Children Cultural Festival in Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center, Reykjavik, Iceland © Arctic-Images/Corbis
Children Cultural Festival in Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center, Reykjavik, Iceland © Arctic-Images/Corbis

Classical concerts: avoid bringing your children

Are my children old enough to enjoy a classical performance that is not specifically addressed to them? Is it better if I only take them to concerts for children? The debate has been launched.

Two fronts: “To those who insist on bringing their children to concerts: well done!” and “Don't come to the damn concert with your children!”; a new debate over classical concerts has been launched in the UK during the last few years. Do children have the right to enjoy a classical concert, or is it too much to ask? That’s the question.

It all starts with two recent incidents within weeks of each other, described by the American journalist and blogger Norman Lebrecht.

You shall not sleep

First incident: late October in Miami, during a New World Symphony performance, when the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, between the second and third movements of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2, told a woman sitting near the stage with a child in her lap that she was distracting him and asked her to leave. The child was apparently sleeping noiselessly on the woman’s lap, said an audience member sitting nearby, while the woman was petting his head. MTT told the woman that she was making him lose his concentration and reportedly asked her to leave, which the woman did, and the performance continued.

"What a pompous ass"

What a pompous ass
What a pompous ass

“Don't blame the messenger. Educate the audience!”

MTT citation 1
MTT citation 1

Some find the conductor to be quite moody, temperamental. Tilson Thomas decided to explain his reaction in South Florida Classical Review: ““The little girl was restless and moving around and I was just afraid what would happen in the Adagio. Our cellist Rosanna Butterfield had worked so hard all week on her solo. I just didn’t want to see it ruined.”

You shall not cough

Second incident: on December 2, 2014, at the Royal Festival Hall, London - violinist Kyung Wha Chung made her return after 12 years of absence. Apparently, it was a tense return for the legend who, a long time ago, used to work with Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman. Exasperated by an avalanche of adult coughing between movements, Chung calmly upbraided some parents for bringing along a young child who dared to cough too. The finale of the Mozart, which followed, had passages of plucked notes that sounded ferocious. Terrified into silence, the audience behaved impeccably during Prokofiev’s Sonata No 1, from the first movement’s muscular declamations to the silvery, shimmering melodies of the finale. The artist’s reaction sparked an international outcry. In an article entitled ”I have always welcomed children to my concerts”, Kyung Wha Chung said she was surprised by the violence of certain reactions and tried to explain:

“The concert hall and the theatre are probably the last havens of peace; places in which it is still expected that audiences can sit, absorb, think and contemplate without interruption. These periods of concentration are necessarily lengthy, and increasingly rare in the modern world”. Kyung Wha Chung is convinced that it is important “to foster education in young people today, so that the art of true listening is not lost.” In addition:

“I have always welcomed children to my concerts, and indeed think it is a vital part of music education that they experience and discover the joys of live performance. However, I think it is also important that the very youngest children are taken to appropriate events, where they can feel comfortable to move, whisper and react animatedly”.

“She is right!”

Enfants bannis
Enfants bannis

Is she right?

Norman Lebrecht is categorical:

“A performer should not respond to audience disruption, accidental or otherwise. A performer needs to be ‘in the zone’, in a separate space, to maintain an illusion of inspiration that is unaffected by the mundane”.

In response to Ms Chung’s interview, a user proposes to keep taking children to concerts, but...

Capture 3
Capture 3

Some of you might remember the first time you took your children to their first "real" concert. Big eyes looking at the stage, the audience, the instruments, the conductor and a woman singing. And the concert programme on their lap, even if they could not read yet. And at that particular moment between tension and excitement, an impressive, majestic sound makes the theatre tremble. Concerts for young people are nice, but a “real” concert is even better!

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