Unruly performance by ASO's audience

February 21, 2002|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I would tell you that decorum at the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra's presentation of Giuseppe Verdi's dramatic choral Requiem Saturday night at Maryland Hall reminded me of the atmosphere at a hockey game, but that would be an insult - to hockey fans.

As conductor Leslie B. Dunner began the intensely prayerful introduction to Verdi's opening "Kyrie" (aptly titled "Lord Have Mercy" in English), late-comers were still being seated, with a pair of Maryland Hall ushers at the rear of the auditorium engaged in a vigorous, fully audible discussion of where they should be placed.

During the opening portions of the Mass, a noisy child had to be carried out of the hall in full cry. Perhaps the misguided parents confused the Italian composer's grand operatic take on Catholicism's liturgy for the dead with the "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" kiddie concert the ASO has on tap for Sunday afternoon.

Later in the work, a fellow in Row T was so upset that Dunner elected not to place the intermission where he wanted it that he fussed loudly at his mortified companion through the "Offertory," distracting the entire upper right orchestra section of the audience in the process. Mercifully, he departed at intermission, no doubt to get home in time for a Dukes of Hazzard rerun on cable.

Apparently, he's a subscriber, too, believe it or not. During the break, regulars in that seating area told me he was flapping his yap in aesthetic protest all through Stravinsky's Petrouchka in January.

Later, in the middle of the "Sanctus," amid a cacophony of coughs that made Maryland Hall sound like the waiting room at Lourdes, an older gentleman sitting next to me began baring his soul to his wife with a fervor worthy of a Baptist prayer meeting. Thank heavens, he was silenced by a Good Samaritan possessed of enough moxie to strike a blow for proper etiquette.

(Shucks folks, it was nothing.)

I was so infuriated by all this that I nearly left at intermission. By concert's end, I was a nervous wreck contemplating multiple homicides, which, trust me, is not how Verdi wanted me to feel at the end of his piece.

I certainly can't claim that audience behavior at all ASO concerts is this bad, but I'm enough of a student of human nature to know that this brand of ill-mannered nonsense needs to be nipped in the bud. If the concert hall is to provide a respite from the dumbed-down, desensitizing noises of our popular culture, then exposure to great music cannot be compromised by the same mindless narcissism and lack of self-control that animates the pop aesthetic.

I suggest that the following steps be taken forthwith:

Ushers, whether provided by Maryland Hall or by the orchestra, need to get their act together.

Under no circumstances should they be seating latecomers after the music has started. They should be briefed in advance by symphony personnel as to when the first pause in the program occurs. Only then should late arrivals be marched down the aisle.

ASO staff members and the ushers need to make it clear to one and all that preschoolers, toddlers and babies are not welcome at adult subscription concerts.

People shelling out 35 bucks a pop should not have to tolerate the destruction of the concert atmosphere perpetrated by the little ones.

That message should be reinforced as tickets are sold and as people enter the hall. Immediate refunds should be promptly and cheerfully provided to those who didn't get the message.

It's time for the ASO to have a chat with its audiences, in its printed programs, newsletters, and in pre-concert pep talks, on proper decorum. You don't get what you don't ask for.

Pathetic as it sounds, there are desensitized souls out there who don't know the difference between a classical concert and a rock concert and need to have the aesthetic birds and bees explained to them.

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