Monday, August 8, 2011

Talking to the Audience

This is a postscript to the last post on the Miro Quartet concert. As has become customary, it seems, one of the members, the violist, gave lengthy introductions to two of the three pieces on the program. Lengthy meaning perhaps three or four minutes. As the writer of the program notes, there wasn't much for me, but perhaps it was helpful to those people who hadn't had time to read the notes. But he did get one of his facts wrong: it wasn't the cathedral in Toledo that commissioned Haydn's music, it was Cadiz.

When I was a young recitalist, it was considered a bit gauche to chat with the audience. It tended to erode the mystery of the music. But as time went on, that became passe and the cool thing to do was to speak directly to the audience. I do it all the time myself. Alas, sometimes the talking is a bad idea. In the case of a concert by a fine quartet whose every piece was preceded by remarks from their leader, a Russian with an impossibly thick accent, we could barely make out what he was saying, which was clumsy and pointless in any case.

I think it may be time to re-think all this talking. The reason I write program notes, which I do for over thirty concerts a year, is so the players don't have to try and think of what to say. It leaves them free to concentrate on the music. Properly researched and written program notes should also be much better than off-the-cuff remarks. Let's just get to the music, shall we? I often find myself squirming in my seat as some performer drones on, making unnecessary and often mistaken comments on the piece he is about to play.

And while we are at it, if we are not going to wear formal concert garb any more, can we at least refrain from do-rags? No, the Miro Quartet were not sporting this item of apparel, but it's been done...


liz garnett said...

Hello Bryan,
This is a question that used to come up regularly when I ran a performance class for postgraduate performers. We worked a lot on raising the awareness of the different roles and effects of notes versus spoken introductions, since performers need to be able to work with either or both.

The big thing to emerge from the experience was for young performers to learn that spoken introductions need a lot more preparation than they initially thought, and that it takes more work to keep them short and appropriate than to wiffle on, breaking rather than building rapport.

So I tend to think that the problem isn't the speaking to the audience per se, but inadequately prepared and rehearsed remarks. You wouldn't publish notes without proof-reading after all!


Bryan Townsend said...

Hi Liz,

I couldn't agree more! Your class sounds like just the thing for young performers. I find just about every performer's remarks before playing run on much too long. Yes, they may build rapport with some of the audience, but they risk losing it with others. I heard a German string quartet a few months ago and was delighted that they managed to play the whole concert without talking to the audience. First time in years for me.

Yes, I know I am an atypical concert-goer, and it is fine with me if performers want to introduce their pieces. But please be brief! Don't ramble and have something to say. Otherwise I, for one, will begin fidgeting and wondering when we are going to get to the actual music.

Let us not forget the magic of someone walking onstage, sitting down and out of nothingness creating wonderful music...