Monday, October 22, 2007

Concert Etiquette 101

Last night I went to watch pianist Lang Lang play one of his 10 concertos as part of the 10th Beijing Music Festival. As part of the month-long event, he is performing 10 concertos with different orchestras and conductors. And he has memorized them all.

I was thrilled to get a ticket as he's always a big draw in Beijing. I got the second most expensive ticket at 480RMB (US$64), while the top ones were 880RMB (US$117).

Having arrived at the Poly Theatre early, I wandered around the lobby and was surprised to find very expensive jade carvings for sale, from pendants to sculptures. Of course there were also Lang Lang CDs and books about Chinese culture available.

Then I went upstairs to get to my seat. When the attendant took my ticket stub he asked me if I brought a camera and I said no. He also reminded me to turn off my cell phone which I thought was good, as many Chinese are notorious for leaving them on during a concert.

And when I sat waiting for the concert to begin, a recorded message was played at least three times in Chinese and English. For some reason there were 14 rules for the Chinese, and only 11 listed in English. The rules included no wearing slippers in the auditorium and wear neat clothes; turn off your cell phone and no photography allowed; no eating and drinking in the auditorium, if you must leave the room, do so between movements, and so on.

I thought that if this announcement was played as many times as it was, the audience would get the message. But I was wrong.

One thing I need to add is that the attendants don't help seat patrons. They only take their ticket stubs. They should really seat them so that they know where potential offenders are. Also, it prevents people from taking someone else's seat, thinking they won't show up. This happened several times last night and if this is a common occurrence, why not do something about it?

But I must commend the attendants for doing a good job anyway. As soon as the lights dimmed, one young man watched for people taking out cameras or cell phones to take pictures. He had to warn a woman more than once to stop taking video of the concert. He leaped into action to stop another from taking pictures from her cell phone.

I would love to rave to you about how wonderful Lang Lang played. He performed Prokofiev's Piano Concerto no. 3 with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jonathan Nott. Lang Lang came out in a black suit with sparkling lapels and pocket flaps. He alternatively attacked and caressed the piano keys, meanwhile soaking in the moment as if it was his last concert.

We all clapped like mad, getting him to come back out for an encore and he finally pleased his fans once more with a profound piece that I'm ashamed not to know the composer as he didn't tell the audience. Again it was a dramatic piece of music that ended so softly, that we all had to take a moment to catch our breaths before clapping and shouting again.

But my concert experience would have been even better if the couple behind me on the right hadn't distracted me from watching a brilliant talent at play. They were in their 50s, not particularly fashionable, but not shabby either, having probably paid the same amount as me for tickets.

When the orchestra finished its first movement, the couple began talking. They weren't whispering, but talking. I turned around and gave the woman a dirty look and they stopped.

But then after the second and third movements, they continued talking. I don't know what they were talking about. The second time I turned around, I looked straight at the woman again, but she looked right through me as if to ignore me.

Also another two men behind me on my left were talking too. I turned around to look at them but didn't get much of a response back.

Then when Lang Lang was performing, the man remarked to his wife, "ta tan de bu cuo," or "he's not bad [at playing the piano]." Uh, yes.

After a while, I heard strange electronic noises. I turned around and saw the husband using his cell phone. I told him to turn it off. He just looked at me and didn't do anything. The fashionable woman sitting next to me repeated what I said and he grumbled yes.

But he didn't. Because as soon as the intermission came, he was playing with his cell phone again.

He didn't come back after the 20-minute break, but his wife did and probably she didn't have anyone to talk to, she was restless and couldn't stop kicking the chair in front of her or playing with her program. Again the couple next to me had to tell her to stop.

When I go to a concert, I am there to watch the artist perform to the best of their ability and appreciate the moment. And I assume that most other people are there to do the same thing.

But when nouveau riche Chinese people think they can just buy tickets to whatever they want, they need to understand the protocol that goes along with it. And that the rules also apply to them. My 480RMB experience was almost ruined by people distracting me from the main event.

I don't know how this can be remedied in the short term. But after the concert, I did thank the attendant for doing a good job. I'm sure he'd have more stories to tell than me.


Jason said...

I hate how casually some people take these performances. It will take a lot of time for the Chinese to become savvy when it comes to manners and etiquette. It's just not part of the culture, unlike the Japanese who take pride in it.

Larry said...

I agreed. I think part of the problem is that people who watch alot of television at home carry their home mannerisms to the theatre not realizing it's not the thing to do.

ks said...

it will take a whole generation for the chinese to catch up with etiquettes. even hongkongers who are a little more educated still have this problem. in vancouver i also have experienced the same scenario. in the old days chinese used to have four shameful stigmata==poor, stupid, weak, selfish. now china is prosperous ,people stronger won olympics, but still unsophicated and selfish. public education is the answer.