Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Conflicting Opinion

Drew McManus reproduces email from an orchestra board member, and suggests that others in the business chat with orchestra members after a concert. Start by asking the performer how s/he thought the performance went, is the orchestra board member's idea.

Well, you know, speaking as a member of an amateur performing group, I'm not so sure about this.

For one thing, I am highly self-critical, and I remember every damn mistake I make. I also notice the mistakes people around me make and the mistakes whole sections on the other sie of the stage make, from off-pitch entries, to which singers have voices that stick out, to the time the whole tenor section held a note for two beats after everyone else had correctly stopped singing. I was not in a good mood after that concert, no, I was not.

Do I think most of the audience noticed? No, I do not. Is it a good idea for a member of a performing arts organization to recount errors the group made to a happy audience member? No, it is not. Should a performer say something like "Gosh, I thought it was not anywhere near the best we could have done"? or worse? Maybe not! And I am not so good at being diplomatic about these things.

I've seen the following from the musicians at recent San Francisco Symphony concerts:
  • Enthusiastic acknowledgement, tapping of bows, applause, smiles at Martha Argerich
  • Enthusiastic acknowledgement, tapping of bows, applause, directed at MTT and at the solo chairs - this was just last night, at the first of the Schubert/Berg concerts
  • Blank faces and hardly any acknowledgement of Vladimir Ashkenazy
Let's just say that the musicians' reactions mirrored my own.

I don't know whether or how much professional orchestra musicians are coached in public relations and what it's okay to say to members of the audience (and press). It's easy to imagine a situation where a player gets in trouble for being...a little too honest and a little too explicit. Do you think they like every conductor or soloist who comes through? And do you think it's wise for a player to be honest with a board member about these things? If players are unhappy with a music director or guest conductor for good reasons, sometimes it's best to have the union deal with the issues. I myself would hesitate to say anything other than platitudes in the situation the board member describes in his letter to Drew.


Paul H. Muller said...

If I have a chance to speak to a performer after a concert it is my policy always to pay a compliment.

If I am asked anything about a performance in which I took part, I typically say something like: "Could have been worse.." Often you get just a limited number of performances of a piece and regrets seem to be part of the price you pay.

So I agree that not asking a performer how things went is probably for the best.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I'm looking forward to what Drew has to say!