The Houston Symphony is playing some good stuff these days. It’s so nice to look at their progam and find music I recognize. This afternoon, five of us sat in the Upper Mezzanine and listened to Tchaikovsky’s “The Voyevoda,” (okay okay, I wasn’t familiar with that piece), followed by Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto (soloist Yefim Bronfman), and Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony. I love the Pathétique, especially the fourth movement. I had, however, never heard it live, and have two comments to make:
1. The audience clapped at the end of the third movement. (tut tut)
2. There was a strange buzzing noise during the fourth movement.
When we were leaving, I spotted one of the musicians. He was wearing a cowboy hat. I summoned my courage and approached him to ask him what the buzzing noise was. He told me that it was “muted French horns.”
Well I never!
I told him that my CD of the Pathétique didn’t have that sound on it. He told me that that’s why it’s a good idea to attend live concerts!
So, Ricky and/or Helen. Is it normal for the muted French horns to buzz in the fourth movement of the Pathétique? Set my mind at rest.
As for the clapping at the end of the third movement, as soon as I got home I checked the internet to see if it always happened, and came up with this story on a weblog:
Henry Sopkin, the original conductor of the ASO, got very annoyed at audiences during performances of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony, because they (like many other audiences) would spontaneously burst into applause after the rousing third movement, but applause would be much more tepid at the end of the entire piece. When he took the orchestra on tour to the smaller cities of Georgia he actually REVERSED the playing order of the third and fourth movements, so that the performance would end with the rousing third movement, and the orchestra would get the accolades he felt it deserved.
At the end of a tour, when he and the ASO performed the piece in Atlanta in front of what he felt was a more sophisticated audience, he realized that such rearranging would not be acceptable, and the orchestra played the piece in the correct order. As always, after the third movement, the audience burst into applause. At that point, forgetting where he was and thinking the piece was over, Sopkin turned around, took a major bow, and left the stage.