Saturday, 19 June 2010

Country bumpkins and concert etiquette

It is summer, and hence festivals around here are all in full swing. Cormatin boasts each year two important festivals, the guitar festival (Guitares en Cormatinois - June/July) and the theatre festival (Les Rendez-Vous de Cormatin - July/August). The guitar festival is quite popular, also with tourists. Most likely music is much more accessible for foreigners than plays in French. Almost every year the opening of the guitar festival takes place in the romanesque church of Malay with a concert by the nationally well known French guitar player Emmanuel Rossfelder. This year he did not open with a solo concert; this time he accompanied the mezzo-soprano Yana Boukoff (of Yugoslavian origin) with a program called Viva España.
The program consisted of mainly Spanish music (not illogical, given the title), although the program also showed pieces like Bach’s “Jesus joy of man’s desire”, two pieces by Heitor Villa Lobos (Brasilian) and the well known aria from Bizet’s (French) Carmen “L’amour est une oiseau rebelle” (Habanera). As an encore they played Bach/Gounod’s “Ave Maria”, a German/French cooperation. But who cares, as long as the music is good! The program was nicely balanced between instrumental and accompanied vocal pieces. For me, as the father of a classical guitar player, it was really nice to hear again many pieces my son once had on his repertoire. There were “Andaluza” written by Granados, the famous tremolo piece “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” and the “Jota” by Tárrega, all played with gusto and technically perfect. And also the “Canciones antiguas” by Garcia Lorca were not unknown to me.
What I find very amusing during these sort of concerts in this environment is the (lack of knowledge of) concert etiquette. I have learned it, as many people, the hard way, e.g. by applauding at the wrong instant. And that certainly took me a number of concerts. I must say, that it all sounds easy for the average visitor of concerts, but what about those who rarely see the inside of a concert hall? Applauding during the performance? Very normal during jazz concerts; almost impolite not to clap after a solo. Applauding during an opera, after a beautifully performed aria? Perfectly ok, even shouting Bravo is allowed. Clapping after a good solo dance in a ballet? Nothing wrong with that either. But during a classical recital, after each part of “Seven popular songs” by de Falla? Ai, ai, ai, almost a deadly sin. It is also not uncommon, not to applaud in between pieces when the pieces are written by the same composer. But there are also exceptions to this rule....
I have to confess, that sometimes I lost count, causing me to applaud with the majority of the audience as well. Having said this, for those who lost count or do not remember whether a piece consists of three or four parts, it should be clear from the body language of the artists whether a piece is finished or not. Rossfelder for example raises his guitar demonstratively when he finishes his piece. But again, in this audience of farmers, ex-farmers or villagers the lack of etiquette seems to be no problem for the performers. Rossfelder as well as Boukoff were very grateful for every “illegal” applause. Most likely they thought to be better of with a public that did not exactly know how to “behave”, but was at least appreciating the music they played to the full extent!

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