To clap or not to clap…

Rebecca HutterWed 14th November 2012

Does traditional concert etiquette still apply in the cinema?

Live cinema screenings seem to be popping up all over the place. The opportunity to watch some of the finest productions locally and at an affordable price is an appealing concept and a variety of arts companies have been experimenting with this new genre. But as with most developing projects, there are a few grey areas.  

Friday’s live broadcast of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at cinemas across the UK was part of their digital concert hall series, featuring works by Stravinsky and Rachmaninov. The performance was thoroughly enjoyable, as one would expect from the renowned orchestra, but I couldn’t help wondering about the correct way to act. Should we clap at the end? Should we be quiet in between pieces? Were the pre-concert talks part of the whole programme or was attendance optional?

Concert hall etiquette normally plays a prominent part in classical music concert halls; I know when to be quiet, when to talk, and when to clap. Yet cinema conventions are in many ways more introverted and applause is much more of a rarity. In this case, does the cinema-concert hall hybrid contradict our natural instincts in both environments?

The questions I had were not answered during the course of the evening, as it seemed that no one really knew what was appropriate. This is likely to be because there is, in fact, no ‘correct way’. In reality, our group effort to conform to both conventions resulted in confusion, coming close to awkwardness at times. It seems natural to want to applaud after an impressive work, yet at the end of The Rite of Spring, the cinema fell silent. This was contrasted with the rapturous applause given by the audience in Berlin and as the cameras panned out, it was evident that we were very much onlookers to the event. If we had all been clapping, I might not have felt so detached. Having felt so close to the orchestra just moments before, as the careful execution of the camera team glided between close ups of individual players and sections, this connection was stopped abruptly as the wide shots emphasised the distance and I was left feeling slightly underwhelmed. 

If it had not been for the confusion over protocol there would have been little of the evening to fault. The pre-concert talks given by Sir Simon Rattle, the chorus master and Berlin correspondent explained the music clearly and in an accessible way. The programmes given out added a lovely touch and the seats were much more comfortable than those in most concert halls!

With the winter season approaching, there are many more performances scheduled for broadcast. I hope that as audiences become more accustomed to this developing digital genre, it may also become more natural to applaud. Even though the players may not be there to hear our gratification, it still seems important that we clap if for no other reason than to show our appreciation and enjoyment to each other.

Rebecca Hutter

Rebecca recently completed a music degree at the University of Nottingham. She is currently studying for a masters degree in journalism at City University London. Find her on Twitter @rebeccahutter.

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