David Lister: The Week in Arts

Grin and bear it? Not in the concert hall
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The Independent Online

Audience dissatisfaction with unsmiling musicians is spreading. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle's former outfit, has also fallen foul of its audience for not wearing sunny Birmingham grins.

I naturally assumed that orchestra officials would have reminded audiences that this isn't Strictly Come Dancing. The musicians are concentrating and can't give cheesy grins on demand. But no. This is the age of marketing departments, audience satisfaction surveys and National Smile Days. It is the orchestras, not the audiences, that are being given a lesson in concert behaviour. The managements are developing smiling policies, and the issue is on the agenda for discussion at the next Association of British Orchestras conference.

Anthony Brown, the head of marketing for the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, says: "A perennial problem is that the orchestra members don't seem to enjoy themselves. It tends to be the ones that don't who people notice. The violins and the cellos, who are at the front, often get noticed." Well, it's good to know that the timpani, French horn and oboe guys are having a giggle at the back. No doubt, the Bournemouth management will come up with a smile policy for those front-row miserabilists. In fact, it already has. This, of course, is the orchestra whose management seems obsessed with happy faces. A couple of years ago, players were ordered to look at different sections of the audience for three beats and smile.

Can it get more surreal than Bournemouth? Of course it can. There's always Birmingham. The CBSO management has formed a "presentation committee". Who cares if you're a virtuoso if you don't scrub up well and never show your teeth? Sarah Gee, the director of communications for the CBSO, says that one woman told them that her enjoyment of a concert had been wrecked by a dour musician. "She caught one of the musician's eyes and gave him the thumbs up, but he lowered his gaze. It destroyed the evening for her."

What an inconsiderate musician that was. He could at least have given a thumbs-up sign back and continued playing with one hand. Indeed, perhaps, every three beats they should smile and every six beats give a communal thumbs-up to show they are truly having a ball.

Alternatively, their managements could come back to Earth and ask audiences to give the musicians a break. Do we really want symphony orchestras that beam at the spectators? Surely their faces should reflect the music they are playing. The accomplished musician should look intense for Beethoven, depressed but hugely moved for Mahler and totally confused for Birtwistle.

But happy and smiling? It makes playing a symphony seem like a bit of a jaunt and destroys the poignancy of the work.

There is a code of conduct for audiences at classical concerts, just as there is for the players. Don't grin, and don't expect the performers to grin at you. Be moody. Look miserable. And always cough between movements. It shows you know your music.

Now that's true A-list style

Attending the premiere this week of the film In Her Shoes, I was a little surprised when the director Curtis Hanson, introducing the principals, called Cameron Diaz on stage first. But I was clearly not as surprised as Miss Diaz, right, who made a point of saying how surprised she was. Plain talking is obviously catching on with the Hollywood set. It certainly is with Mr Hanson.

If there is an etiquette in how you treat Hollywood's biggest stars, then he is quite refreshing in the way that he ignores it. He also said of his leading lady: "Who better than Cameron to play this character, who has been allowed to cruise by in life because of what she looks like and because of the way men react to her?" Diaz spluttered: "What are you saying!"

Hanson, who also directed LA Confidential, is one of Hollywood's hottest directors, and it is no wonder that stars queue up to be in his movies. They should just plead a headache when it comes to going to the premieres and parties with him.

* Kate Bush's first album for 12 years, which was released this week, may mark a turning point in pop. It must be the most domesticated set of pop lyrics ever. One track is a paean to the laundry. Probably only Kate Bush could get away with the line: "Slooshy, sloshy, slooshy, sloshy, get that dirty shirty clean." And even she only just gets away with it.

We don't want an avalanche of domestic lyrics. Vacuuming the lounge, putting up shelves and cleaning the toilet aren't generally going to move the senses, stimulate the emotions or get people on to the dance floor.

But Kate Bush has at least shown that domesticity can be "done" on a rock album without attracting ridicule. In fact, she has attracted rave reviews, and extended the boundaries of songwriting.

So, how should the canny pop lyricist follow Kate? What about gardening? It is a huge thing in many people's lives. Let's have the gardening rock opera.