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?