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British Tenor Halts Concert Over Audience Filming

By Sara Schabas on April 22, 2024

Tenor Ian Bostridge singing at the BBC.
Tenor Ian Bostridge (right) (Photo: Video still via BBC Radio 3)

The English tenor Ian Bostridge made headlines after stopping singing during his April 17th performance in Birmingham. Bostridge was reacting against the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO)’s new rules that permit audience members to film and take photos during performances.

Driving the news: Ian Bostridge was mid-way through the third song of Benjamin Britten’s fiendishly difficult Les illuminations when he stopped singing. The tenor claimed to find the audience’s proclivity towards filming his performance “extremely distracting,” and requested that they turn off their cameras. The CBSO’s CEO Emma Stenning had recently announced new rules that not only permitted but encouraged audience members to film and document snippets of concerts.

Digging deeper: Many critics and classical music fans sympathized with Bostridge’s plea for audiences to put their devices away. Yet others are torn, as the CBSO’s new rules were clearly an effort to make classical music more accessible. Benjamin Britten’s Les illuminations is a varied, lively and sensitive series of settings of Arthur Rimbaud’s poetry, which premiered in 1940. Britten’s music would be in master’s hands when performed by Ian Bostridge, a sensitive tenor who specializes in Lieder and art song and has authored four books about the art form. Perhaps a more Instagram-friendly, less cerebral artist in slightly easier repertoire might have been a better choice to try the new rules out on. What do our readers think?

Sara Schabas
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