An open letter to Symphony Patrons

Last night I was lucky enough to attend one of the final open rehearsals of Berlioz’s  Roméo et Juliette conducted by Maestro Charles Dutoit.  In all the years I have lived here I have never been to a BSO open rehearsal.  Now I know why.

My gripes, listed below, have absolutely nothing to do with the performers.  Indeed, I was quite taken with the tenor, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt.  His performance was outstanding and clearly the best of the three vocal soloists.  Watching Dutoit work was lovely and, in all likelihood, far more fun from the perspective of a working professional performer than seeing him in concert, though I will have to wait to report back to you about that on another day.

However, what made the night almost unbearable were the patrons.  Here, in no particular order, are the problems that made me and my friend want to throttle the other people in the audience.

1) Dress.  You’re going to the symphony, gentlemen, even if it is “only” a rehearsal.  If you’re wearing Tiva’s, NAOT, or anything else that shows your toenails (which clearly haven’t been cut since the Nixon administration) you’re doing it wrong.  Also, to the man with the feces stain on the outside of the seat of his pants?  No, just no.  The rest of our outfit was fine, how did you miss that?  How did the woman you were with miss it?

2) CELL PHONES.  Wow, where do I begin here.  The BSO has for years projected that helpful slide up on the walls that reminds everyone, that means YOU, to please turn off your cell phones before the performance.  This INCLUDES open rehearsals.  When your cell phone rings during the pre-concert lecture the polite thing to do is to immediately TURN IT OFF.  Letting it ring because you are too embarrassed to reach into your pocket makes you a bigger jerk.  We all know it is you, lady in the white jacket.  Furthermore, if it happens a second time then you are just a consummate entitled ass, or you’re too deaf to have a cell phone that isn’t permanently set to vibrate.

Also, a note to the person in the 3rd row, stage right, orchestra section.  When the first violin section is pointing at you it’s time to TURN OFF YOUR RINGER.

3) Entitlement and Deafness.  We all know that the Classical Music crowd is about 80 – 90% blue hairs.  This is pretty much a fact of life.  What is NOT, however, is that they act like entitled pissy socialites wherever they go.  To the two 70+ year old ladies who came in during the pre-concert lecture and proceeded to have a very loud argument about where to sit, FAIL.  There were seats literally everywhere.  There were seats on the aisle.  There were handicapped seats.  You had your pick of seats that didn’t require climbing steps or moving very far.  This was not rocket science.  But, when you are talking AT each other so loudly that the entire orchestra section is shushing you because we can’t hear the lecturer, who was very interesting and engaging, you’re doing it wrong.  It makes me wonder, when you’re that deaf, how much you’re going to actually hear of the experience, anyway.  I mean, go ahead, enjoy yourself, but SHUT UP when other people are trying to listen.

4) Seats.  Anyone who has ever been to Symphony Hall, even once, knows about the seats.  The building is old (opened in 1900) and the seats are practically antiques.  Unlike other concert halls, the seats are not spring loaded.  There is a nice benefit to this, no squeaking when you sit down, no pressure from underneath when you sit, and no snapping shut when you stand up.  However, there is one major downside.  You have to actually set your seat down or it will fall down with a BANG.  When the hall is largely empty, like it was for the lecture, this sounds roughly like a cannon blast.  When the hall is full, like it was for the rehearsal, it sounds like a gun shot.

Now, imagine being on stage and trying to rehearse and hearing that over and over and over again.  By the end of the rehearsal my friend and I were about to start throttling people, and we were  in the audience.  I literally hadn’t been to Symphony hall in years.  She hadn’t been there in a while either, yet neither of us had a problem remembering to set out seats down quietly.  Most of the people around us were clearly regulars.  How hard is it to take an extra second and put your seat down quietly?  I’m surprised nobody got skewered with a baton or a bow for knocking seats down, dropping off their coats, and then swaning about and chitchatting while Maestro Dutoit was on stage getting the orchestra to tune.  Really??

5) The Audience as Furniture.  The BSO has a lot of reasons for holding these open rehearsals.  Off the top of my head here are a few:  It’s good for audience building, the bar for entry is low ($17.00 for a ticket, not bad), it’s a great way to test drive a new piece that you might otherwise not want to pay full price for, it raises money for the BSO, and most importantly, the orchestra needs it.

That’s right, as a performer it is a completely different experience to play or sing in a space that is empty than it is to play or sing in one that is full of bodies.  The acoustics, even in an “acoustically perfect” venue such as symphony hall, are different when the hall is full of warm bodies.  That is just a truth of performing, it sounds different, the reverb is different.  It IS different.  So, guess what folks?  We are there as furniture.  We’re listening furniture, and for our pains, we get a cool pre-concert lecture wherein we get to learn about the piece, but our job is to sit there, SHUT UP, and listen.  We’re there to help the orchestra so they have some practice with that piece in the space when it is full of people.  This is especially helpful when you are dealing with a piece that is not in the standard repertoire, such as Berlioz’s  Roméo et Juliette.

In summary, turn off your damn phones, shut up (you never know when he’s going to stop the rehearsal and you’ll get caught talking down there in the front row), dress appropriately, check your batteries in your hearing aids, and if you’re going to be a total tool, STAY HOME.


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