Minor Music
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When to Applaud


concertArtIs it ok to applaud between movements at a classical concert? It seems as though everyone from presidents to school children seem flustered by that sense of, “What do I do?”
In the fall of 2009, President Obama hosted a classical music event at the White House. He jokingly admitted that he relies on the guidance of the First Lady for advice in this area, and chided the audience that they were “on their own” in deciding such matters.
Luckily, you’re not really on your own. You have us. And we want everyone to approach this topic with the quiet confidence needed to fully enjoy the concert experience. So, we came up with the best answer yet to the question of whether or not to applaud between the movements of a multi-movement work.
Our answer is: It depends.
Now hear us out, because the further we dug into this topic the more complicated it became. We weren’t just considering the musical design of the piece itself. We also needed to consider the venue. The truth is, some works are composed with a clear-cut separation of movements.   Other works are comprised of more tightly-woven components. Similarly, some venues exude a more relaxed attitude, welcoming spontaneous audience response. Others, not so much.
When we asked the kind folks at The Philadelphia Orchestra for their official position, Jason Shadle, manager for the orchestra’s Youth and Family Programs told us, “Conventional etiquette maintains that audience members should not applaud between movements.”
Conventional etiquette. Why the qualification? Because it seems that in the 18th and 19th centuries, audiences commonly applauded between movements, sometimes even in the middle of a movement if something particularly dramatic happened. But as time went by, this practice became less accepted.
Shadle refers to the orchestra’s Guide to Audience Behavior which states, “Audience members should watch the conductor carefully. He (or she) will lower his arms and then face the audience when the orchestra has finished playing. Show your appreciation with courteous applause.”
Scott Cantrell, classical music critic for The Dallas Morning News, agrees. He maintains that, “Holding applause until all movements are performed helps sustain attention and drama through the whole work.”
He adds, “I hate it when people break the spell by applauding between movements and by applauding too soon at the end of a piece. Give the music time to exhale. “

Likewise in an email I received from the Berliner Philharmoniker, silence is celebrated in this statement:

We know how much (conductor) Claudio Abbado appreciates the silence when a concert ends and the applause has not yet started. This concert with Abbado and the Berliner Philharmoniker from the 100th anniversary of Mahler’s death, ended with such a particularly long moment of everyone allowing the music to fade away into silence. The storm of applause that followed was for a memorable performance of Mahler’s Lied von der Erde.

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