Concert Rage in Hong Kong - What is happening to our society?
Last night I attended the wonderful first night of the 43rd Hong Kong Arts Festival. The Arts Festival is an annual treat during which we have the opportunity to experience masterly and challenging performances from the worlds' most talented artists. Last night's performance by Christian Thielemann and the Staatskapelle Dresden was exquisite. The programme opened with Strauss's Metamorphosen, a poignant reflection on war and a memorial for a world destroyed during the bombing of Europe in World War Two about which the composer wrote: “2000 years of cultural evolution had met its doom, and irreplaceable monuments of architecture and works of art were destroyed by a criminal soldiery.”
A phenomenal opportunity and an evening which generated reflection on man's ability to create and destory? Yes.. but not provoked by Strauss's music.
In the dying moments of the Metamorphosen, an over-enthusiastic member of the audience decides to start clapping. Shocking? Yes. Worse than the ignoramuses who don't turn off their mobile phones? (Yes, Mrs Government-sponsored seat occupant in the front rows of the stalls, looking at you...) Possibly. Pause for the final notes to die away.. Conductor Christian Thielemann, his arms suspended in the air, holds both the orchestra and the audience in thrall... CLAP! The silence is shattered by the same man applauding again. The performance ends but the enchantment is diminished. The orchestra files off and the audience rises. But wait.. the dulcet tones of the interval announcement are offset by the harsh bellowing of a middle aged man in the balcony, shouting in fury at the pre-emptive clapper. "You ruined the performance for us all. You should leave now". the clapper shouts back. The protester continues, his voice gaining in confidence and strength. An innocuous looking man in a blue checked shirt, he is incandescent with rage. The older, beige clad clapper, is a man who would also vanish in a crowd but is standing his ground. The audience take sides. In response to a heartfelt "you have spoiled the concert," they erupt into a round of applause which rivals that received by the orchestra only minutes before.
Extraordinary! What possible explanation could there be on both sides? Maybe the clapper was a novice concert-goer, carried away with enthusiasm? Maybe the man in the checked shirt had been anticipating the evening for months? Maybe he had been pushed to the brink of tolerance by the chirping of phones surrounding him? Is such fury ever permissible? Music and culture provide respite for us in a world of chaos and negativity. Through music, we experience every emotion and seek understanding of what has become an incomprehensible environment.
Maybe we have all lost the ability to consider and respect other people. Do we really think of the impact on those who surround us before we get out our phones, or rustle our programmes? Are we tolerant of those who maybe don't know the rules of attending performances? The man in the checked shirt spoke for many in the audience (including me) and his bravery was saluted but really, was it justifiable? If we make culture inaccessible for those who don't know the rules, aren't we destroying it just as surely as if we destroyed an opera house?