Orchestra confuses Madison audience...

If you're like me and you've attended more than a handful of concerts in the past several years, you'll have noticed a trend toward the standing ovation for each and every piece performed. To me this is mostly a ridiculous fad that smacks of the audience congratulating themselves on attending a classical music concert. However, despite my cynicism, it's hard to begrudge an audience wanting to fully impart their joy and appreciation to the musicians on stage.

Although, never before have I heard the music accused of denying an audience their god-given right to the standing ovation.

figure ovation: The proper way to appreciate an orchestra performance. And what's wrong with those people in bottom left? Fucking commies, not standing.

Madison Symphony Features Cellist

Wow, snappy title.

Madison audiences are known for the generosity of their standing ovations...

...I know this is probably just me, but this is so condescending -- towards who I'm not exactly sure...

-- but, sometimes, it's hard to know when to stand.

I know. It really bites doesn't it? I mean, audiences already have so much to keep track of with respect to their applause.

How many movements? Are those movements performed without breaks? Is there a soloist? It's really enough to drive one to a fit of coughing or loudly crumpling their program in nervous anticipation.

Friday, for example,...

Excellent, an example.

...the Madison Symphony Orchestra featured cellist Ralph Kirshbaum, who played a haunting 22-minute piece, "Schelomo Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra" by Ernest Bloch, which ends in a long lamentation, one so somber that even the composer said "this work alone ends with complete negation, but the subject demands it."

Oooo...that is a tough call. The standing O for the somber lamentation? Man, how dare that orchestra put that kind of pressure on an audience while their community-wide sonic, choreographed love sits bursting at the seams.

A work of music that ends with "complete negation" is not the kind of thing that brings an audience to its feet, not matter how brilliantly the artist plays.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

So, when Kirshbaum finished, about half the audience at Overture Hall rose for the customary ovation and the other half seemed to wonder what to do.

So maybe music that ends with "complete negation" is the kind of thing that brings 50% of people to their feet. Learn something new everyday.

I mean, they only get one chance to show their appreciation. It's not like he's playing another piece.

His next work was Antonin Dvorak's "Silent Woods for Cello and Orchestra," which got off to a little bit of an awkward start as Kirshbaum and MSO Music Director John DeMain walked back onto the stage,...

Oh, wait. He's coming back for more? The audience must be so confused.

...walked back onto the stage, only to have DeMain peel off and go back to the wings before admitting he didn't have the music. It was one of those great non-musical moments you share only if you attend the live performances.

Great. Story.

But, what of the whole standing ovation fiasco? How was the situation resolved? Without violence I hope.

None of this is to detract from Kirshbaum, who played brilliantly. It's just that the music sometimes gets in the way of tradition.

Fucking music. Seriously, where does it get off?

When he finished the first half of the program, the audience had no problem at all rising as one to applaud him through several bows.

Whew. It's nice when things work themselves out, and everyone is able to just forget the unpleasantness that followed the Bloch.


By the way, the second half the concert "featured" Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony with many "familiar tunes" and an excellent time was had by all. A standing ovation followed the performance.


Sator Arepo said...


In the immortal words of Hank Hill:

"That's a great story, Mr. Meredith."

(And I kind of freakin' *hate* Bloch. Is that wrong?)

LindsayC said...

Just discovered your blog. I am simultaneously laughing my ass off and terrified that you will rip me apart next.

I am one of "them," the critics, the underpaid, overworked, in-charge-of-10-genres staff writers trying to turn a two-hour concert into a 500 word review in 35 minutes. (Gotta love print.) I have a masters in theater but I have never touched a violin in my life. Covering the orchestra is a helluva steep learning curve, but I know how to research, so I got that goin' for me.

Anyway, I was at that concert. I didn't stand, because I am a fucking commie. :-D Actually, I'm conflicted when it comes to standing. Do I stand to be nice, because everyone else is? What if I stand, and people see, and then I write a critical review -- is that like leading them on? It's so FRAUGHT. You know.

Tonight I am reviewing the Madison Symphony's Christmas Spectacular (yes, that's really what it's called). I ... welcome ... your ... comments. I think. Gah.

PS Your blog from last year on men at the Nutcracker made my day. Keep on, dude, pal.

Empiricus said...


Hey, thanks for reading! Don't worry, we try to understand that it's a tough racket. Besides, if you simply keep an open mind, you're probably safe.

About ovations, I always say, "If you're willing to stand in appreciation, you should be willing to throw something in ingratitude."

Also...fucking commie.

Also, also, come by again!

Gustav said...

Thanks for the nice comments, LindsayC. I'm so glad that you have enjoyed our blog. And please know that we very much respect what you do, and the various pressures of the position (especially given the immense cuts in funding over the past decade), such as having to review an art of which you aren't especially familiar. We kid because we love. Basically, thanks for having a sense of humor.

About standing ovations, I've basically decided that I'll stand only when I feel the performance was truly worthy (I'm such a rebel), or unless someone I know can see me. There's just something about every performance getting the standing ovation...I guess it's the whole "everybody gets a trophy day" mentality.

Best of luck at the Christmas Spectacular. Please let us know if it really was spectacular, or just merely astounding. Frankly, a lot of spectaculars I've been to are really more or less some shade of a divertissement or a pageant that are passed off as a spectacular.

Gustav said...

@ LindsayC:

Read your review in the Wisconsin State Journal of the Christmas spectacular. Thought you did a nice job. Keep up the good work.

Also, couldn't help but notice your aside about "standing" -- subtle wink in our direction perhaps?