When did we start thinking that if there wasn't wild applause and a standing ovation at the premiere of a new work, that new work was a failure? Why have both composers and administrators at the large musical institutions become obsessed with rapturous audience response?
Given that Toronto audiences will now jump to their feet after pretty much any concerto or Beethoven symphony, and then fail to remain in the hall after one curtain call at the end of the concert, what exactly does audience response at a concert mean anymore?
Many composers will scoff at this. Composers who do not work for the large musical organizations don't expect wild ovations. Or do they? Don't they secretly hope for one, even if there are 50 people in the audience?
A connection with the audience is the purpose of the music. But that connection can be made in many ways, some completely invisible even to professional observers. How can we know what someone is feeling in the audience?
Good, solid premieres should be the goal. New work takes time to find its way into the listening public's awareness. We need to remember that the most important thing a premiere can accomplish is to make at least some of the audience want to hear the work again. Indeed, I am a little suspicious of standing ovations and wild applause, precisely because they have become so commonplace in performances which do not deserve them.