Raising the white flag at the BBC Proms

During a 1970s Festival Hall concert conducted by Bernard Haitink a serial cougher decided to accompany the posthorn solo in the third movement of Mahler's monumental Third Symphony. Maestro Haitink continued to beat time with his baton while using his left hand to extract a white handkerchief from his pocket and hold it high over his head to encourage the cougher to mute the intrusive noise.

Such an action would be unthinkable at the Proms today, because the conductor would spend the whole concert with an arm raised holding a handkerchief. At one time the Proms audience had the enviable reputation of being the best audience in the world, but now it is the noisiest. My most recent visit to a Prom was almost certainly my last. Because not only is the Albert Hall sound poor, the sight lines unacceptable, the ambient temperature too high and the foyer facilities inadequate. But I found myself surrounded by people who made it quite clear that they were not there to appreciate the music, but rather to participate in a mass sonic selfie via persistent coughing, distracting talking, playing with mobile phones and the inevitable politically correct applause between movements.

This year a new and important element has been added to this sonic selfie, the conductor's speech. Daniel Barenboim rode his personal hobby horse in his speech at a recent Prom, and next month it is the turn of his fellow Askonas Holt artist Simon Rattle - a shared provenance which, incidentally, I suggest is not insignificant. Let us hope that when Simon Rattle rides his personal hobby horse in his post-Gurrelieder speech he pleads not only for a better London concert hall, but also for a better Proms audience.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).


Pliable said…
And yes, there is a miracle cure - http://www.overgrownpath.com/2011/06/miracle-cure-for-concert-coughs.html
Pliable said…
On Facebook Neil Talbott comments:

'Such a salient point - it's to do with the increasing insensitivity - or damned rudeness - of today's concert audiences.'

Recent popular posts

Scott Ross and the paradox of genius

Four great albums that are victims of clickbait correctness

Berlin Philharmonic's first woman conductor

If this had been a Deutsche Grammophon session.....

Conductors who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones

Missing so much and so much.........

Sounds of Sufism

What the law of diminishing diversity tells us

Untold story of the counterculture's Islamic connection

How classical music ignored the awakening electronic dream