On anonymous Christmas cards,
with classical music's agony aunt, ALICE McVEIGH
I am a member of several small orchestras, and it sometimes appears to me that the smaller the orchestra, the longer the programme. How long do you think the average concert really ought to be?
J P, Manchester
Dear J P,
Well, I tend to string along with Mr Woodhouse's famous comment in Emma: 'The sooner all parties break up, the better,' substituting, of course, 'concerts' for 'parties.'
This is not, on the evidence, a view widely shared in artistic director circles. Or, as one of my desk-partners complained about one conductor: 'He likes to leave the audience wanting less.' I think this is less out of malevolence than a good-hearted (if misguided) appreciation of what concerts are like for the audience (as opposed to the stick-waver). No matter how brilliant the music-making may be, audience members want their tea. Or their wine. Whatever. Anyway, what they do not want is to be effectively chained to their seats for over forty five or fifty minutes at a stretch (or, if unluckily in the Royal Opera House, tucked up in a one hundred pound seat with their knees around their ears, and no chance of stretching at all).
The Berlin Phil, among other top international orchestras, has been roundly criticised for churlish ticket prices combined with precious little music-making (sometimes only a concerto and a symphony, shock horror) but perhaps they're merely attempting to redress the balance. For every Berlin Philharmonic concert-goer wondering whether an overture wouldn't have been pretty good, there are 99,999 non-Berlin-Philharmonic concert-goers wondering uneasily whether all those repeats in the Schubert Symphony are really artistically necessary.
In short, if classical music is to survive, let alone flourish, I feel that shorter concerts are a must. People's attention spans are not what they were and [... very true. Answer cut from nineteen paragraphs to four due to lack of average audience attention span. Merry Christmas, Basil and Keith.]
I have just received a very beautiful, Duccio-based, Christmas card, alluding to your excellent column, from someone whose name I cannot decipher. As I am an elderly gentleman I have tried various schemes, even a magnifying glass etc, to no avail. Could you possibly publish this letter, in hopes that whoever it was saying, 'Thanks for the tip about Ask Alice, most enjoyable', might be persuaded to come forward with a positive identification?
Yours in hopes,
Dr Christopher Haythorne (Bath)
Dear Dr Haythorne,
As you probably suspected, your plea has fallen on sympathetic ears. In addition to enjoying the compliment to my humble column, I have suffered similarly myself.
Just last week I received an effusive seasonal greeting from Len and Kate of no fixed abode, or, in other words, it was posted in Croydon. Now deeply as I sympathize with people obliged to live in Croydon, I don't believe I know even one of them personally, and, although devoted to several Kates and more than one Leonard (for my life has been roughish) I don't believe that any of them have (unbeknownst to me) teamed up and buzzed over to Croydon. In other words, I am foxed, as you seem to be. Though you mention no posting address, I am of the opinion that illegible, Kate and Len ought to get together and form a 'Let's keep them guessing!' club (based in Croydon, natch).
You and I, meanwhile, can form a society for the preservation of last names (or as you might still be old enough to put it, surnames).
Is it really so tough, friends, when penning the usual, 'passionately,' after 'Happy Christmas, Seasons Greetings' etc. to bung in, as an afterthought, one's last name??????????? I mean, when did that get so hard?????
Besides, 'Tootsie sends best love, yours right-directed-slash' is much less exciting than, 'Tootsie sends best love, yours Charles Kapufnik,' and all the rows of XXXXXXXXs are no assistance in figuring out who exactly is sending you (in addition to a Tesco card) a load of kisses.
Still, we fight, Dr Haythorne, against a rising tide. Where one's hairdresser, newspaper boy etc all address one as 'Alice', (or, in some cases, 'Ali baby') last names are scarcely where it's at. Still, make someone's day this Christmas, put in your last name. At the very least, a touch of modesty (for surely you get XXX's from loads of Charleses); at best, a recognition that you care enough to spend an extra second to squiggle.
Copyright © 19 December 2003
Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK
A very merry Christmas
from all on the 'Ask Alice' team!