Wednesday, 11 January 2012

What is so difficult to understand?



Many readers will doubtless already have heard about the latest mobile telephone incident at a concert: a New York Philharmonic performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony - the Adagio, yes the Adagio! - eventually brought to a halt by a member of the audience who would not answer or stop the infernal noise. (Unpredictable Inevitability was my original source; here is a fuller account from an audience member.) Would that one could say that audiences behaved better in this country. Telephones are a regular blight, likewise other electronic devices - which seems often to mean hearing aids. I once saw Pierre Boulez have to wait a good minute or two whilst someone's Four Seasons ring-tone made its presence felt at the beginning of a concert: not just once, but twice. A moment of silence just before the final chord of Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites was no longer silence, when some selfish member of the audience at the Coliseum received a call. Then there are the shufflers, the chatterers, the openers of sweets, the snorers (yes, the snorers!), the heavy breathers - try sitting next to one of them during Parsifal - and of course the coughers. (Entartete Musik wrote interestingly on them the other day.) I am struggling to recall the last performance I attended which was not disrupted by the bronchially challenged; indeed, the last time I heard the sadly-retired Thomas Quasthoff, his Winterreise with Daniel Barenboim was well-nigh obliterated by them, so much so that Quasthoff had to make an announcement, duly ignored. (That was in Berlin, and some of the worst offenders of all I have heard in Paris, so there is no nationalism, inverse or otherwise, involved here.) Why, o why, are any of the following, utterly innocous, points of common decency routinely ignored?

1. All telephones should, without exception, be turned off during performances. If you may need to take a call, then you have no business attending such a performance. (I am so paranoid that I end up checking mine several times, generally wishing that I had left it at home.)
2. If at all possible, halls should block telephone signals during performances. (If, as some suggest, this would be against the law, then the law needs to be changed forthwith.)
3. If you have a cough, kindly make a decision whether you should either stay at home or take lozenges to stifle it. (The Royal Opera House admirably provides free lozenges.) Halls could and should help in this respect by making it easier to swap tickets for subsequent performances. Everyone understands that there will be the occasional case of someone who simply cannot stifle a cough, but these instances may readily be minimised.
4. If you do not have a cough, kindly resist the incomprehensible temptation to manufacture one.
5. Do not talk, fall asleep, engage in conversation, or do anything else that might distract or irritate fellow members of the audience. That includes the strange people who decide they need to act as if they were seated on the back row of a darkened cinema. (The pieces to which they 'erotically' respond often seem eccentrically chosen: Stockhausen's PUNKTE at the Proms?!) This is not some mysterious 'concert etiquette'; it is simply the sort of consideration that decent, and generally even indecent (see above) human beings show to one another.

Finally, should someone prove to be a telephone offender, the instrument itself doubles up usefully - and doubtless unforgettably - as a rectal thermometer.

8 comments:

The Wagnerian said...

Phones are the worst - coughing and snoring, while irritating are, like farting, at least difficult to control on occasion, but phones? Even the cultural Luddite on an expenses paid freebie should be able to turn that off. But alas no. Welcome to the 21st century, where any resemblance of normal social good manners has vanished.

One can only hope that the coming, and desperately delayed, collapse of the European banking sector, and its resultant massive economic and social upheavals mean the fools can no longer afford to run the things.

I feel much better for that. Very cathartic I must say. Thanks

jdtaylor1979 said...

Thanks for this. I remember last year at the ENO during 'Parsifal' when in Act 2 a couple sitting further down decided to have a quick chat (or whisper - in fact whispering can often be more annoying as words with more than one S can really grate when said with a whisper) then in Act 3 someone fell asleep, only briefly awaking during the Good Friday scene.

Good to know I'm also not the only paranoid one who has to keep checking the phone is switched off as well - the embarrassment if it went off would probably put me off concert-going for a long time!

jdtaylor1979 said...

Thanks for this. I remember last year at the ENO during 'Parsifal' when in Act 2 a couple sitting further down decided to have a quick chat (or whisper - in fact whispering can often be more annoying as words with more than one S can really grate when said with a whisper) then in Act 3 someone fell asleep, only briefly awaking during the Good Friday scene.

Good to know I'm also not the only paranoid one who has to keep checking the phone is switched off as well - the embarrassment if it went off would probably put me off concert-going for a long time!

Mathieu Carpentier said...

There is a most astute observation in your post: "If you do not have a cough, kindly resist the incomprehensible temptation to manufacture one". As an avid concertgoer, I have noticed many times that a cough that could have been softer, muffled, or otherwise repressed, not only is proudly expectorated but also somewhat emphasized, as if the cougher was in some (mysterious) way taking part to the music -- and even improving it. More seriously, I think that those attitudes (not switching off one's phone, coughing as if you were dying of pneumonia, unwrapping little candies, and so on) is just a consumer reflex: I payed for my ticket so I have a right to do whatever I want. Music, concerts, performances are, or so it seems, just another kind of commercial goods: once you have purchased them, you feel free to do whatever you like.
(As usual, apologies for my horrid English -- and I am not fishing for compliments)

Mathieu Carpentier said...

PS: An anecdote: my wife fainted once in the Berlin Philharmony during a wonderful performance of Webern's 2nd Cantata. Well, not only she had the politness to faint silently, but she waited till the end of the piece (which is admittedly not the longest in the repertoire)to do it. So if she can do that, everyone can repress a cough till the end of the performance, or take the time to switch off their phones, don't you think?

Luís C. F. Henriques said...

Haven't they invented yet a device that can jam mobile phones during concerts.. and by the way, also jam couphing and snoring?

It's unbelievable what people can do in concerts. But I think that it is worst in some countries than in others.

Best wishes,
Luís Henriques

Joseph Streeter said...

Phones are certainly the worst, and it seems absolutely extraordinary to me that people do not think to turn them off when they arrive at the concert hall. I think there are some national differences, or at least city differences. New York audiences certainly seem louder to me than London audiences, and worse with their infuriating sweet unwrapping (and why do they always have to wait until the music starts?).

Dominic Rivron said...

Stockhausen not erotic? It doesn't surprise me at all that his music should have this effect. Momente and Stimmung spring to mind.

I often think the composer he most reminds me of is Messiaen (rather than the oft-quoted Webern).