Bonger & De Graaf

thu 20 dec 2018

Starting with this newsletter Thijs Bonger and Bart de Graaf will be discussing people, music and everything that binds the two together. In this episode:


By Thijs Bonger
The concert is over. The echo of the loud final chord dies away. The string players lift their bows gently and let them hover above the strings. If the music has been powerful and moving –and if we’re lucky –we’re granted 5 seconds of silence.But usually the beautiful atmosphere will be rudely disturbed by applause. And then the inevitable happens:someone stands up and a mass standing ovation starts. If I’m personally not so enthusiastic about a performance and demonstratively remain seated I feel like a partypooper. Over the last few years it seems to have become a requirement In this country for everyone to stand and applaud at the end of a concert.

In France, Belgium and England standing ovations are rare, as they should be. A method which you use only on exceptional occasions to show how much the performer has moved you. But here our sheep-like tendencies have once again led to this very questionable hype. ‘ Where has this behaviour come from these days ? ‘ I frequently ask myself . Is it something to do with a widespread fear of judging a musical performance? On leaving the concerthall I often ask a fellow concertgoer: ‘What did you think of the music?’. The answer is often rather shocked and uneasy. Usually it’s: ‘Very nice, but I don’t really understand this stuff’.This response is actually meaningless. You don’t need to understand classical music to find something lovely or not.

But this comment about understanding music is not entirely unexpected. Generations of musicologists with their pretentious secret musicological language have meant that classical music is seen as something incomprehensible.They have put this sort of music on too high a pedestal. By doing so, in view of the concern for the waning interest in classical music, they’re helping to dig their own grave. But it’s also the case that many of the public don’t actually know what they think of the performance. Or maybe they do feel something but dare not express it. Does this look at your neighbour behaviour maybe make you feel safe ?

This everyone standing up after a concert works like a kind of inflation, which is useless for both the public as the musicians.Because if everyone always stands up, how can we show that we found it an extremely special concert? And consider the musicians – how are they to interpret the public’s behaviour? If you’re praised to the skies every time at a certain point it has no value any more. So after the next concert try and be more judicious about using the limited resources we have to show what we thought about it. And ask yourself if you really found it so special that it was worth a standing ovation

(footnote:this article appeared in a slightly different format in BN/DeStem)