organizations, tours and the like.

So how can you decide what to see? This is an idiosyncratic decision–like any choice, but here are some questions that might narrow the choice a bit.

  1. Big or small? performances comes in all sizes, from the intimacy of a lieder singer giving a recital in a hall that seats a couple of hundred, to a blockbuster musical like Phantom playing in a theater that seats thousands. Both can be rewarding, but they are very different kinds of emotional experiences. One acquaintance of mine is mostly interested in seeing grand productions–orchestra performances with huge bands (for instance, Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder). Another might want nothing more than an evening with a lone cellist playing the Bach Cello Suites, or a one-person play.
  2. Familiar or unfamiliar? Although you may think you don’t know classical music, opera, Shakespeare, what have you, I bet you do have some context. (Maybe you have heard Ravel’s Bolero, listened to Carmen’s Habanera, read the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet (or seen one of the many film versions.) If any of those struck a chord with you, look for related performance. Great classics are given all the time all over because they are–well–great. It’s fine, probably more than fine, for your first opera to be La Bohème because you saw it Moonstruck. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed by it in person if you liked it there.

stampAlternately, you can go for something alternative. A new music group, a play reading by a new playwright, a work that explores a time, culture, topic far away from your ken. Some of my most memorable evenings have been walking in to an unknown–maybe folk music from a tradition that is new to you, or a composer and performer you have never heard before.

3. Finally, think about what kind of night (or afternoon) you are up for. Performing arts can be a ‘big night out’ –with all the trappings of a special event. Or it can be as simple as listening to a free pick-up concert in somebody’s home. Both are fine, but planning for what kind of experience you want can help. Matching the emotion and the content to the character of the evening.




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