Saturday, January 21, 2012

Have you been to Symphony LATEly?

The show's about to start at Symphony Hall!

Last night at Symphony Hall (I was there for Handel and Haydn's excitingly quirky take on The Four Seasons, you should go on Sunday) the audience once more sat through the usual Symphony drill: after the first movement (here, the first piece, an overture), there was a long pause, during which a large crowd of late-comers trooped to their seats.

The conductor, Harry Christophers, looked decidedly pained during this interlude; but I'm so used to this kind of thing by now at Symphony that I hardly notice it.  Still, isn't it odd?

Theatre and dance aren't that way - people show up on time for those (a little late, perhaps, but then Symphony doesn't start at the crack of 8 pm either). Okay, symphonic structure generally guarantees there will be a break about 15 minutes in - but honestly, the classical crowd elsewhere doesn't take nearly as much advantage of this as the Symphony crowd does.

No, this happens much more than it does anywhere else at the corner of Mass Ave. and Huntington.

Is it . . . the building?  The location?  The fairly small number of restaurants right around it?  Those constraints would seem to operate for any number of other venues in the city.  Or is Symphony Hall located in some sort of aesthetic Bermuda Triangle, where the normal rules of time and space don't apply?

Perhaps it's some kind of unspoken, Brahmin-philistine tradition?  The BSO's audience is widely perceived as monied and well, devoted to "excellence" in the corporate sense, but less devoted to the integrity of musical performance per se; Beethoven can bloody well wait till they get there.  And has the BSO's long indulgence of this attitude led to the expectation that people now think, "Well, I can be late, it's at Symphony Hall"?

I don't know.  It is a puzzlement.  "One of the three greatest halls in the world - and that's why we're showing up late."  But then Boston is full of these kinds of contradictions, isn't it.  Someday somebody ought to pull them together into one of those funny little books they sell by the cash register.


  1. I don't think it's the location. I go to BSO almost weekly and there aren't too many latecomers. BSO usually starts the concert 5 mins late.

    The worst offenders IME are Boston Ballet. Audience shows up at the opear house entrance AT start time, then have to make their way through the long L-shaped lobby, up the stairs, (stop and buy champagne), then be seated by understaffed ushers. BB almost always start 10 minutes late and they still seat latecomers during overture.

    I blame this on the young people's mentality that live performances = movies. At movie theatre, you can show up 20 mins late and still catch the last preview before the real movie starts.

  2. The Ballet does usually start later than Symphony, it's true. But I haven't noticed as many latecomers. Maybe the key factor is which performance you attend.