Love the Magic
In a 2017 interview discussing the reasons for his success, André Rieu argued that “love and authenticity” are sometimes “hard to find in other classical concerts”. Perhaps it’s not that love and authenticity are lacking in other concerts, but they are instead less clearly evident. Rieu may have identified a problem….
|André Rieu's Maastricht concert (2015).|
Photo from ClassicFM.com
Love and authenticity are hardly difficult to come by amongst classical musicians. The very nature of practising – working for hours at the same pages, and returning again and again – makes it ludicrous to suggest that most musicians in this field lack love and authenticity. They are most likely in this career out of love, because only the very top few percent make bucket-loads of money. However, Rieu may be correct in implying that love and authenticity are not always as bombastically displayed in other concerts in comparison to his own; where Rieu rightly displays his affection for the music through smiles, elegant gestures and bright costumes, other instrumentalists go for a simpler touch. They don’t aim so much for a ‘look’ or a ‘brand’, instead using the music alone as their image. Think of Haitink’s restrained gestures on the podium, or the control of Brendel at the piano. Rieu is a showman, and clearly loves the music he plays, but so do all the other performers who may be less flamboyant. But is there is a problem with this? Does a lack of flamboyance suggest a lack of love for the music?
Of course not. We all react to art in different ways – just think of the last time you cried at a movie, or, if this doesn’t apply to you, the last time you scoffed at someone for doing so – and the same applies to performers. But Rieu’s comment does raise an interesting question about listeners: are we too serious, too high-minded, too restrained about the music we hold dear?
At a rock concert, we might see headbanging. At a hip hop concert, we might see mosh pits. At a world music festival, we might see dancing. It seems all of the various genres of music involve audience participation at one point or another in a concert, and yet what does classical music have as an equivalent? Audience members often get frustrated by coughs and sneezes, actively discouraging any sound or movement from anyone other than the instrumentalists on stage. It says a lot about our attitudes to the genre that we consider the Last Night of the Proms raucous; in any other context, an audience clapping, cheering and waving some flags would be considered at best the norm, at worst rather sober.
There is nothing wrong about this, since – as I previously argued – we all react to music in different ways, and surely this applies to different genres too. If we want classical concerts to be known for focus and intent, there is nothing wrong with that. However, my concern is that this tradition of audience restraint in classical concerts in reality stifles our individual reactions to the music. Instead of being a tradition of focus and intent, it seems more a tradition of restricting the joy we feel deep down when we hear a great piece of music. By sensing some unspoken concert code of conduct, we are reluctant to react to the music we love in ways that feel genuine and spontaneous to us. Silence is not the natural way to react to powerful music.
Rieu’s comment focuses on classical performers where perhaps it would be better focused on the listeners themselves. Whilst all such listeners undoubtedly love the music presented, it would often be hard to tell by appearances alone. Why should someone be reprimanded for clapping after a rousing first movement, if the infectiousness of the music drove them to do so? Why should someone be sneered at for moving in their chair at the buoyant rhythms of a scherzo? More radical still, why can’t we have concerts where people can move, dance, cheer, clap and sing?
I’m not advocating a return to the 18th-century, where audiences attending an opera were often present for anything but the opera itself. But classical music seems to me to have lost its sense of celebration – celebrating the greatest music ever written – and with it, its sense of fun. Why should we restrict audience participation to one night of a concert season?! In previous centuries, there would have been chamber music for such intimate expressions of individuality and togetherness, but we live in a time when it would be considered unusual to gather round a piano as a family and sing a favourite song. Nor do many couples attend a dance, an event that previously offered the opportunity to express our reactions to music spontaneously and without judgement. The larger scale concerts have become, for many of us, our most intimate form of music-making, and yet this has not translated to the way we react to the music we hear at classical recitals.
It could be argued that heartfelt cries of joy would be distracting in a classical concert, and that pieces require focus and silence in order to be fully appreciated. Why not react with a dance or a shriek at home to a recording, where nobody else can be distracted from the music? Such an attitude feels oppressive. Music is meant to be a universal language, and a language that touches a deeper part of our subconscious than anything else. Why, then, must we force ourselves to be so serious when listening to it?
Rieu is wrong to suggest other musicians lack love and authenticity. Listeners equally harbour an abundance of love and authenticity for the music they enjoy. The question lies with whether we show it. I don’t advocate applauding or crying for the sake of reacting, but I strongly believe that the first time we listened to such a piece of music, we would have reacted this way. The unspoken code of conduct – of quiet, rigidity and unobtrusiveness – has conditioned us to stay silent. Music is designed to provoke emotions, response and new thoughts, and whilst we undoubtedly revere a work, are we truthfully reacting to it at all if we sit in a concert as rigid as a corpse? Marilyn Manson described music as “the strongest form of magic”. It’s time that we were open to the way we feel about the music we so love, to celebrate it. It’s time that we feel free to show the magic that makes us listen.