Classical Music as an Economic Barometer
Even though markets wobble and finances are often still precarious (heaven knows what will
happen when interest rates start edging up), I wonder if recent – albeit rather unscientific –
indicators in the classical music world suggest a light at the end of the current crisis. I refer
to the giving of flowers to performers at the end of concerts.
When the crash happened in 2008 it was very noticeable, in London at least, that bouquets
rapidly seemed to be disappear from being presented at the end of concerts. With public
funding supporting almost all British orchestras there was an implicit realisation that when
economies were needed, such fripperies should be the first to go.
But now they are being presented again. I’m not talking about the Russian audience
members who have always come forward at the end particularly of a concerto performance
by a fellow Russian to present a small posy of flowers – just as someone did from the middle
of the stalls (and, indeed, the middle of a row) at the end of Natalia Gutman’s recent
performance of Shostakovich’s Second Cello Concerto
with the London Philharmonic
Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall.
No, I’m talking about staff from the venue or ensemble coming from back stage with armfuls
of floral festoonery. I was particularly reminded of the fact watching the DVD of Robert
Wilson’s beautifully lit but baffling stage version Adam’s Passion to music by Arvo Pärt,
recorded in May 2015 at the world première in Tallinn. At the end – enshrined on video – is
the rather chaotic delivery of flowers at the end, bearers crossing the artists, composer and
director while taking their bows. I know often ‘curtain calls’ on concert platforms are
uncoordinated, but here the flower giving should also have been rehearsed.
Of course, it may be that artists – especially the younger generation having known little other
than our recent, austere times – might not know what to do with flowers. At their recent
Royal Festival Hall performance of Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony with the Simon
Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, both soloists and conductor were given generous
bouquets. Ondes Martenot player Cynthia Millar and conductor Gustavo Dudamel seemed
unfazed, but pianist Yuja Wang immediately gave hers to the (male) concertmaster, who in
turn passed it on. Last I saw this blossoming bequeathing had continued to the back of the
second violins… Mind you, Wang was wearing a scintillating silvery dress that looked as if
it was really made of the shiny metal: perhaps she was worried it might rust?
I have to say, it was rare to see a man receiving a bouquet. I think our Wigmore Hall has got
it right. There the women still mostly get flowers, but the gents get a bottle (from the looks
of it, champagne too).
Whether or not all of this means that they should start employing musicians to be on
economic think tanks, or boards of banks, I leave up to you – but remember it was not only
the late Gilbert Kaplan, who made his money in the financial market, who had a love for
music and put his money where his mouth was.
© Nick Breckenfield, 2016
Nick Breckenfield has worked in and around the classical music industry over the last 25 years - at venues, agencies and as
a programme note writer and marketeer. He was Classical Music
editor for Whatsonwhen for 13 years,
and current clients include the Borletti-Buitoni Trust.