An Unexpected Surprise – Bethany Hensel

Saturday's symphony was, no surprise, fantastic.  It had all the ingredients for a stellar night: renowned pianist Emanuel Ax as soloist, Manfred Honeck as conductor, and the Emperor Concerto – a piece that sounds as luscious and grande as its title.

So there really is nothnig new for me to report in regards to the concert itself.  It was ravishing, end of story.  (Maybe I'm biased though – anything by Beethoven is really going to be fantastic, no matter what the piece.)

I must admit however, that the biggest surprise of the night did not come on stage; rather, it came off stage.

How young is too young to come to the symphony? 

It's a question that turned in my head most of the second act, when I noticed a little girl several rows in front of me.  Now, I'm not sure why I didn't notice her in the beginning, but whatever the reason, during the second act, both my friend and I really couldn't take our eyes off of her.  She wasn't doing anything outright obnoxious.  No yelling or screaming etc.  But I couldn't help but notice: every (seemingly) ten minutes, the child would sit up and whisper in the adult's ear beside her and the adult would then, in turn, whisper something back.  Now, I was far enough away that it didn't bother me.  My hearing was not impaired by this in the slightest, even if my attention was pulled from the PSO to the little girl and her mother/sister/aunt/etc.  But, and here's the question, how did it effect the people in closer proximity to the couple?  I saw several heads turn toward them.  Where they annoyed?  Distracted?  I really have no idea.  All I know is that those couple heads who turned toward the couple then had the people beside them turn toward what was making the other person look from the stage.  (Did that make sense?)  Suffice to say, a small chain reaction went off around me. 

Before I go any further, I must say, I think it's absolutely fantastic that young people come to the theater – especially the symphony.  But it leads me back to my original query: how young is too young?  When you take a small child to any kind of live theater, there is always a risk of tantrums and other noise-making activities.  Boredom might (and usually does) set in, no matter if Barbra Streisand herself is up there singing.  (Okay, maybe not Babs, but you get the idea.)

I suppose distractions abound in anything you see.  At the movie theater, people shout at the screen all the time.  I saw "Precious" and I swear, there was more dialogue in the audience than in the movie.  But with live theater, should you do everything you can to make those two and a half hours go by as smoothly as possible but at the sake of bringing in young, fresh blood to what is considered by a select few as a "dying" art form?  Or should you be able to bring the young three and four and five year olds to enjoy an artform that most three and four and five year olds never get the chance to discover?

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Jan 25