Jeffrey Siegel’s Audible Sigh

I almost left Keyboard Conversations before the first note was played.

“Jeffrey Siegel presents Keyboard Conversations, a brilliantly polished concert-with-commentary format in which captivating remarks precede virtuoso performances of piano masterpieces,” says the program. “New listeners discover an informal, entertaining and instantly accessible introduction to the magnificent piano experience.”

Nowhere on the event’s website or in the program is an age restriction mentioned, leaving one to assume that this “informal, entertaining and instantly accessible” performance would be at least somewhat family-friendly.

That is NOT so.

Siegel took the stage and began to explain the premise of the show. A small child—who, I’ll be the first to say, probably should not have been admitted to the performance, the child was quite young—cried out. Not horribly loudly. Not an ear-shattering wail. Just a whine.

Siegel halted in his explanation of Bach’s “Rejoice” and scowled at the family in silence. After an incredibly uncomfortable moment, he picked up again. “Bach writes this well-known chorale and hymn tune and dresses it up with effective keyboard trimmings, virtuoso keyboard trimmings, in essence to show off and entertain his audience. Here is the chorale tune.”

The child, at that inopportune moment, made another noise.

Siegel stood beside the piano and glared down the family in pointed and intentional awkward silence for a full 30 seconds. The mother picked up the child and started getting out of the row of seats within the first moment of the humiliating pause. Siegel drew out the embarrassment and waited to sit down at the piano until the family had left the auditorium entirely. Once they had left, he let out an audible and clearly irritated sigh.

My companion and I looked at each other in shock.

We nearly left, but remained seated out of stubbornness and a touch of curiosity. Could this piano virtuoso who couldn’t handle a child’s innocent faux-pas put on a decent concert?

The answer is yes. The concert was actually quite good. Siegel’s playing was beautiful, and his commentary was interesting. However, throughout the performance, he gave off such a pretentious air that it was hard to feel like anything about the concert was “informal” or “instantly accessible.”

He almost redeemed himself during the Q&A session after the concert. His answers were insightful, candid, often amusing, and well-informed. But when he brought up the interruption in Act I, mentioning that he’d been assured it wouldn’t happen again, it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

I know I ranted just last month about the poor audience behavior at Music Circus’ production of South Pacific, but there was a line crossed here.

To be fair, Siegel gave well-reasoned excuses for purposefully embarrassing the family out of the auditorium. “You all spend your time and money to come here and hear great music. Anything that interferes with that is disrespectful to you, as well as it is to me, and to music itself.”

I can’t really argue with that. As a performer, I understand exactly how frustrating it is to have the spell of a song broken by a hacking cough, ill-timed candy wrapper crinkling, or a child’s whine.

But that’s what we have to do as live performers. We must cope with these situations professionally. In most instances, that means ignoring interruptions.

In this case, however, Siegel could have easily taken the opportunity to briefly educate the audience on theater and concert etiquette, including that it’s OK to excuse oneself in certain situations. I have no doubt that the child’s family would have gotten the hint, and it would not have been as horribly awkward as Siegel’s pointed glare.

I think I would have enjoyed the performance a lot more if I had not seen this particular facet of Jeffrey Siegel. Unfortunately, given the experience I had at Keyboard Conversations tonight, I sincerely doubt that I will be returning to see any of Siegel’s future concerts.

More information on upcoming Keyboard Conversations at the Harris Center can be found HERE.

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