To Clap Or Not To Clap – Blog Host Jonathan

It’s an issue that seems to surface at least once every season, and once it bubbles up, everyone has something to say.


When is it appropriate? When is it not? Who makes the rules? Why are there rules?  Who cares?!

Prompted by Andrew Druckenbrod’s thought-provoking article on the matter, and the media heat it has inspired (see a few of the on-line music critic responses from Greg SandowMark Geelhoed and Alex Ross), I’d like to solicit your thoughts on the matter.  What do you think of the traditions and our approach here in Pittsburgh and also further afield?

We ran an article in our Program Books for a couple of concerts, written by Leonard Slatkin (and copied in full below) and featured on the Adaptistration Blog.  Although, as Andrew Druckenbrod pointed out to me earlier today, it’s not entirely consistent with the message we have in the back of our program books…

What do you think?

To clap or not to clap

By Leonard Slatkin

Concert season has opened around the world. Orchestras are tuning up, bringing out their
musical gifts to the concert going public. Most of the time, they know their efforts will be rewarded with rounds
of applause. They just don’t know when
this will occur.

I was reminded of the difficult choice the audience
must make in this regard, with a few concerts that I conducted during the past

When the Pittsburgh Symphony performed at the Proms
in London, Lang Lang was the soloist. He played the first concerto by Frederick
Chopin. When we concluded the [first] movement,
several thousand persons in the Albert Hall burst out with fervent, appreciated
applause. Lang Lang acknowledged them
with a bow.

A few weeks later, I was involved in a performance
of the Brahms Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham. On the first night, the audience applauded after the movement, but,
surprisingly perhaps, the subsequent two audiences refrained from any kind of
outburst other than coughing.

I cite these examples because it is clear that
audiences do not understand the etiquette that goes along with there [sic]
participation as part of the performance. Most of the time, most listeners just wait to see what others will do
and follow suit.

Well, the argument against premature applause is
usually that it interrupts the flow of the entire work. History tells us that this is a false
assumption. In the 18th and 19th centuries,
it was common for the audience to express its appreciation and demand, if not a
repeat of a movement, at least an encore of another selection.

The applause is not only to acknowledge the
performers and a particular portion of the work, but it is also a suitable way
to break the tension in a positive way. What happens when no one applauds? The audience coughs and finds other ways to release the buildup of
sitting for up to 25 minutes in silence.

I can only think of a few [musicians] that prefer
the silence. Most of us are delighted
that the audience is enjoying the performance and wants us to know it. But no sin has occurred. And there should be no embarrassment.

So, in summation, it is just fine to express
yourself at a concert. Those of us on
the stage will know if you really mean it and we will be thrilled. Just don’t overdo it with lengthy outbursts
that last well into the night. We all need to get to the restaurants before
they close.

Used under the terms of the Creative
Commons License:

Taken from original posting at:

Adaptistration; an weblog on
orchestra management by Drew McManus,

1 thought on “To Clap Or Not To Clap – Blog Host Jonathan”

  • Clapping is a common issue that I see here in Pittsburgh. It has been the subject of a few interesting articles in newspapers and program books. I feel that sometimes applause between movements may be appropriate (although no one should have to feel restricted to behave in this manner), but often times it disrupts the transitions or just merely the mood set by the piece. Last week the symphony performed Strauss’ “Tod und Verklarung,” or Death in Transfiguration in dedication to a great violist that had pased away, Peter Guroff. It was absolutely beautiful, with powerful energy, climaxes, and a lush and rich tone. The piece ends in a state of true serene depth and it is so powerful and lets off so gently that you gets chills. The moment that the string musicians lifted their bows off of the string there was the most obnoxious roar from someone in the audience. This piece certainly deserved applause but one of the most precious moments in a piece like this is the silence that follows the music, this is true in many cases. This silence allows one’s brain and body to process such a fllod of musical expression and it would have been especially apprpriate in honor of Peter. In conclusion, I wish that people would not completely dispose of aplause, but be more sensitive about it, because applause can make or break a good performance in that sense.

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