Wichita Symphony Orchestra: Music of Vaughan Williams and Beethoven

Ralph Vaughan Williams, Serenade to Music

Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125

It’s fitting that during the first Wichita Symphony concert I reviewed for the Eagle last fall, a piece was delayed by a ringing cell phone, and at the last Classics concert of the season, the ending of another piece was interrupted by the same intrusion.  This time I felt the need to mention it in the published article; it’s not usually my practice to review the audience, unless their reaction provides insight into the performance.  In this case, however, it was too obvious to ignore, and a spoiled moment remains spoiled whether it’s the fault of the performers or something external.

I’m also not much interested in the ritual of public shaming that inevitably accompanies this sort of transgression: it could happen to anyone through a moment of forgetfulness, and the individual was (I hope) mortified enough by the experience to avoid it in the future.  I report it as a reminder for future concerts: come on, people.

I should add that I wouldn’t demand total silence during a performance, even if it were within my power.  The occasional burst of applause, the movement of bodies, even the coughing that sometimes comes unbidden during the softest passage: these are human sounds, and they have been with us since the first public concerts.  They are reminders that concertgoing is a communal experience.

Critic Alex Ross has written about the rule of silence, and the transformation of the rowdy public concerts of the eighteenth century into the solemn “Temple of Music” we have now. Of particular interest is his research into the “no applause” rule, under which the audience is expected to remain silent between movements and only show their appreciation at the end (a practice that has taken root only since the early twentieth century; many first-hand reports indicate that composers such as Mozart experienced, and even counted on, applause between–or within!–movements that could be truly described as “crowd-pleasing”). Ross writes:

As a listener, I don’t need total silence to help me to understand the music, even less to register its emotional impact. To the contrary, I find this ponderous silence forced, unsettling, and in places absolutely anti-musical, as after the big movements of concertos. It’s crazy for three thousand people to sit in Carnegie Hall contemplating Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto as if it were some Buddhist monument, rather than a rousing, passionate entertainment.

As it happens, the enthusiasm of Saturday’s audience was such that there was vigorous applause after not only the first, but also the second movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  That is a sound that no musician would mind hearing during a performance.

Piano-Playing Pair Provides Powerful Performance: I review the Wichita Symphony

Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2; Poulenc: Concerto for Two Pianos; Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring


I’m happy to say that there were quite a few younger people at Saturday’s Wichita Symphony Orchestra concert, but there were enough empty seats that there is room for more. Perhaps they were persuaded by the WSO’s aggressive new ad campaign (I’m particularly taken by the suggestion that activities like jai alai will help audiences prepare for the heart-pounding excitement of a symphony concert); I saw several take advantage of the WSO’s $5 student rush tickets (one of the best-kept entertainment secrets in town).  Either way, I’m not inclined to blame them for the repeated interruptions from cell phones during the concert; in my experience, older concertgoers are equally likely to forget to turn them down.  I don’t believe the concert hall should be a mausoleum: Century II has already made the decision to allow food and drink in the hall during performances, probably in the interest of creating a more welcoming environment, and I’m sure it helps the bottom line.  Even so, one could sense the audience’s frustration when Maestro Daniel Hege waited for the ringtones to stop before beginning The Rite of Spring (the concert’s second half), and one still started chirping during the lightly scored woodwind introduction.  At best it’s an annoyance to other patrons; it worst it can interfere with the performance itself. It’s not a lack of education, or the influx of newcomers to the Symphony, it’s simple mindfulness: if the Warren Theatres can police cell phone use at the movies for the sake of a better experience, surely a live music venue can do the same.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote for The Wichita Eagle.