Thursday, October 21, 2004

End games

To the Festival Hall last night to hear Stephen Kovacevich playing Beethoven (Op.31 No.2 and Op.109) and Schubert (B flat D960). Glorious, soul-enriching music-making: intimacy, inspiration and gentle philosophy that didn't shout at the back row but instead pulled the attention quietly in towards the platform.

But one major bugbear: a small number of people insisted on clapping a) before the last chord of Op.109 had died away, before Stephen had even lifted his hands from the keyboard, and b) after the first movement of the Schubert B flat.

I don't care if this sounds 'elitist' (the most dangerous and misused word of the English language over the last decade). If you clap between movements in a work which your programme clearly tells you has four of them, you are stupid. But if you break the magic spell of music before the artist does, you are an insensitive, moronic idiot. You are wrecking the experience for everyone in the hall, including the musicians themselves. Music isn't only about sound. It is equally about silence and its magic lies in its use of silence - during, before, after and in between.

After a post-recital drink in the People's Palace, my friends and I came downstairs to find the pianist in the foyer, happily munching his way through the world's best-earned Big Mac. Stephen, we said, how do YOU feel when people clap in the wrong places? He told us that it didn't worry him so much after the first movement of the Schubert, but at the almost-end of the Beethoven sonata it made him absolutely furious. You might expect it to be more bothersome between movements, but no: it's the quality of silent rapture that carries a work away back into the ether that is most precious and vulnerable.

Can't halls bear to make announcements about this? Yesterday we had to sit through a five-minute speech about fundraising before they let Stephen onto the platform (any thoughts of donating money to the South Bank Centre must have evaporated instantly). Why could they not add, 'Make sure your mobile phones are dead and please do not applaud until the music has come to a complete stop...'?