Concert applause, for the most part, is like tipping. There's a certain amount of it expected, and unless the performance has been truly terrible or truly outstanding that's pretty much what the audience will stick to. Soloists at Philadelphia Orchestra performances, for example, follow a pretty much set pattern. They'll take a bow with the conductor, go off stage, come back alone to take another bow, go off again, and come back one final time with the conductor again to take a final bow. As they walk off the third time, the applause quickly dies, the house lights come on, and a few dozen people make an urgent beeline for the restrooms. It's the norm.
Except that last night when Martha Argerich walked off stage for the third time the applause only got louder. Cries of 'Bravo!' and 'Encore!' filled the air. Awed by her fluent and magnificient performance of Beethoven's Second Piano Concerto, the audience demanded that Argerich come back a fourth time, finally convincing her to play an encore, which she did with dazzling energy. By the fifth time she came out you could see she was exhausted, and pretty much forced the issue by taking the Concert Master along with her when she left. It was a breath-taking performance overall.
And we'd only got to intermission at this point! After the break, conductor Charles Dutoit (who will be leading the Philadelphia Orchestra for a while, as the Orchestra looks for a new director) came back to showcase, with a little help from Rimsky-Korsakov, just what the Orchestra is capable of. Piccolo, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone and tuba - every single member of that superb wind section was spectacular. I've heard Dutoit conduct the Orchestra a couple of times now, and on the whole I think he does a better job than Eschenbach. So it's good news that he's going to be taking over for a while.
Meanwhile tomorrow (JAP, stop listening now) the Orchestra plays Mozart's Fifth Violin Concerto (with Gil Shaham as soloist) followed by Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony. If only it weren't snowing.
P.S. Okay, okay, I realise that the last week has seen an overdose of these posts about movies / music. I can't help it - it's the season. Tomorrow I'll get to something completely different. Promise. Meanwhile, those of you who may be feeling pained with all this 'culture' shit, can check out this hilariously funny spoof trailer for Titanic Two - where Jack comes back! (courtesy Ben Marshall at Guardian Unlimited)