Friday, October 31, 2014

The curse of the standing 'ovation'

Are you one of those parents who think each child in a competition deserves a special medal for taking part? Do you believe every employee in a workplace should get a raise, regardless of accomplishment? I think I saw you at the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra concert Thursday night.

You plodded dutifully to your feet at the end of Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto to applaud pianist Abdel Rahman El Bacha, who had played with staid competence. You didn't leap to your feet. You stood, zombie-like, and clapped long enough for him to return to the stage once, though barely long enough for him to get off again. 

You do this with such regularity that neither I nor the longtime symphony fan next to me could remember the last artist who didn't get a standing O at the Belk. I thought back over 32 years in the Opera Carolina chorus and couldn't remember the last time that audience didn't stand.

Do you really think every performance deserves such a tribute? Performers, myself included, know better; we can tell when we've had a blah night. Do you think it's bad manners not to stand, because you're saluting a guest in our city? Are you trying to justify the cost of the ticket? ("I spent $89. This MUST be great!") 

I'm not knocking El Bacha: You may have responded more strongly to his playing than I. But to rise at every concert means you can't distinguish between magnificent and mediocre performances or don't choose to.

If you're compelled to rise by playing far above the norm, more power to you. I do that myself: Wu Man's CSO appearance this month in a pipa concerto shot me out of my seat. But please don't do it as a ritual, because that devalues performances that really deserve a standing O.

To paraphrase country singer Aaron Tippin, you've got to stand for something special -- or you'll fall for anything.



Interesting . . . At the Sunday performance of the last opera production, NABUCCO, I had the same thought about standing ovations, when I looked around me and saw almost everyone in the audience standing in response to the performance. I felt that I might look unappreciative, and almost rose myself.

Instead of perfunctory standing ovations, I wish that Charlotte audiences would be at least polite enough to remain in the theatre and continue clapping until after the curtain closes and house lights are up.