|Sir Simon Rattle and The Berlin Philharmonic at the Royal Festival Hall|
Mud From A Scraper
No. 5 in an Occasional Series
Aside from all considerations of individual and orchestral technique, there is a strict code of behaviour on concert platforms which has evolved through many generations of musicians. Failure to observe it results in the offender being branded as a beginner. The correct attitude of mind assumed by all members of orchestras is one of vague resentment, directed indiscriminately at the programme, which could be shorter, the management, which could be less grasping, the rest of the orchestra, which could be better, and the conductor, who could hardly be worse. No true professional admits to any enjoyment in his work, though the opus in question may be one of the few he really likes; should any aspect of contemporary music be mentioned in conversation, all remarks are of a deprecatory nature.
The correct posture, except for front desk players, differs from that which is taught at the schools of music. The left elbow of violin and viola players rests on the left hip or any other convenient object, and the right arm is held as low as possible. Cellists and bass players conform more nearly to the scholastic ideal, as it is not possible for them to hold their instruments any lower; instead, they lean on them in the most relaxed manner.
When there is a prolonged pizzicato passage, the violinist, and the violist, puts his bow on his knee, and either turns his instrument so that his chin is resting on its ribs, or lowers it altogether, supporting the scroll on his knee, with the button or end-pin, on the middle of his waistcoat.
It is generally understood that if the conductor wants any extra refinements, he will ask for them. Whether or not his requests will be granted is another matter. A professional rarely uses vibrato, save on the longest notes, and when particularly exhorted to do so. Anyone who does so too often is, again, branded as a beginner, because vibrato, besides being useless in many passages, is never specified in any contract, and musicians are specialists in the art of working to rule.
No-one normally uses a different style from his neighbour, as there is rarely enough room on a concert platform. Most performers habitually harass their neighbours for a few extra inches. Cellists are especially sensitive to lack of space, and indeed, develop a form of claustrophobia if any other instrumentalist comes within a bow-length of them.
There are similar customs among the pit fraternity in theatres and opera-houses. Apart from never having enough room, the pit musician never has enough light, and constantly complains to management and electricians. In contrast with the symphony-player's preference for a well hidden position on the platform, the opera-player struggles to be placed near the audience, so that he can better watch the stage. Or when he becomes bored, which is his natural state, he amuses himself by fitting tunes of a frivolous nature to the accompaniments of the most impassioned arias.
The pit-musician will show interest only in the length of an opera. He may have a hidden preference for Aida, but will enjoy Traviata more. He may not have much sympathy with Puccini, but La Boheme is always popular. The Ring is unspeakable, and Meistersinger is beyond the pale. He only really likes one opera - Salome, which is over by 8.45 pm.