I’ve been in Italy for a few days. One evening I went to a concert in the courtyard of a lovely historic building in Bologna. The Italians are so lucky to have so many of these theatrical spaces and the climate which makes it possible to sit there, in the balmy air, late into the evening without even a light jacket.
Whenever I go to an instrumental concert in Italy, however, I’m puzzled by the audience’s indifferent response to the performers. They seem to applaud with the same polite warmth whether the performance is good or not. An outburst of virtuosity is received in exctly the same way as something very ordinary. Listening to the clapping with a musician’s ear, I can tell that it isn’t thoroughly engaged – as though the charm of the setting, the melodies floating into the velvet blue of the sky, and the lights on the golden stonework have lulled the audience into a pleasant state of dreamy half-attention. As a performer myself I’ve found this frustrating, especially when I know how worked up an Italian audience can get in the opera house, cheering and booing with fervent participation. Perhaps purely instrumental music has never meant as much to them?