One of the key players in an orchestral concert, according to one prominent conductor, sits in front of the stage, not on it.
"The audience plays an enormous role in the success of a concert, but they never know that," Charles Dutoit, 57, said in a recent interview.
"When the public's concentration is great, you can take more time, feel more tension in the hall, which is always better for the performance. When the public is not concentrating, by coughing or turning pages, it disturbs us. We tend to become a little bit impatient and go faster."
Dutoit was speaking from his office in Montreal, where he has been music director of the Montreal Symphony since 1977. He became music director of the Orchestre National de France in 1991; it is the French group he is taking on an American tour, with stops in Costa Mesa on Sunday and in Cerritos on (March 4).
American audiences, unfortunately, "tend to be noisy," he said. "In Germany and Japan, it's the opposite, a religion almost. You have the public really listening because (a concert) is an important event. . . .
"In Japan, audiences are very quiet--partly because it's an event, but also because it's a discipline and they don't want to disturb others."
Under any circumstances, though, "a concert is always a compromise," Dutoit said, quickly adding that "\o7 compromise\f7 is much too strong a word. But it is true one has to come in with strong ideas of what to do and how to make your message come through. . . .
"Frankly, though, I do not try to be an 'original' interpreter. I try to see what is behind the notes, what is the truth, to digest that without having the pretensions of claiming, 'I have the truth.' "
It bothers Dutoit to hear anyone claim they have found "the truth" about music. In this regard, he feels that period-practice specialists have been helpful. They rejected the earlier "German tradition of the later 19th Century, (which) was so heavy on certain works. And critics (then) were saying (of this approach), 'This is the truth. This is the reference for this music,' " he said.
"Certainly, the fact that the German tradition was very heavy doesn't mean it was wrong. No one is arguing about the profound understanding of (Wilhelm Furtwangler and such) people. When I was a kid, I heard Furtwangler conducting. It was very impressive. It was extremely impressive.
"But if we just talk about interpretation, about style, and also about music being a living art, then there is room for different ways.
"Fortunately now, people are trying to fight these traditions and restore the music of the early 19th Century in \o7 its \f7 color, not in the post-Wagerian color, but genuine color of the 1820s, whose models were very classical. Not with that German heaviness and sickness."
Unfortunately, the wheel has come full circle, and this movement itself has succumbed to orthodoxy. "It's useful as long as (period practitioners) are not pretentious, saying, 'This was the way it was played,' " Dutoit said.
"But some critics (today) just freeze \o7 these \f7 interpretations, saying it's impossible to play Haydn and Mozart unless it's played on period instruments."
Dutoit demonstrates his attitude toward such rigidity by taking a gun--literally--to several Canadian music critics in a recently videotaped recording of Prokofiev's "Classical Symphony" with the Montreal orchestra.
"It's a joke--a \o7 divertissement,\f7 " he said. "The musicians are in hairdresser's salon. I'm holding a gun at the end and kill three critics who were yawning at the concert. Funny enough, the three critics on this film are real critics. They had a good sense of humor. They came to be killed."
In addition to Prokofiev's symphony, he made other experimental videos and laser discs, including one of Ravel's "Bolero" in which he appears as "the Pope and the Devil at the end. . . . This one I like less because it's a bit much."
He is doubtful, though, whether any such technological innovations will draw new audiences to concerts.
"Our audience, which made our life so beautiful in the last two or three decades, is aging," he said, "and younger people have so much to do, not only TV and interactive TV, there are lots of things they have to learn. It is a completely different attitude than it used to be.
"For the time being, we can compromise. We can find more popular programs and at least adjust slowly. But in the long term, in the final analysis, this may not be a good move--going too much toward the public. You just dig your grave a little more, and contact with other (more difficult) music is going to be more and more difficult."
"Frankly, I don't know what the symphony orchestra is going to become in the 21st Century. All of us are asking the same questions. We all understand the situation. No one has found the answer."
\o7 * Charles Dutoit will conduct the Orchestre National de France in music by Ravel, Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky (as arranged by Ravel) on Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Vladimir Spivakov will be the soloist in Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto. The program is sponsored by the Orange County Philharmonic Society. $15 to $47. (714) 553-2422.
Dutoit will also conduct the orchestra in works by Berlioz and Debussy on March 4 at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. $35 to $47. (800) 300-4345. \f7