Don't be late for the beginning of the concert! Other audience members would not be happy if, during a captivating introduction part of the symphony, you, kindly apologizing, would try to squeeze past them, accidentally stepping on their feet or falling into their lap. In the new concert hall of Reykjavik, it has been witnessed how every late person has been kindly welcomed and seated, even though the music has already started playing. In contrast - many will still remember the legendary Latvian philharmonic director Filips Sveiniks who, after the third ring, bolted the doors - no mercy for anyone.
By arriving early, you will manage to enjoy something refreshing in the concert venue cafeteria (if there is one) or to read the programme annotation - this old-fashioned habit is slowly returning in our concert halls, but many audience members still don't take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to widen the imagination while enjoying the music with the help of the read material. As there is no text without a context, there is no music that exists isolated from the author and its period.
Multicultural, liberal, democratic - our outer appearance is just like our society. Etiquette must be observed in events organized by the embassy, president etc. Concert audience should not feel too restricted by a special dress code. Yes, perhaps the upholstered opera walls are more suitable for something less ordinary, and, of course, everyone is glad to see people who are dressed up, but the concert audience usually consists of the so called members of the liberal professions, and they have never been bothered by the etiquette details. Try to convince Peteris Vasks to wear a suit...
Only exception: one should avoid wearing rustling clothing and loudly clicking shoes - if you would wish to exit the hall during the performance, the sound you make might overpower the sound that comes from the stage.
It is accustomed to not applaud during a cyclic composition - which means that, if a multipart sonata, symphony, instrumental concert, suite, song cycle etc. is playing, you should express your appreciation only after the last part of the cycle has been heard. Usually, but not always, the composer creates a cyclic composition as a whole, and it is easier to perceive if the atmosphere is not interrupted by a sudden applause.
It's true that, not only in Latvia, but also elsewhere in the world, it has become common that the audience expresses its attitude immediately between the parts of a piano concerto or a symphony (especially if the composer has crowned the opus part with storming and inspiring final beats). There are even world renowned conductors who accept it almost as a norm and are happy for the response of the audience (example - Roger Norrington after a concert in Riga). However, most audience members would be grateful for the opportunity to enjoy a cyclic composition as a whole without interruptions.
Lately it has become accustomed to stand up after every concert. It is understandable after a long period of sitting down, one can at least move around while applauding... This process cannot be influenced, just as it cannot be expected that the audience would praise with standing ovations only the most outstanding musicians, therefore - one should not feel guilty for not wanting to stand up. Everyone has the right to choose how to express their gratitude towards the artists. For example, the author of these lines would prefer to quickly disappear from the hall so he could keep the experience within him and save it as long as possible, instead of sharing it with others.
Alongside with misplaced applause, the musicians and other audience members could be disturbed by your symptoms of illness, for example, coughing and sneezing. It is best to prepare cough drops or hard candy and to make sure that it is not wrapped in a rustling paper. If the coughing does not calm down, there is only one solution - hurry towards the exit!
While the music is playing one should not speak or answer phone calls (there still are times when we can witness a scene where a lady is loudly whispering can't talk, I'm in a concert, while covering the phone with a hand with a golden ring). Actually the best thing to do is to turn off the phone entirely after entering the concert hall, as well as before the second act of the concert, after you have shared your experiences during the interval with an absent relative.
This might be a strange remark, but still - while the music is playing one should not restrict oneself in expressing silent non-verbal attitude. If something especially lively, happy, fun or comical is playing on the stage, don't be afraid that the impression, left on you by the music, is reflecting in your face - mesmerized audience is the best ally that a musician could have.
Text prepared by musicologist Orests Silabriedis
especially for FIGARO magazine
(No.2 September/November 2011)