Tom Morris, director of the Bristol Proms, has spoken of audiences ‘self-regulating’, after a ‘very over-excited’ academic was physically ejected by other audience members during a performance at last year’s inaugural festival. The academic had contributed a visual display to a Nicola Benedetti concert the evening before and is expected to contribute again to an event at this year’s festival.
David Glowacki, a research assistant based at Bristol University’s school of chemistry who uses audio-visual installations to help explain his scientific work ‒ who also has an MA in cultural theory from the University of Manchester ‒ was an audience member in the £5 arena seats at a semi-staged performance of Handel’s Messiah directed by Morris at Bristol Old Vic on 3 August 2013.
‘Dr Glowacki responded to the crescendo of the “Hallelujah Chorus” by lurching from side to side,’ reports the Independent, ‘raising his hands, whooping and then attempting an ambitious crowd-surfing manoeuvre.
‘Other audience members, who found Dr Glowacki a distraction, took matters into their own hands and physically ejected him from the arena.’
The Bristol Proms self-consciously attempts to create a more informal space for classical music, and Morris had introduced the concert by telling the audience: ‘Clap or whoop when you like, and no shushing other people.’
Morris said it was ‘the first eviction of a classical concert audience member by another member we’ve found since the 18th century’ and acknowledged that some audience members had found Glowacki ‘slightly irritating’.
‘The Bristol Proms are contributing to a ground-breaking way of thinking which will pave the way for a new kind of classical concert. But by allowing an audience to respond in whatever way they want, you also allow an audience to self-regulate, as we discovered.’
At least one commenter on a Bristol Culture review of the event wondered if Glowacki, whose Danceroom Spectroscopy visualisation technique had accompanied a performance by Nicola Benedetti the previous night, had been ‘a plant’.
Two commenters said that they spoke to Glowacki during the evening and that he did not appear to be drunk, as others had suggested. One had suspected the incident had been staged, which Glowacki denied.
Commenter Jenny Bell wrote: ‘I think physically pushing/leading the men out of the space was totally gross and wrong ‒ I hate thuggishness ‒ and I also felt that IF the whooping and talking and clapping was irritating, then the people next to them could’ve simply moved to another spot, as they were standing. It all became pretty territorial, which is interesting in a space that costs five quid to stand in, anywhere.’
Glowacki told the Independent: ‘Classical music, trying to seem cool and less stuffy, reeks of some sort of fossilised art form undergoing a midlife crisis.
‘Witness what happened to me when I started cheering with a 30-strong chorus shouting ‘praise God’ two metres from my face: I get physically assaulted, knocked down to the floor and forcibly dragged out by two classical vigilantes.
‘Neither the bourgeoisie audience nor their curators (eg Tom Morris) really believe what they say. You’re free to behave as you like, and it’s comforting to think that you have that freedom, but it’s only available to you so long as you behave correctly.
‘This may be a consequence of me being American, but I can quite easily be provocative without the need to be inebriated.’
‘David was investigating what the nature of the rules are,’ said Morris, ‘using the skills that make him an extraordinary scientist ‒ and for some in the audience, a slightly irritating one.’
This year’s second Bristol Proms will take place 28 July-2 August, opening with Bryn Terfel ‘performing the pieces which have marked his life’. Other performers include violinist Lisa Batiashvili, pianist Ji Liu playing Bach and Cage, the Erebus Ensemble performing Howells’ unaccompanied Requiem, and Sinfonia Cymru appearing in ‘Towards a Staged Concert’, examining the interactions (or otherwise) of orchestral players in concert.
Glowacki’s Danceroom Spectroscopy is expected to return on 30 July, accompanying Charles Hazlewood’s All Star Collective in Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air.