Ed Smith, former head of the City of Birmingham, Toronto and Gothenburg Orchestras, has a bone to pick with conductors. They are very quick to milk applause for every part of the orchestra, he says, except the main body of strings. A rethink is needed, says Ed.
Maestros, read carefully and respond.
When I was Orchestra Manager of the Liverpool Philharmonic in the 1970’s, second or third rate conductors, desperately anxious for a re-invitation, would single out sections or individual players for special acknowledgement at the end of a performance. They no doubt thought that wind and brass players were more “important” and had greater influence on the conductor engaging process than the strings. We all recognised this ingratiating tactic and treated it with the amusement and disdain it deserved. And they were usually never seen again!
But now, they nearly all do it!
Most conductors – including many of the great ones – go through the silly ritual of bringing individual players and sections to their feet for special attention – sometimes even at the end of a single piece. And the string players are, of course, always the last to be acknowledged.
It’s a really quite surprising display of insensitivity and I can’t understand why it’s become so widespread. Of course conductors should get the cellist up after a Brahms Second Piano Concerto or the cor anglais after a Swan of Tuonela or the trombone after a Shostakovich Fourth Symphony and other players where really significant solos have featured. And an especially well playing wind section in a Mozart Piano Concerto might be worthy of separate acknowledgement. But otherwise the orchestra is an orchestra – a group of up to 100 + musicians who play together as one body. It’s not a collection of individual and separate groups of woodwind, brass, percussion and strings.
I believe it should be acknowledged and applauded collectively and equally as such. How insulting it must be for those 60 odd string players (who, incidentally, will have probably put in significantly more graft in terms of rehearsal time) to have to sit and tap their stands enthusiastically whilst their colleagues are bidden to rise (often reluctantly and with some embarrassment) to receive special adulation. Of course, they themselves are not going to give voice to any frustration. That would be churlish. But I’d be very surprised if beneath the surface, whilst applauding their colleagues, there is not at least a little sense of feeling undervalued. And what can the players and sections singled out do other than stand to accept their special applause as commanded by the conductor as gracefully as they can?
No, the only people who can put a stop to this are the conductors themselves ( or their managers). So those who are reading this, please reflect a little on just how upsetting it may be for all their players to perpetuate this discriminatory practice.
Am I being curmudgeonly? Well, I don’t think so – I’m just articulating what I think needs to be said on behalf of those who are unable to. It’s a bit like the devaluation of the standing ovation which has now become so commonplace to mean nothing………..but that’s a separate gripe!