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Conductor mocks applause; joke backfires

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Those who hate applause between movements will enjoy this:

Sydney Symphony

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Sydney Symphony

By Peter McCallum

August 15, 2003

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Concert Hall, Opera House, August 13

It was a wicked joke that got slightly out of hand. In the early movements, conductor Alexander Lazarev lampooned the applause between movements of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 6, the Pathetique, encouraging the players with mock applause of his own.

But in a popular program with many new concertgoers, his sense of humour wasn't quite understood. At the extrovert close of the third movement, the ovation was so enthusiastic that the bemused orchestra was raised to its feet for a bow.

But rather than creating an embarrassed silence for Tchaikovsky's tragic finale, the cheers swelled, the bravos grew, some took their coats and ran for trains, and it looked for a moment as though Tchaikovsky's most tragic work had become his most optimistic, its hidden program, of which he spoke but which he never revealed, rewritten with a happy ending. It was like Becket with Godot appearing at the end of Act 1 and everyone going home.

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