Tuesday’s (3/9) Guardian (London), carries a transcript of New Yorker music critic Alex Ross’s Royal Philharmonic Society lecture at London’s Wigmore Hall. “Last autumn, Barack Obama hosted an evening of classical music at the White House. Beforehand, he said, ‘Now, if any of you in the audience are newcomers to classical music, and aren’t sure when to applaud, don’t be nervous. Apparently, President Kennedy had the same problem.’ … Obama was having fun at the expense of the No Applause Rule, which holds that one must refrain from clapping until all movements of a work have sounded. … The underlying message of the protocol is, in essence: ‘Curb your enthusiasm. Don’t get too excited.’ Should we be surprised that people aren’t as excited about classical music as they used to be? This question of etiquette is only part of the complicated social dilemma in which classical music finds itself. … I wonder about other oddities of concert life: the vaguely Edwardian costumes, the convention-centre lighting schemes, the aggressive affectlessness of many professional musicians. Whether the format should change is by no means an easy question. I don’t plan to offer prescriptions. Indeed, in my view, the chief limitation of the classical ritual is its prescriptive quality; it supposes that all great works of music are essentially the same, that they can be placed upon a pedestal of a certain shape. What I would like to see is a more flexible approach, so that the nature of the work dictates the nature of the presentation—and, by extension, the nature of the response.”

Photo by Pete Souza

Posted March 10, 2010