When you hear amazing music at a rock concert, a Broadway show, or a jazz club, you applaud, right? Everyone does. These days, people even clap in church when a choir sings beautifully. But what about a concert hall? Should you clap when you feel like it?
This is a more controversial issue than you may think. Just try Googling "clapping during classical concert." Composers like Mozart expected and hoped for applause after each movement (section) of a piece. This tradition evolved with certain composers during the 19th century, like Schumann and Mendelssohn, who wrote music in such a way as to leave no pauses where the audience could sneak in a clap or two. In the 1930s, conductor Leopold Stokowski suggested that it would be more appropriate if audiences didn't applaud at all. He hoped people would sit in awe, rather than express their emotions by clapping. So, withholding applause until the end of a piece is only a 20th century tradition.
In a 2018 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, some leading conductors spoke out in favor of the audience expressing their emotions. Gianandrea Noseda, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., said, “Exploding in applause after a movement of a symphony — this does not bother me. We are trying to reach the heart of the people.” Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, told the reporter, “The thing to me about applause is that if it feels spontaneous and comes as a result of the music, I don’t mind at all.”
Our own artistic director and conductor, Jung-Ho Pak, agrees. His feeling is that you should clap when you feel like clapping. However, the audience may not agree. According to research conducted by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, 77% of their audience was against clapping between movements. And we do receive complaints about this issue from some of you, in response to the surveys we send out after concerts. It’s important to understand that the tradition of withholding applause is relatively recent, and to consider showing empathy for people who are excited enough to clap.
Manfred Honeck, music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, said that “Tradition changes, and that is good. We are aiming to have people experience emotion.” He added a great quote from composer Gustav Mahler: “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” It’s a beautifully phrased point, and one worth considering.
Here at the Cape Symphony, we appreciate your applause! If you are moved by the music, by a soloist, or by anything else to put your hands together, then do it. We want you to enjoy the experience. Check out the remainder of our 2018/19 season, join us in the concert hall, and feel free to express yourself!