Thursday, April 25, 2019

Whooping for Mozart

I'd like to thank the woman who whooped for Mozart.
Well, not Mozart in general, but for the first movement of his Paris Symphony.

Tonight I took my daughter -- a budding guitarist -- to hear the Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez played by Pablo Sáinz Villegas and the Utah Symphony. It was here in Ogden, presented by Onstage Ogden. The guitar concerto we came to hear was sandwiched between two symphonies, the one by Mozart mentioned above and another by Schumann. But this post isn't so much about the concert itself, but about the woman who whooped.

When conductor Richard Egarr took the stage for the Mozart symphony he instantly had me charmed. It wasn't just because he wasn't wearing a tux and had a British accent; there was something in his walk that made it seem he was happy to see us (the audience, not my daughter and myself specifically). Before anything else, he grabbed the microphone and got the audience to interact with him, even if it was simply to get us to say an enthusiastic "good evening" back to him. He was keenly aware we were there, and wanted us to make our presence known.

Egarr proceeded to tell us a bit about the Paris Symphony -- the usual stuff, like that Mozart wrote it in Paris (go figure), but what caught my attention was that he said the piece was written to please an/the audience. This is less obvious a statement than one might think. Egarr told us about the letter Mozart wrote to his father about the Paris Symphony, specifically stating that he (Mozart) included in the first movement a particular orchestral effect he knew would make the audience applaud spontaneously -- while the piece was being played -- and so wrote that passage twice, knowing that when they heard it a second time the crowd would go wild.

Egarr preceded that anecdote by telling us that "it is important [we] be not so well-behaved."

That pronouncement drew mild chuckles from the crowd, but it hit me hard. Egarr was saying that active audience interaction was written into the piece, and so it follows that without that interaction the first movement of the Paris Symphony is somehow incomplete, or at least missing something that ought to be there.

The musical moment Mozart wrote to his father about came and went, then came back around again; neither time was a peep heard from the audience (sadly, I was also guilty of being silent). I wondered how the spontaneous applause Mozart expected at those moments would have impacted the musicians -- my experience with popular music makes me suspect it would have invigorated them, which would then excite the audience even more.

As with most symphonies I've heard, after the last note of the first movement sounded came the familiar few seconds of tension: everyone in the house wants to applaud, but to not do so is part of how a classical audience member proves s/he belongs there. Those familiar few seconds were broken by a woman wholeheartedly whooping -- she literally said "whoo!" -- which seemed to give permission to the rest of us to express our excitement over what we just heard and was followed by other hearty bellows and plenty of applause.

Not everybody felt comfortable clapping in between the movements, and that's ok too. But what happened tonight was, to me, really special. A conductor acknowledged our presence in a real way, proceeded to tell us that we were as much a part of the piece as the composer and musicians, and many of us allowed manners to be overtaken by enthusiasm. That felt good.

Thank you, woman who whooped, for leading the way.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your post. What you experienced was special. The conductor broke the fourth wall for something more than bows. He wanted interaction. He wanted the audience to feel the music. He wanted them to enjoy and express their enjoyment when moved. His actions were a rare treat.

    Yes, I have seen other conductors speak from the stage for the sake of information or to point out a storyline. But few invite the audience in a, "come on in, take your shoes off, sit back and relax, and make a little noise if it pleases you," kind of way. It is more of a duty than an invitation. It is as if the conductor has thought it through. "I need to connect with the audience more. How do I do that? Ah! I will tell them about the piece."

    The formality is making it difficult to attract new and younger audiences. They are not familiar with the rules. They start to clap and are terrified when no one around them is making a sound. I have seen the tension or worse the weariness in a conductor when an audience member makes an error in judgment and applauds or makes a comment between movements. Worse yet are audience members that glare at the newcomer too let them know they have made a mistake. Those same audience members then will write a letter to the presenter to complain about the distraction and lament the fact that the audience seems to be shrinking and their ticket prices rising.

    When did we come to worship not the music, but the form of how we listen to the music?

    I enjoy classical music. I enjoy a loud, boisterous Russian or Eastern European orchestra with powerful movements that make we want to jump to my feet and applaud. But I feel stifled to the point of non-enjoyment. Not knowing the music well I keep thinking to myself, now, now, now. I become weary with thinking about when to clap at the right time and not when moved. I am not enjoying the music but making sure I fit within form needed to be a good audience member. I want to leave.