A week or so ago Alex Ross gave the RPS Lecture for 2010 with a talk on concert etiquette. The full text is available for download here, although if you’re just after a summary, the event was also featured on the BBC’s Culture Show and should be available here on the iplayer for the next few days.
I myself have often wondered about where and when the tradition of not clapping between movements had come from. My most poignant experience of how strange this custom can be happened one year at Aberystwyth MusicFest. After a week of immersion in classical repertoire it was quite a shock when the token jazz concert came around and the audience was actively encouraged to clap whenever they felt like it. At the time I remember the contrast in social etiquette feeling far more striking than the contrast in musical styles.
A few days later at the closing concert of the festival there was a great community atmosphere – everyone had by now got to know each other and there was a relaxed spirit of camaraderie in this final showcase…. – but even then this social restraint was firmly in place. During a performance of Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of Animals, two of the most prominent personalities of the festival (Julian Jacobson, and Tom Poster) gave a rigours performance of the Wild Asses section, which was quite understandably met with great applause. This was of course ‘shushed’ away, but at the time, in that context, it really felt that it needn’t have been.
On a final note I can’t help wondering what the correct social etiquette is for responding to this piece…