And so it seems that classical music provokes strong feelings. I should be pleased really, for when it shuffles out and nobody notices, that’s when it ends. Not with a bang, not with a choral climax, not with a final joyous chord, but with a descent into a silence once filled with sound. Opinions, no matter how polarised will never be the enemy here, the enemy is indifference.
The audience matters and plays as much a part as the performers in a way. I see you. Every night, I see you, and you make a difference. To see the orchestra in rehearsal is to see a work in progress, a lump of rock being chiseled by the sculptor, the build up of colours in a portrait; but come the performance, the final work is revealed, the rough rock now smooth and defined, the numerous colours merge together to reveal a previously hinted at depth. Move a sculpture from the artists studio to a plinth in a square and it becomes a spectacle, a picture from easel to gallery can become a masterpiece despite the fact that they are unchanged from completion to viewing. A symphony though, is different. Nobody in the hall knows what will happen at the first downbeat. An audience may come with expectations, previous heights which they hope can be relived, bettered even; they may come for the first time with no preconceptions - or many. The performers hope to create a culmination of a week of rehearsals...but none of us know for sure where the evening will take us.
The difference between those rehearsals and the performance, for me, is one thing. The audience. Without the audience, there is no performance, just another rehearsal. Maybe it’s adrenaline, maybe it’s because I’m a show off (probably a combination), but it always feels as if I play better with an audience. It’s symbiotic. That’s one reason why the free concert in Trafalgar Square was such a success. Playing in front of an audience of 10,000 is inevitably exciting. It’s not about pretending to be a rock star, although it does generate a huge amount of excitement, in the same way that playing in the world cup final adds a frisson over playing on a windswept muddy field. An audience encourages, it coaxes and inspires. When you see people in front of you enjoying what you do, it helps, it really does. We as performers hope to inspire the audience and you inspire us.
And I can see you. Even as the lights dim to darkness, I can see you. You may think that as the spotlights ignite, you fade to black whilst we shine in front of you, but I can assure you that that is not the case. Sometimes, if you sit in the stalls, we make eye contact, when I’m counting bars rest, sometimes when I’m playing. Sometimes there is a smile of recognition, sometimes you probably don’t even realise I can see you, but I can. I can see the attention paid by the earnest looking, the fidgety child in the slow movement and the awestruck couple holding hands in the passionate moments as if the world could end at any moment. The audience makes a difference, it matters. In the Barbican at the weekend, as Daniel Harding came on to the packed stage to conduct Brahms Requiem, I saw you. You were sat next to an empty seat intently reading the programme until the moment of stillness before the piece began. And when it did begin, you sat looking ahead at nobody in particular, a face of concentration and effort. As the work unfurled and I looked up again, you had removed your glasses, dabbing your eyes in between the movements, brow furrowed. The Brahms Requiem is a fiery piece, but not in the same way as Verdi, it’s much more of a slow burn, a long journey that gains emotional weight on it’s long path to peace. It’s moving in a different, quieter way. By the end of the piece I felt shattered and I could see you did too. As we stood for the bow, I looked ahead and saw you drying your eyes, replacing your glasses and putting the programme away in your bag. When we stood a few minutes later for the second time, I looked and you had gone and I wondered for who it was you weeped.
An audience of 10,000 or and audience of 1. In the end, it doesn’t make any difference.
This is my personal blog. All views are my own and are not endorsed by any of the organisations I work for.