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The scene – the Wigmore Hall on a warm October evening. The concert – Sir Andras Schiff playing three Schubert sonatas, on his Franz Brodmann piano of c. 1820. Two and a half hours of magical, thoughtful and sensitive playing. At the close of the final sonata Schiff sat motionless, indicating silence – which was rudely broken by a loud cough from the front right of the hall. Schiff glared at the offender, and gave a little bow in his direction. The silence having been concluded so abruptly, Schiff stood up to receive his ovation; he bowed to the audience, turned to his right to bow again to the people on that side, then turned to his left, and gave a deep and pointed bow straight to the cougher. Not a word was spoken, but the message was crystal clear: “Thank you so much for finishing my concert for me. We are all deeply in your debt.”

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I find Schiff's behavior extreme. Sometimes it's very hard or impossible to hold a cough in. In this case the cougher at least held his cough in until the piece was over but not until Schiff had put his hands down in his lap or otherwise indicated applause was OK. Definitely not a perfect ending to a serious program of three sonatas but it's very common to hear a lot of coughing at the end of a piece because audience members have been holding in coughs.

Since I don't think any of the Schubert Sonatas end with a slow movement, I'm not sure why Schiff would insist on waiting some time before "ending" his playing. This would more typically be done qt the end of slow pieces.

I think Schiff is a terrific pianist but in master classes he can be quite cruel. I have observed this in person at least twice. This wasn't a master class and almost all professional pianists have big egos, but I'm not convinced Schiff was in the right. OTOH I wasn't there so you may have greater insight to the nuances of what happened.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 10/12/18 08:54 PM.
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If Schiff is "cruel" in his master classes he has no business conducting them. There is no excuse for that type of behavior.

As for the offending person in the first row, at least he didn't get up and exit the auditorium during the performance. That would have been a far greater distraction for the audience and the artist.

Last edited by Carey; 10/12/18 10:05 PM.

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Although a supreme pianist, and probably ultimately a nice person, our friend Schiff is not blessed with the best bedside manner.

In other words he's well up his own behind. A rather dodgy personality, in my opinion. But who knows, behind closed doors we don't know people, so he might not really be like that.

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No, no, in this case the cough was absolutely crass and unnecessary, and destroyed the ending of the concert. Schiff was absolutely right and I was glad that he reacted as he did. I have suffered from coughs, and no-one can tell me that this person could not have contained his cough for another 15 seconds, which was all that would have been necessary. Also it was clear from the nature of the cough that it was not uncontrollable.

And it is irrelevant whether the final movement was slow or fast. A two and a half hour programme of intense concentration and sublimity needs a silence to conclude it.

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Originally Posted by David-G
No, no, in this case the cough was absolutely crass and unnecessary, and destroyed the ending of the concert. Schiff was absolutely right and I was glad that he reacted as he did. I have suffered from coughs, and no-one can tell me that this person could not have contained his cough for another 15 seconds, which was all that would have been necessary. Also it was clear from the nature of the cough that it was not uncontrollable.

And it is irrelevant whether the final movement was slow or fast. A two and a half hour programme of intense concentration and sublimity needs a silence to conclude it.

In retrospect I agree with your second paragraph but not the part of your first paragraph where you are sure that the cougher could have contained his cough. I have a chronic cough and when the urge occurs there is no way I can delay it for a second. What the cougher should have done was try and muffle his cough. It's also possible that my highly negative experiences observing Schiff's master classes affect my opinion about this incident. I do think he is a fabulous pianist.

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Are we really talking about a cough? Something which is a bodily issue, that sometimes cannot be contained? Are we assuming that the person in the first row, could or could not? Did he place his hands in his mouth to contain the sound? Did he try to contain the cough? Or was he, just, completely indifferent to the ending that Schiff wanted?

For the record, without caring one bit for egos and names, a concert with LIVE audience can be unpredictable, and certainly is an interactive process between the audience and the performer(s). With that in mind:
a. Schiff should not react like that, as such an issue is to be expected
b. Schiff should react like that as he interacted with the offender.

Take your pick! ^_^

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I suffer from terminal flatulence. Is it OK if I sit in the front row of a chamber recital?

With respect to and for pianoloverus, I would hope he/she would choose to be seated at a distance that, when covering his mouth with his sleeve or a handkerchief, the resulting amplitude of the cough would not disturb the artist, or more importantly, the rest of the audience.

I went to Covent Garden (Royal Opera House) some years ago, and the programme said in large letters, Do you know that a single cough can exceed the volume of the entire orchestra playing ff ?

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No one knows whether this particular cougher could control the timing of his cough...if it were me, I could not. Could he choose a seat? Maybe or maybe not. Perhaps this is not a chronic cough but more of an acute issue that he could not even anticipate

If Schiff could not refrain from what I see as a childish response, maybe he should skip live recitals. This time it was a cough, Next time it will be an uncontrollable sneeze, and then.,.. something else. Wouldn’t it be great if audiences were perfect? Totally unrealistic.

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Originally Posted by prout
I suffer from terminal flatulence. Is it OK if I sit in the front row of a chamber recital?


Surely that's a slippery slope fallacy?

Originally Posted by prout
With respect to and for pianoloverus, I would hope he/she would choose to be seated at a distance that, when covering his mouth with his sleeve or a handkerchief, the resulting amplitude of the cough would not disturb the artist, or more importantly, the rest of the audience.


Assuming they knew they were going to cough, of course. And assuming that when they did cough, they had enough warning to actually cover their mouth, or indeed change his ticket for another seat, get up, and move to the other seat before he had to cough.

I think this depends on the cough, but I would wager that anyone coughing at an inappropriate moment at a classical music gig would most likely not really be in control of that cough, certainly not able to hold it for fifteen seconds longer. Either that or they're doing it on purpose to disrupt the gig.

The shuffling of papers and creaking around in seats, however seems a lot more avoidable.

I think without actually seeing this on video, or witnessing it live, it's very hard to tell.

I also think that Schiff should come down off his self created pedestal and remember that this was a paying customer, and that it was a cough. Now, if it had been someone's phone going off, then that would have been a completely different story. Or if it has been someone who was continuously coughing and refused to leave the arena.

David G - were you at this gig, or is this a story you're relaying from a newspaper etc. - can you enlighten us as to the details?

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I would say that Mr. Schiff is in the wrong line of work if he is so intolerant of possibly hundreds of imperfect people who no doubt are paying him very well. Maybe he should stick to recording sessions where he can control a few technicians. This is the kind of arrogant attitude that turns people off from classical music.
He should be ashamed of himself, ridiculous.


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IMO and experience, there would a lot less coughing if perfume and cologne were banned from indoor concerts. I can be in perfect health, happily seated, waiting for the concert to begin and to my dismay, someone sits down near me billowing clouds of heavy perfume in every direction. I'm sure they think they smell great. Ugh. Within minutes, I get an unstoppable drip down the back of my throat. Coughing is inevitable. This olfactory attack means I can either cough, ask for a seat change or take an antihistamine. I think heavy scents should be banned!


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Originally Posted by Roger Ransom
This is the kind of arrogant attitude that turns people off from classical music.
He should be ashamed of himself, ridiculous.


Well said.

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I am firmly on the side of David-G, but not so much over the coughing, which would have totally destroyed the transcendent mood created by a consummate artist, but with people’s judgement of Schiff’s behaviour.

You paid your money, you got your concert, you experienced something that very few people in the world have experienced. If he blew raspberries at the entire audience, or mooned them after the concert ended, who are we to judge? He has been playing public concerts for over 40 years. Not all artists behave this way, but those who do and produce this level of music should be accomodated. Did he cause harm to anyone by ‘glaring’?

Really, people. Get a life. And gooddog, YES, people should be banned from wearing scented products when attending comcerts or lessons. Many of the concerts I attend and the buildings in which they are held are posted as scent free zones. My wife refuses to teach anyone who wears perfume. She is a professional singer.

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It's a cough. Doubt it was deliberate and it happens all the time at live concerts. Perhaps the person may have been able to contain it, perhaps not. It's not the greatest of crimes. . . . . a mobile phone on the other hand. At least in that case you do have total control, long before the concert starts.

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My take is that the guy should not have been blamed for coughing, and simultaneously, Schiff should be allowed to do whatever he wants on the stage.

If people no longer want to pay to see Schiff because of his rather pompous character then he'll find his concert halls empty, but if people want to continue to see him, then he'll find his concert halls full, and ditto his bank balance. Which, judging from his turnouts appears to be the case.

As far as the perfume thing is concerned, I'm not sure where I stand on that. It raises the question, what is a heavy scent? For example if I had a shower with some scented soap? Or is it actually that some scents contain chemicals that some people are allergic to? Not being a particular scent-wearer, I wouldn't know.

Also, what if someone has chronic body odour, which they can't help? Would it be preferable for them to cover it up with a heavy scent or would it be preferable for them to emit body odour? Or should they just be banned from the gig outright?

Talk of "banning" people because they are wearing a "scented product" worries me a bit. Who judges whether the product is scented, and how would they enforce the ban? Also, would the person get their ticket money back? Does this include deodorant and soap, which are scented? Or is it a specific thing to do with certain chemicals found in spray perfumes?

Also, I agree with the phone thing. A cough is not the person's fault, however, failing to turn your phone off is. And so I consider mobile phones going off to be rude.

I suspect everyone has a different opinion on this, as it is highly subjective.

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Originally Posted by Zaphod
If people no longer want to pay to see Schiff because of his rather pompous character then he'll find his concert halls empty, but if people want to continue to see him, then he'll find his concert halls full, and ditto his bank balance. Which, judging from his turnouts appears to be the case.
That’s a good way of putting it. People vote with their feet.

I like people who are critical and brash. I always know where they stand on issues and know they are not dissembling when interacting with me. If I had been that person who coughed, I would have been very upset with myself and understanding of Schiff’s reaction.

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As far as the perfume thing is concerned, I'm not sure where I stand on that. It raises the question, what is a heavy scent? For example if I had a shower with some scented soap? Or is it actually that some scents contain chemicals that some people are allergic to? Not being a particular scent-wearer, I wouldn't know.
Why should anyone use scented soaps, deodorants and shampoos and such-like products. They are all available now in unscented versions and do the same job. The scent has no function. This is not 17th C France where bathing was costly, not available to most people, and where there was a widespread belief that immersion in warm water was bad for you.

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So now we should be required to use certain kinds of soap, deodorant etc to attend a concert. Will classical concerts get any more exclusive?


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Originally Posted by prout
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As far as the perfume thing is concerned, I'm not sure where I stand on that. It raises the question, what is a heavy scent? For example if I had a shower with some scented soap? Or is it actually that some scents contain chemicals that some people are allergic to? Not being a particular scent-wearer, I wouldn't know.
Why should anyone use scented soaps, deodorants and shampoos and such-like products. They are all available now in unscented versions and do the same job. The scent has no function. This is not 17th C France where bathing was costly, not available to most people, and where there was a widespread belief that immersion in warm water was bad for you.

Exactly. I choose not to use scented products. Generally, I'm okay when someone has used light fragrance. My mother once told me, no one should be able to smell your perfume unless they are kissing your neck. (She was a funny lady but very considerate of others). My allergies only flair up when the scent is very strong, such as someone has washed their clothes in fragrant detergent or has splashed on large quantities of perfume or heavily scented lotion and I am unable to get away from them. I know I'm not alone in my sensitivity to fragrance. I've entered schools and offices that have signs asking people to refrain from using scented products out of consideration for people with allergies, asthma or other respiratory conditions. There is no reason a concert hall can't suggest the same. Recently, I was sitting in the living room at a friend's house. A new guest arrived and I could smell her perfume from 15 feet away, (no exaggeration). Gag. It permeated the entire house for the duration of her visit. It wasn't a bad scent, it was just too strong and pervasive.

More on my peeve: Have you ever tried on new clothes that are permeated with someone else's fragrance? How selfish to wear perfume while trying on clothes. Or have you had your hands reek from perfume after holding the handle of a shopping cart? It's disgusting.


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Originally Posted by Roger Ransom
So now we should be required to use certain kinds of soap, deodorant etc to attend a concert. Will classical concerts get any more exclusive?
Many public schools do not allow peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Could they get any more exclusive?

Remember Roger, You can choose to not go to the concert. It might make you, and the rest of the audience happier.

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