Making an Entrance

Steven Winn, co-moderator of our live events in San Francisco, examines one particular part of the classical music concert ritual — the entrance. Who exactly should we be applauding for?

I knew there was something I liked about the Mariinsky Orchestra filing onstage together at Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall, where the ensemble played three knockout Tchaikovsky programs last month. But it took eavesdropping on the couple behind me one night to pin down what the appeal was.

It’s just good theater, I’ve always thought. Good showmanship. Leave the stage empty, bring down the lights, then start the stage-filling parade to a steady rumble of applause. The tactic seems much sharper than the casual gathering of forces most American orchestras employ.

True, watching musicans wander onstage and chat with their colleagues does create a kind of intimate town-meeting atmosphere. We’re all in this together, artists and audience members finding their seats at the same time before the conductor arrives to call the proceedings to order.

My two neighbors at Zellerbach had never seen the all-at-once entrance. One of them found it to be peculiar. “It makes sense,” said the other. “We’re applauding for the people who actually make the music.”

The Mariinsky music director, Valery Gergiev, got his own round of clapping and cheers when he strode onstage. There’s certainly no mistaking the authority and power of personality he exterts. He’s anything but self effacing.

And yet there was a kind of respectful deference in allowing the musicians to get the first greeting of applause, in both halves of the program. (The entrance ritual is repeated after intermission.)

American culture loves stars and star-making. Do we play into that tendency by focusing our attention and accolades at a concert first and foremost on the conductor?

— Steven Winn

1 Comment

  1. Rick Robinson says:

    Steven, I can understand your excitement to a whole orchestra walking onstage together. Yet this is a common practice for many European orchestras and almost never done by American orchestras. Although we did this in Detroit after the strike ended, as well as to begin the season last month… to great effect I might add!

    I’m no historian but I suspect the American equivalent is in fact the entrance of the concertmaster. As much as we love our concertmasters, I believe their famous entrance is meant to allow the orchestra to warm up at their seats, save the time it takes the orchestra to walk onstage and save the audience from having to clap a 3-minute crescendo. She/he represents the whole orchestra gracefully greeting the audience.

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