Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Let's take this outside

April 02, 2007

Mr. Salonen gets the job done
Photo: Annie Wells/LAT 2007
Twice a year our excellent local classical public radio station KUSC, like many of its brethren, takes to the airwaves to drum up financial support from its listeners to stay in operation. As much as I love them, this period always irritates me because I have to listen to them make some of the most inane arguments about why supporting classical music on the radio is important. Perhaps my least favorite of these runs something along the lines of classical music is important because its so relaxing. “Escape the hectic and fast-paced world with the peaceful and calming sounds of classical music” – or so it goes.

However, I'm not sure that the actual audience for classical music got the memo on this one. I don’t know about you, but while there are many things I think “classical music” is or can be, a relaxing escape is not frequently one of them. In fact, if anything, it would seem to be quite the opposite. It is both intense and intellectually demanding requiring concentration and thought. Relaxing is for bath products, not for music.

I would argue that my position is further borne out by the behavior in audiences at classical performing events. All of these chilled and relaxed people seem to get in a disturbingly high number of fights and altercations from what I can see. Take for example last Saturday night during the LA Philharmonic performance under Esa-Pekka Salonen at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. It was an excellent program starting out with a US premiere of a six minute overture written by Salonen himself called Helix followed by Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand and a suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet. Our hometown ensemble was in top form and played these pieces with great aplomb. (You can read more of this in Mr. Swed’s great review here.)

But apparently the concert wasn’t so soothing to some rather enthusiastic fans. A middle-aged man seated not far behind me at the rear of the Terrace section appeared overly confused about finding his seat before the show, but listened intently and reacted with a uniform standing ovation and huge shouts of "bravo" after every piece. Certainly Salonen inspires admiration, but frankly this was a bit much. However, as excited as he was in the first half, this gentleman apparently couldn’t quite get back in time after the intermission. Thus, those of us seated in the hall were treated to the sound of him tackling and pushing aside several ushers in order to return to his seat after the music had started, punctuated with the loud slam of a door and the clear shouts of a scuffle. That should sound great for the i-Tunes recording that was taking place. Of course the real fun came after the show as security cornered the lunatic and had him escorted from the building. Now sufficiently relaxed, he was ready to return home.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve seen classical music produce this reaction. Last year I saw a fist-fight break out in the same hall in a crowd overwhelmed with brotherhood after hearing Beethoven’s Ninth (also with Salonen) and two years ago I saw a man threaten to kill another over a slight the latter had made to the former’s wife in the lobby of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion during the intermission of Der Rosenkavalier, of all things. Maybe a dwindling audience for classical music isn't such a bad thing if we can just select who specifically gets dwindled in the transaction.

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