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07 juin 2013

To clap or not to clap

von Philharmonie Luxemburg


It is a never ending discussion. Should concert goers be "allowed" to clap whenever clapping feels needed or should they follow the tradition built up during the last 120 years? A substantial question arises from this first one. Would a younger audience be less anxious to enter a concert hall if it could clap more freely?

Back in 2010, Tom Service already announced a possible change of tradition in his Guardian column. So did Alex Ross who publicly appealed: „It’s one of the great ironies of the classical concert experience – the most explosive, exhilarating music is often greeted by total silence. Let our applause be heard!“

A couple of years later, things still hadn't really changed. The Huffington Post relaunched the debate by publishing the article Classical Music: To Clap or Not to Clap (CHANGE MY MIND), starting a lively discussion among its readers with a sentence by Richard Dare : "The problem (...) is that we live in a 'musical North Korea' ".

I agree, there are some rules - clearly putting the emphasis on "some"! - that might be difficult to understand or seem unnatural to first-time conert goers, rules that could sometimes be loosened up. For certain pieces I do myself sometimes wonder why I should not clap between two movements. But for other pieces, it is absolutely clear to me, that clapping would be inappropriate. Be it because the silence between the movements somehow is an integral part of the atmosphere of the composition -  would you really clap between the first and second movement of Schubert's Symphonie N°8 (the Unfinished) or in Berg's deeply mournful Violin Concerto? - or because the musicians simply need these few seconds to concentrate on the upcoming movement. (True, the coughing and sneezing between the movements is very irritating too.)

I rather believe that what keeps younger audiences away from the concert halls is the fact that children and teenagers are way too rarely confronted to classical music. They simply don't know what it is because they've never heard it. They can't know how enthralling a classical concert can be because nobody helps them to find out the difference between hard facts and sticky preconceptions.  Loosening up the "clapping tradition" may help to change the conservative and old-fashioned image. But hey, this old rule can not be the reason for not attending a classical concert? As Alex Ross said, classical music can be explosive and exhilarating. You can experience all sorts of emotions during these concerts. The only thing you have to do is to get rid of all preconceptions and inhibitions, sit down in the chair and let the live music overcome you!

We'd be very curious to have your thoughts on this question! Leave your comments below.