Is smaller better?

A recent article in the NY Times caught my attention. It was a review of performances in the Mostly Mozart Festival’s new venue – a 230 seat space used for part of the concert series – and it also advocated for smaller venues, in general, for classical music performances. (“Let’s Get Intimate. Big Music Doesn’t Need Huge Halls” by ANTHONY TOMMASINI AUG. 3, 2016)
Its general message is that the typical concert halls where classical music performances take place are too large to cultivate a personal connection with the audience. As a musician, I do find smaller venues to be more gratifying. And as an audience member, I also prefer attending concerts where I can see the subtle communication between performers, watch their fingers on their instruments, hear the scrape of bow on strings, see the beads of sweat on their brows, even hear them breathe together. Don’t get me wrong – there is a certain electricity to attending a performance in a grand concert hall. The collective appreciation for the performance by a large and appreciative audience can enhance the overall experience, for sure. But there is something uniquely unifying about witnessing an outstanding musical performance with a smaller audience. It feels somehow more cohesive, even conspiratorial, as though we’re all sharing a delicious secret with one another and with the performers. We can look each other in the eyes and communicate our appreciation beyond our applause.
I’m curious to know what you think. Do you agree with Mr. Tommasini that “smaller is better”? What is your experience as an audience member attending classical performances in both smaller and larger halls? If you’re a musician, what are the advantages and disadvantages of performing smaller and larger venues? How can larger ensembles (orchestras) create a more intimate and personally connected concert experience for you, especially if their concert “home” is a large hall? Musicians, arts administrators and arts journalists spend a lot of time speculating and preaching about how to cultivate and better serve audiences; now I’d like to know what YOU (the audience) think about the subject!

2 comments on “Is smaller better?

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