The last time famed violinist Joshua Bell appeared in Houston was January, 2012. Along with accompanist Sam Haywood, Bell brilliantly performed a dynamic program of works by Brahms, Ravel, Ysaÿe and Mendelssohn. The audience, however, pretty much just showed its ass. True, the crowd was enthusiastic and appreciative. It was also rude, impatient and remarkably uninformed.
The night started with Mendelssohn's Violin Sonata in F Major, a work with three movements. Normally, an audience waits for the entire work to be completed before applauding (that allows for the movements or sections of the work to flow together to form one cohesive statement). During the Friday night performance we attended, the crowd happily applauded after each movement destroying the flow of the music. Bell, ever gracious onstage, kept any displeasure he felt to himself.
After the Mendelssohn, Bell and Haywood took a bow and walked off stage, as is normal for this sort of performance. The audience was apparently eager for intermission, because lots of people got up and walked out of concert hall. Caught off guard, the ushers weren't in position to stop them and quite a few folks made it out to the lobby. Bell and Haywood came back on stage expecting to launch into their next piece and instead found themselves waiting for the ushers to shoo errant fans back to their seats. After the first movement, a second wave was allowed back in the hall, while Bell and Haywood again patiently waited.
Bell and Haywood might have waited patiently, but a significant portion of the audience, us included, were annoyed. An ill-mannered audience can ruin a performance, not only for artists onstage, but for the other more well-behaved fans, like us, as well. Given that some of fans pay upwards of $100 a ticket, that's really not fair.
Bell has three performances scheduled with the Houston Symphony starting September 20. The concert is aptly titled Joshua Bell Returns and features Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto. In an effort to avoid a rerun of last year's faux pas, we have a few suggestions for fans, a sort of Guide to Being a Good Audience.
1. Get there on time. This isn't like at the movies where there are a slew of trailers before the movie starts. If the concert's scheduled to start at 8 p.m., guess what? It starts at 8 p.m. Not 8 p.m. plus-time-for-one-more-drink, not 8 p.m. plus-Let-me-check-my-voice-mail-real-quick. 8 p.m.
2. Read the frigging program. Three movements means three pieces will be performed in a row without any applause between movements, and certainly without an intermission.
3. Don't assume your applause makes up for your lack of consideration of others. Yes, we're sure that Bell, like other performers appreciates applause. We're also sure he appreciates the opportunity to perform without interruption or distraction. And fellow fans, you know, those folks who paid good money to see the show, don't have much patience for your disruptive behavior either.
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4. Shut up. The short pause between movements isn't the time to discuss after-show dinner plans. Or to loudly ask, "How much longer before the end?"
5. Stay home if you can't follow suggestions one through four. If you must talk during Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, buy a recording and listen to it at home.
Think of a concert like a dog park; well-behaved visitors are welcomed. Ill-mannered visitors ruin it for everyone.
Joshua Bell performs with the Houston Symphony at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, 615 Louisiana. For information, call 713-224-7575 or visit the symphony's website. $35 to $129.