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Classical Notes

Talkin' Beethoven 3 Blues

Posted at 11:35 AM on April 18, 2006 by Don Lee (3 Comments)

“More music, less talk.” Radio stations have traded on that slogan for years. And the pitch makes sense: When listeners tune in wanting music, they tend to get impatient with lots of chat, no matter how personable or informative the announcer may be.

Noticing a trend toward more talk in the concert hall, London Financial Times critic Andrew Clark announces that he’s had enough. He prefers to have conductors immediately lift the baton and give the downbeat rather than take microphone in hand and speak to the audience. Clark makes a fair-minded argument, acknowledging the benefits of connecting to the audience in an informal and interesting way. But, as a believer in “the sanctity of a classical concert,” he comes down on the side of “all music, no talk.” “When performers start speaking,” he says, “they break the spell.”

I share Clark’s belief, to a point. The sense of apartness from the world, of sanctuary, is a concert hall experience I treasure. (And for that reason, I side with another writer who gave a raspberry to a BlackBerry at Carnegie Hall.) But the word “sanctity” also connotes a sense of inviolability that can be forbidding. To people outside the concert hall, the message can too easily seem, “You are not welcome here.” To undo the damage that kind of message has caused, much work still needs to be done. Talking conductors are doing some of it.

Clark says that, as a teenager, he didn’t need explanations to be “enraptured” by Ravel at a piano recital. But what did it take to get him inside in the first place?

Comments (3)

I enjoy hearing the context of how a particular work was first performed, something about it's history and pertinent programatic information. That's something you all at MPR hit the sweet spot with, by the way. Such commentary is also appropriate in the concert hall. Imagine you were hearing the Siegfried Idyll and were not given the program information? Still musically interesting, but less fun. Or imagine that one was not made aware of context of Elgar's Cello Concerto. One might miss out on the concert experience.

Let the Maestro talk.

No one ever built a statue of a critic. (I heard that on the radio.)

Posted by ted vasilow | April 18, 2006 3:10 PM

NO NO NO!! Commentary should be printed in the program or only delivered at concerts that are explicitly billed as "educational" concerts such as performances for students. I go to a concert to hear the music, not receive a pseudo-lecture from the conductor. Leave the lecturing to professors, musicologists and historians and leave the conducting to the conductor!! I find it particularly insulting when the information about a piece of music is printed in the program and then the conductor feels the need to regurgitate it to me as if I can not read it for myself! And, yes, it is vital that one knows the context of the music but it is almost insulting to assume that an audience needs to be lectured. Read the program notes or study up before you go to a concert!

Posted by Jason Kudrna | April 19, 2006 1:28 PM


Posted by dwadwaddw | January 31, 2008 8:55 AM