Audiences Behaving Badly: Episode 1

Posted Tuesday, May. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Over the first 4 1/2 days of the Cliburn, members of our staff have been inside the hall for all 42 performances, and we have to say — the audiences have behaved pretty darn well. There’s been minimal snoring/drooling/slumping over, and far fewer cellphone rings than there were four years ago. (We recall there being one in almost every recital back then.)

And, yet. And, yet.

The infractions we have witnessed have been egregious. Here are three particularly conspicuous incidents of audienceus horribilis:

1. “WTH is so funny?”

Saturday night during Alessandro Deljavan’s first preliminary solo recital, a group of three people sitting in front of us on the orchestra level — a man and a woman, and one man behind them — got distractingly “communicative.” The choreography went something like this: Woman on right would shoot a glance at man on left, he would shake his head “no;” then she’d look at the man behind them; he would give his head a shake. Then woman would start giggling, shoulders moving up and down. It went on. And on. During most of the 12 Chopin Etudes.

Did we mention it was distracting?

We were to interview the pianist immediately after the recital, and while we should have been concentrating on the playing, thinking of questions to ask him about the performance, all we could wonder was, “What are these three laughing/gesturing/glaring about?”

We don’t think it was Deljavan’s much talked-about expressions being shown on the big screen that caused such reactions in this trio; they behaved this way when his hands were up there, too. We’re pretty sure they weren’t professional critics; they’d never make it through a performance long enough to earn a paycheck.

“Are they piano teachers, and do they know if he’s missing notes or pedaling wrong, or do they just not like this guy and want everyone around them to know they and their students could play the piece better?”


For the enjoyment of others in the hall, perhaps there should be reminders to not only turn off cellphones but overly “judgy” behavior, as well.

2. “Keep your appendages and accessories inside your personal space.”

The Bass Hall seats, as comfortable as they are, get small and cramped for people with long legs.

Our critic sits in the same seat for each and every performance, without complaint. Except after one recital.

The person sitting behind him spent pretty much the entire 45-minute recital pushing on the back of his seat with his knee or foot.

That’s not nearly as bad what happened when poor Gustavo Miranda-Bernales played his first recital, though. In the midst of a quiet part of his piece, a loud crash could be heard in the audience chamber.

The cargo went thud on the floor was, officials later confirmed, a woman’s handbag that had fallen several stories from a balcony onto the floor.

Thank goodness her cellphone didn’t then ring.

3. “Maybe no one will notice this faint glow from my screen.”

Before each performance, the stage announcer Steve Cumming reminds the audience to turn off cellphones, pagers and other electronic devices.

About 97 percent of the audience obeys the rule.

But there do seem to be some for whom “turn off” or “silence” seems to mean “just put it on your lap and maybe no one will notice.”

Someone near us texted and carried on, presumably, on a social media site, during Beatrice Rana’s entire second preliminary round performance on Monday. In the upper balcony, people have pulled out iPads and passed them around.

These silent electronic offenses aren’t distracting to the pianists, of course, but they’re disruptive to the people around them.

For all the live tweeters inside the hall, we say, #tsk, #tsk.

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