How not to make audiences feel

I know that audiences can be annoying, and clueless, and distracting, and all the rest – but come on, folks:

I just have to write a letter concerning the recent performance of the Abilene Philharmonic.

Abilenians are a welcoming group who are quick to applaud, and even provide a standing ovation. Yet a beautiful performance was marred by some audience members not understanding symphony behavior. David Itkin should take a few moments at the next performance to explain this. He would be taking advantage of a teachable moment, and doing everyone a huge favor.

Clapping should not occur between movements of a piece, but instead at the end when the conductor turns and faces the audience. If he isn’t facing the audience … don’t clap.

Silence between movements provides an opportunity for rest and reflection for both the performers and audience. Clapping disrupts this.

Just watch the faces of the performers, especially the violinists. They are reacting to David Itkin’s expression of a smile, eye rolling, gasping … or something. I’m afraid they are laughing at us.

Alice Chavez Jones, Abilene

There’s a famous aviation story about a pilot who, after becoming frustrated with a controller, finally came on the radio with “Am I up here because you’re down there, or are you down there because I’m up here?” I think it would be good for us to remember that we’re on stage and getting paid because there are people who want to hear us – and not the other way around.

Giving the audience the impression that we’re laughing at them is not the way to a community’s heart.

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.


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  • Silence and reflection, huh? So it has time to sink into their Neanderthal brains that what they have just heard is great art
    …and God forbid they have the audacity to be human in public and have to expel a cough.

  • Hear, hear, Rob. The custom has been different in different times and places. I confess that I used to be a real snob about this (and still am about many things…), but these days I’m grateful for any genuine response from an audience. They’re there, listening, having paid good money for a ticket to see us live rather than just downloading something off iTunes, and if they want to leap from their seats cheering after the second movement then I say good on ’em, you know?

    I do sigh a bit at the ones who can’t leave a second of silence at the end of something like the Barber Adagio… but really, folks, applause in the “wrong” place is better than indifference.

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