Tough Crowd

Fistfight at Orchestra Echoes the
Brawl That Disrupted Rite of Spring

The ‘incident’ last Thursday at a concert hall in Chicago wouldn’t have attracted much notice had it occurred on the sidewalks outside of it or at the Adams/Wabash Metra Station nearby. Instead, it happened when the Symphony Orchestra was playing the second movement of the Brahms Symphony No. 2, conducted by the venerable Italian maestro Riccardo Muti.
To be sure, few heard when a patron punched another over some expensive box seats, and for those who know him, thank goodness that all the maestro did was to throw some frightening ‘dagger eyes’ at the whole thing. But almost a century ago, the story was much different and not two but the whole audience went into a frenzy brawl over the music, the dance and everything.

The first performance of Igor Stravinsky‘s ‘Rite of Spring,’ with choreography by the already legendary Vaslav Nijinsky, had the potential to be the event of that musical season of 1913 in Paris. Instead, it became known as ‘The Riot of the Rite,’ when the elegant and usually well behaved crowd began hitting each other with canes, umbrellas, and bare fists.
The two belligerent events share some curious common traces, such as the apparent raw emotions hidden under the surface of the skin of even the most refined music lover; how easy it is for anyone to miss the point of having a shared experience of any kind in the first place; and the fact that people can act like animals if only given the right conditions. Nothing new there.
Besides these superficial connections, though, they couldn’t be farther apart, even if they in fact had happened in the same century. Whereas last week’s was apparently about wrong seats and perhaps some annoyingly candy wrapping, on that May so many years ago the argument was all about what the music should be or not and, good heavens, could we not discuss those pagan costumes?
Not reading too much on it, but reading anyway, our differences now, at Continue reading