Kyung-wha Chung, kill-joy violinist, ices kid concert cougher

Kyung-wha Chung is a top-flight violinist who’s been away from the stage for over a decade. She developed a problem with her left index finger, and retired from concertizing. Or so we thought.

When Chung made her triumphant return last week in London — finger problem forgotten, 12 years since her last show in that city — people were going H.A.M. Chung played Mozart, Frank and Prokofiev sonatas. Bach Chaconne, too. The audience whooped & hollered. In between movements, unable to emote in human ways, the audience coughed a little. Okay, a lot. Cut to Magnus McGrandle, sitting in the audience:

Early in the first half, between a movement of the Mozart Sonata, there was a lot of coughing. People were getting it out of the way before the music started again, but it clearly irritated the violinist a lot.

Then, just as she was about to resume playing, she picked up on a child – either coughing or talking – and conferred with her accompanist. After that, she said, very pointedly, to the child’s parent in the side stalls, ‘maybe you should bring her back when she’s older.’

Cheese-and-frickin-crackers. That’s what we call “making an example” — frustrated performer tries to regain control, picks someone randomly, and lets her have it. KWC on some “let this be a lesson” trip. So, problem solved?

Hahaha no. Doling out parental advice onstage is a losing proposition.

If I were playing I’d be heated if someone broke my concentration, especially if I thought the audience was intentionally jerking me around. The music is hard enough without peanut-gallery distractions.

But coughing? I don’t know man. A ringing cellphone is annoying. Somebody dropping a beer bottle, a couple knuckleheads brawling, a baby crying, being served onstage with a court summons — those are legit concert problems. Coughing, not so much.

Everybody gets the pressure a player is under. This is a huge show, and KWC undoubtedly spent months in a nonstop Rocky montage — drilling, rehearsing, preparing. But she and other performers fall victim to the sometimes-unnatural silence we insist on between movements. That’s a problem: when is it cool as an audience-member to exhale and let go of the music you just heard? Give ’em time to get back to baseline.

KWC is adamant she made the right move. Ever the teacher, here’s what she wrote in The Guardian:

I believe it is important (…) to foster education in young people today, so that the art of true listening is not lost. Learning to listen is a life skill – it opens us up to a world beyond our everyday experiences and enables us to connect with something transcendental and extraordinary. When that connection is made between musician and audience, with no need for words, it is a most precious exchange.

Well ………… yes, but …… maybe you’re missing the point here. We need to lighten up a little. We’re talking about a kid fercrissakes. And some adults, too.

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