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