Appropriate applause for Itzhak Perlman?

October 5, 2010
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You may recall a conversation we had in this space a few months ago about whether or not it is a mortal sin to clap between movements of a symphony.

One Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra musician said, "If an orchestra is playing a multi-movement symphonic work, then I do not think it is proper to change the mood and flow of the piece by applauding between movements."

But another commented: " If you are so moved to applaud between movements - do it, applaud. And don't back down. It is your right."

The rest of that discussion can be found here.

That conversation came back to me at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's Opening Night Gala with Itzhak Perlman on Oct. 2.

There was no problem during the short pieces, with Perlman gracefully and seemingly effortlessly playing a pair of Mozart showpieces.

However, when Perlman set down his violin and took over the conducting podium for Tchaikovsky's "Serenade in C Major for Strings" and Dvorak's "Symphony No. 9 in E Minor" ("From the New World"), members of the audience couldn't keep their hands apart.

Galas sometimes attract those unschooled in symphonic protocol, so I wasn't surprised to hear some applause between movements. And Perlman and company should be used to such a reaction. While I appreciate the chance to silently soak in the completion of a movement and hear the purity of the beginning of the next, well, if an audience is inspired to show its appreciation for a performance, who am I to suggest that others restrain themselves?

What I found bothersome was the tittering that followed the applause. I couldn't help but feel that some audience members were afraid that the great Perlman would think that we were a bunch of yokels for violating this rule of musical etiquette. (Perlman turned and made comments about it during a break, but I wasn't in a position to hear what he said.)

Ultimately, the will-they-or-won't-they hurt but didn't ruin a strong musical evening.

As usual, a read of Marianne Williams Tobias' excellent program notes was instructive. In writing about the Dvorak, she said, "The symphony was an instant success, both in America and Europe. At the New York premiere, December 16, 1893, applause followed every movement."

Why should Indianapolis be any different?

One final note: Am I the only audience member who hoped, at an event such as this, that Perlman--joining the ISO for the first time in 25 years--would have played at least a short encore at the end of the concert? Or would that have violated another orchestra rule?

Your thoughts?

  • Perlman phoned it in
    Perlman only played his violin for a few minutes, which surprised me. He took on a couple of pieces by Mozart for violin, very short, and played maybe 5-7 minutes. The rest of the evening he only conducted. He didn't play again. And no encore. I found the best part of the concert was the opening Star Spangled Banner, which the orchestra played before Perlman came out. It brought the audience to their feet, hands over their hearts, and everyone sang. Very moving. I go every year, and I found Perlman's performance to be underwhelming. The party was still fun. And it was a magical evening. The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is, in my opinion, simply magnificent. The orchestra. The theatre. Top notch. But Perlman just phoned it in. We need a conductor. I am not the only one who feels the absence of maestro Mario Venzaga. He brought a lot of personality to the stage. It was sorely missing Sat night. And I am one who believes that it is appropriate to clap whenever the spirit moves you. I find silence between movements uneasy. These audiences are filled with student groups and plenty of people unversed in the odd customs of classical performance. Let them clap and enjoy themselves without condescension. I'm thrilled that young people want to clap for a performance of Tchaikovsky. I found Perlman's condescending remarks a little rude. He didn't, after all, even bother to dress. I've never seen a guest conductor in shirt sleeves when the entire orchestra was in formal attire. This was opening night. Like I said, Perlman phoned it in.
  • Clap Happy
    To me it was clear that the clapping bothered Perlman and the orchestra. The murmuring in the audience I believe was an effort to inform folks that the protocol is to wait until the end of a composition to clap and not in between movements. I understand the first couple of times why it happpened. But after the fifth or sixth time, it almost seemed intentional. The last two times there was not immediate clapping at the end of the movement, but rather a pause and then a few would start the clapping. In this day and age, people can't stand silence and have to fill it with something. I agree that Perlman did not bring his A game, but I don't think we have to worry about him coming back. I am sure they will always respond appropriately in Carmel :).
  • Lesson learned.
    Some 15 or 20 years ago we wrangled tickets to an Itzhak Perlman concert at the Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor. He performed only one selection and it didn't showcase his genius. We enjoy his music but no longer attend his concerts.
  • Oh Boy
    There is a time and a place, and proper prtocol for everything. Unfortunately this day and age many people aren't happy to just enjoy a performance but they feel the need that they should be a part of the performance ( the me-me generation and all).

    What I find interesting is that patrons at the Symphony seem to want to applaud during a performance but getting patrons at a jazz show to show their appreciation after a killer solo, where it is appropriate, is often difficult.
  • Really...
    This canard that consists in believing that from the central question of applauding or not, depends the future of classical music is getting tiresome.
    How about programming the zillionth Beethoven festival to start with?
  • To Clap Or Not To Clap?
    I'm submitting my comment both as a concert artist AND as a fan: I completely sympathize and understand the desire to applaud between movements. It's a collective "Yes! I get it and I agree!!!" However, from a musical standpoint, it does interrupt the "train of thought" (the composer's and the performer's). It is comparable to enthusiastically agreeing with someone before they have had the opportunity to finish their thought.

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