Polite applause more damning than ovations and boos

There have been three recent instances reported of people heckling art music or operatic performances that have stirred up waves in the classical music community.

Lucy Jones, a blogger with The Telegraph, describes the latest incident, during a concert presented at London’s Reverb 2012 festival of new music, where a man (who turned out to be a composition student at the Guildhall school) yelled out “Rubbish!” at the top of his lungs.

You can read her blog post here.

This is crazy behaviour for a world that, some days, looks like it’s trying to encourage and empower and celebrate anything and everything.

Operagoers tend to be more voluble (and note how popular opera is these days) but, generally speaking, its much more common to see a standing ovation for a mediocre performance than it is to hear catcalls for something egregious.

I can appreciate how painful and disorienting it might be for a performer to be booed, but I also think that an audience member having a powerful reaction to a performance is fantastic. The ovation as well as the catcall should come from complete engagement, and should be celebrated as such.

Is there anything more damning of everyone in a hall than polite applause?

Here’s the curtain call from a 1989 Vienna State Opera production of Elektra, where the audience loves everyone by the conductor:

John Terauds


4 thoughts on “Polite applause more damning than ovations and boos

  1. Tepid applause always seems pretty deadly. Booing is rude to a performer’s effort whatever the art form, especially if the criticism is being levelled at the piece rather than the performance – though it may be tempting at times.
    As for someone interrupting a performance as in the example cited by Lucy Jones, I have visions of a performer getting up and handing over their instrument to the heckler and inviting them to continue the performance, though I suppose that could occasionally backfire…

  2. Well, I have a sense that in an ideal world, the critic has to be 100 percent objective. I don’t think that is possible for a number of reasons. So whether a performance is bad or good, the question is rather, what standard or benchmark does a critic use to justify the assessment of a performance? The heckler mentioned in the Lucy Jones article caused a stir instigated by an expectation, but to what end? His set of standards, society, artistic norms? Being critical always appears as though the critic has an “axe to grind.” On the positive side, the performer might benefit from objective criticism, if indeed the critic has a history of balanced and reasonable observations.

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