Saturday 14 December 2013

The Curse of concert coughing

The Curse of concert coughing

Cough, cough, cough! Right in the middle of the quietest, most ethereal part of the music. The coughing season is with us again!

Last night, as Andris Nelsons conducted a brilliant performance of Britten's Les Illuminations with Ian Bostridge and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, after each of the eight sections, the coughing erupted. The concert was being recorded for television, so Andris had to wait patiently each time until the storm of coughing, then the giggles at the coughing, had subsided. But after the ninth and final section he got his own back. He and Ian Bostridge held the silence for minutes......... so unbelievably long that one might have suspected that he was frozen, unable to move. You could have heard a pin drop, possibly because people thought there was something wrong. He was letting 2200 people know that yes, there had been something wrong, and this is how it might have been! When and how will people ever learn?

Recently, During the whole first half of my performance of kinetic painting Cloud & Light with Toshio Hosokawa, a young woman sitting in the front row, immediately behind me, coughed loudly without stopping. 

Last minute preparations for my performance of Cloud & Light, just behind the conductor.

Toshio Hosokawa uses a Buddhist concept to describe his music, as "a tone that comes from silence, it lives, it returns to silence". Well, forget it. How he (and I) kept going I don't know. I wanted to shout out "Hey, listen to the paintbrush!" This was not only a savage attack on our concentration, but a lack of awareness of the purpose of the occasion, as the rest of the audience tried to appreciate music and the silence. 

Japanese audiences of course, just don't cough. It's unthinkable - part of an inbuilt social awareness. And have you noticed that the musicians never cough? Even if they have tears streaming down their cheeks as they play. How do they do it? In this case, a friend of mine went up to the young lady at the interval and said: "You are sick. You must go home, now". She said she would think about it, but he was so insistent that fortunately she took his advice. 

What can be done about this curse? Free cough sweets at the entrance? A pre-concert announcement like "Please turn off your phone. No photography and no coughing allowed"? Mindfulness training? Any ideas?