The character of each audience

18th February 2015 | Concerts, Inspirations, Travel | 4 comments

After writing about my preparations for Monday’s concert at Wigmore Hall with Erich Höbarth, I’m delighted to report that we had a wonderful time. In fact, it was one of my most favourite concerts of recent years. Erich was tremendous, and I felt that I was ‘in the zone’, always easier to feel if you know you’ve done enough work beforehand, and aren’t having to pay much attention at the level of individual notes. The Wigmore audience was in great form, and the quality of their listening was a joy.

Afterwards, backstage in the Green Room, I said something about the character of that night’s audience, and someone asked me how it can be that an audience can have ‘a character’, when each audience is a collection of individuals who don’t know each other and have had no chance to develop any kind of strategy in relation to their behaviour as an audience. I agree it’s mysterious. Yet any performer will tell you that audiences differ, and that you can sense the character of any particular audience from early in the concert.

On Monday night, I had to open the concert with the very quiet and wistful piano melody which begins Schubert’s A minor Sonatina. It’s delicately written, and a tricky opening, easy to ‘throw away’ at the start of a big programme when people are still restless. Yet as I played it I felt the audience draw together with some kind of shared yet spontaneous concentration. The quietness deepened, if I could put it like that, and became a collective thing. That is inspiring for a performer to witness, because it makes you feel that if the audience is listening like this, then it’s worth trying for the finest, subtlest effects, and sometimes new things occur to you on stage just because of the way that people are listening.


  1. Fran Wilson

    A lovely concert with a very palpable sense of the audience listening attentively throughout. I think Schubert’s underlying geniality is very persuasive and it helped created a friendly atmosphere.

    In recent months I’ve been to a number of concerts where the soloist has opened with a quiet or gentle piece. This seems to have the effect of engaging the audience’s attention more quickly than a more lively or well-known work, and I’ve had the sense of everyone metaphorically craning forward to listen more carefully.

    I must admit I love “audience watching” and Monday night’s was quite mixed. There were some lively conversations going on in the bar in the interval!

    • Susan Tomes

      Yes, it was a mixed audience, in a good way – and I was particularly pleased by how many young musicians were in the audience.

  2. Alison

    It was indeed a memorable concert! Thank you so much.

  3. Steve

    I like the idea of an audience review! (And wish I could claim that those in which I have sat were as rapt as yours seems to have been. I always seem to pick ‘peak of flu season’ night.)


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