Each venue has its own audience, with its
own distinct characteristics. London’s
Wigmore Hall boasts an audience
which is famously high-brow (or at least would like
to be regarded as high-brow!)
and largely very elderly. Members of the Wigmore
audience are expected to sit in reverential silence,
to know when to clap, and to
generally behave impeccably.
I have twice been asked to remove my watch at the
"the tick is too loud". Sometimes if a member of the audience
coughs too much, or fidgets, or rustles a programme,
they will be met with fierce
looks and angry, hissed "shusshings".
There are often “musical celebrities” in the
audience, depending on who is performing:
without wishing to name drop (oh all right
then, I will), I have twice stood next to
Alfred Brendel in the bar at the Wigmore (his
protégé Till Fellner was performing on one occasion,
on another it was Imogen
Cooper, who also studied with Brendel).
Audiences at London’s Southbank Centre are
generally younger, more trendy, more
relaxed, while the Proms audience
is different again - a real mixture of music
students, curious tourists, the faithful who go year after year,
and people who are just beginning
to explore the great annual music festival. The
enthusiasm of the Proms audience is really
infectious and undoubtedly contributes to
the enjoyment of Prom concerts.
Sometimes the musicians themselves can affect
the way the audience responds and
behaves during a concert.
At Maria Joao Pires's wonderful Schubert series at the
Wigmore a few years ago, the musicians
(the Brodsky Quartet and singer Rufus
Müller) remained on the stage while Pires
played her solo pieces (a selection of
and the audience was asked not to applaud until the end of
the first half. This created a wonderful
sense of an intimate, shared event, and we
might have been in Schubert's salon,
enjoying an evening of music making amongst
friends, for friends.
But if we, the audience, are too much in awe of the soloist,
we can put up invisible
barriers which can affect the atmosphere
in the concert hall. This was very apparent
when I heard Daniel Barenboim perform part
of his Schubert Piano Sonatas
the Royal Festival Hall in May. The deep
sense of reverence was palpable even in
the public areas and bars of the hall.
Conversely, a performer can break down
the sense of “us and them” between soloist
and audience by introducing the
music they are about to perform, highlighting
interesting aspects or motifs to
listen out for (this is particularly helpful when
presenting modern, contemporary or lesser-known music),
or explaining why the
music is special to them.
Personal anecdotes and recollections help connect the
audience to the music and the performer.
This more informal approach also makes it
easier for audience members to speak to the
performer after the concert. And people
should not be shy about talking to performers:
most are pleased to receive
comments and praise for their performance and enjoy the interaction with their
In a recent article for his blog,
British pianist Stephen Hough praises the older
generation of audience members.
Too often people have grumbled to me about the
collective great age of most audiences
for classical music, citing this as a reason not
to go to concerts. But I agree with Mr Hough,
because these people are the mainstay
of classical music audiences,
and in addition to bringing the much-needed “bums on
seats”, they are loyal supporters of concert halls,
orchestras and music societies,
often giving generous donations and financial support.
Of course, it can be offputting
for a younger classical concert ingénue
to be confronted by a sea of grey heads, but
in general I have found such audience members
to be friendly, engaged and
enthusiastic (if sometimes a little sleepy
after a good pre-concert lunch in the
We shouldn’t knock audiences. They are the reason why music was written, to be
shared with others, and in concert halls large and small, and even in my living room
where I host informal “haus konzerte”, they provide the crucial link between music
and performer - for without an audience there would be no “concert”.
Read Stephen Hough’s article here.
Frances Wilson is a London-based pianist, piano teacher,
concert reviewer and blogger on music and pianism as
The Cross-Eyed Pianist.
She is a reviewer for international concert and
opera listings and review site Bachtrack.com, and
contributes art and exhibition reviews to US-based culture and art site
She writes a regular column on aspects of piano playing for
‘Pianist’ magazine’s online content,
and contributes guest articles to a number of classical
music and music education websites around the world,
including Clavier Companion and The Sampler,
the blog of SoundandMusic.org,
the UK charity for new music.
Frances is Artistic Director of the South London Concert Series,
an innovative concert concept which gives talented amateur
musicians the opportunity to perform alongside young and
emerging professional and semi-professional artists in the
same formal concert setting
Read more on her blog: www.crosseyedpianist.com