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Time to revamp the 'no applause' rule in classical music?

March 10, 2010

One of the pleasures of attending the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's Happy Hour concert a few weeks back was hearing spontaneous applause whenever a soloist played a particularly engaging piece. 

I'm sure, though, that there were hardcore classical fans in the crowd who felt that such eruptions disturbed the musical moment as badly as would a cell phone going off.

Now, the ISO's Happy Hour concerts are designed as casual affairs (At the same performance, someone even whistled at the conductor before he even raised his baton), so the mid-piece clapping should not have been surprising. But there's debate among music lovers about whether the whole idea of applause restraint is a custom best abandoned. Music writer Alex Ross chimes in on it here, noting that the Commander in Chief even joked about needing guidance. "Fortunately," Pres. Obama said, "I have Michelle to tell me when to applaud."

Is that how it should be? Would more people be comfortable with symphonic concerts if clapping wasn't met with cold glances from other patrons?

Or is part of the magic of a symphony concert lost when the applause isn't saved for the end?

Your thoughts?

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