On Saturday night I went to see the New Jersey Symphony in Trenton. (A PATH train misadventure prevented me from seeing Friday night's show in Newark as planned. Hello, Hoboken!) Something delightfully odd happened during Stenhammar's Piano Concerto No. 1, with Neeme Järvi conducting and Per Tengstrand, an intense young Swedish virtuoso, at the piano. After the first movement, there was the usual smattering of applause mixed with assorted "hushes." Tengstrand looked toward the audience encouragingly, as if pleading for applause. Then he reached for a microphone and began to talk. He explained that he'd intended to say something about this unusual work — unheard in America for more than a hundred years — but as he walked out onstage he forgot. So he decided to speak up in the middle of the concerto. Highly irregular, yet it did not harm the piece. It was refreshing to have a brief respite and change of mental gears before the Scherzo. I'm not recommending the inter-movement lecture as a regular feature, but it exemplifies the kind of (mildly) free-spirited behavior that classical concerts need more of. The historical record suggests that composers of the pre-1900 period would be horrified by modern concert etiquette. Accustomed to applause between and even during movements of a large-scale work, they'd assume that audiences hated their music or had no comprehension of it. Are we more serious, more cultured, than Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms? All those who consider themselves more serious than Brahms have every right to shush their neighbors after the first movement of the D-minor Concerto.
The New Jersey's Northern Lights festival continues.