Could the Rite of Spring happen today?

What if there were an uprising, but nobody showed up?

In today’s world, protests pop up at the drop of a hat.  Anything perceived as disrespect, an insult, or inappropriate behavior is cause for righteous indignation, but what if no one reacted?  What if someone set out to provoke a reaction, but nothing happened?

In the world of politics, that is highly unlikely, but in the music world, it happens all the time.  Composers write something jarring, something edgy, something that should evoke a response, we applaud politely, discuss it at intermission, then forget about it.

The reaction to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is legendary.  In a website posting, New York radio station WQXR-FM put it well.

“On May 29, 1913, the Paris premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring provoked a riot: whistling and booing, catcalls and fisticuffs overran the performance and the police were called in to quiet the angry crowd. It became one of the most celebrated scandals in music history.”

While I am not advocating a riot, throwing a punch, or even booing, I do wonder if we are a bit too polite, not just when we don’t like something, but even when we do.  When asked about audiences clapping during a piece after a particularly spectacular solo, one violinist said, “I would love it if that happened.”  Talk about an adrenaline rush!

It’s just like sports.  I’ve sat in stadiums where the crowd is sitting on it’s hands.  The home team seems to be going through the motions and the crowd is passively watching.  Fans are waiting for something to cheer about, while players are looking for some crowd noise to pump them up.  Players begin waving their arms at the fans, trying to get them to make some noise.  

Maybe we need to get the percussion section involved, after all, they’re already on their feet.  They could swing some towels around, wave their arms, and encourage the audience get a little pumped.

OK, so maybe that’s a bit overboard, but you get the idea.  I recently heard Beethoven’s 7th Symphony performed by ProMusica Chamber Orchestra.  It was an electric atmosphere.  Timothy Russell was conducting his final subscription concert after 34 seasons in Columbus.  

He and the orchestra were perfectly synced, everybody was giving it all they had, and relishing every measure.  The audience was locked onto every note.  It was an amazing performance I will never forget.  I joked afterwards that, while listening in the wings, I stood too close to the horn section and nearly was blown off my feet.

For me as an announcer, energy from the audience makes a difference.  Sometimes I receive an e-mail or Facebook message which comments on something I am playing at that moment.  It always pumps me up a little bit when a listener reacts in as the music is playing.  It energizes me a little the next time I open the mic.

Audience feedback has the same effect on the musicians.  When they can tell the audience is really into it, it changes the performance.

I encourage you send a little energy, a little vibe toward the stage at the next concert you attend, just don’t start throwing things.

Read more: 100 years after Stravinsky’s ‘Rite,’ can classical music still shock? (WQXR)