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CLASSICAL MUSIC/ Rattalino: where are the whistles at the theater?

Musicologist PIERO RATTALINO comments on the fact that the audiences at classical music concerts are so silent, what it means, and whether it will continue in the future.

An orchestra performing An orchestra performing

A deafening silence envelops classical music. There is much more confusion in Mass. It is much rarer to find enthusiasm, annoyance, confusion, or resentment, expressed by listeners at a concert in a clear, hot, way, from their seats. Except at the opera, the whistles are gone, “boos” strictly prohibited, those who have a cough risk suffocation, in Holland and Germany they offer already-unwrapped candy at the door, all comments are rebuked with fiery glares, and anyone arriving late has to stay outside. Scratching, noisy sleeping, whispering, movements in general, and overt expressions of praise or boredom are forbidden.

An excessive sigh, tapping the beat with a shoe, and drumming the rhythm with your fingers are actions deserving of a yellow card. Everything is disturbing, even applause. Try to clap at the end of a movement that is not the last. You look like a fool. But it is not as if they are recording a cd.

It was not always this way. The performances of Mozart were peppered with “bravos”, comments, and loud signs of approval. The first performance of Beethoven “Third” was repeated three times. Three Eroicas in a row, and it was almost a rule to immediately repeat the Allegretto of the “Seventh”.

During the timpani solo in the Scherzo of the “Ninth”, people jumped to their feet with a liberating roar, a mixture of joy and amazement, and the orchestra had to start over. Liszt was often forced to play fortissimo to appease the spontaneous ovations. Until a few decades ago, the audience clamored for the composers and the encores they wanted to hear. Today, the quiet is cosmic, even more than the “4'33”” of John Cage. At the exit of our concert halls, the spectators crowd like after a funeral, unable to shake off all those notes.

Is anyone there? The musicians on stage seem to ask, a bit confused and embarrassed by so much tranquility. What happened? We asked Piero Rattalino, a longtime musicologist for his opinion.

"In music and in the human psyche, three aspects coexist: thought, emotion and play. In the history of the concert, we went through these three stages, but in reverse order.