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Burn him at the stave! LA Chamber Orchestra maestro says it's OK to clap between movements

Jeffrey Kahane of LACO
Jeffrey Kahane of LACO
Michael Burke

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Off-Ramp host John Rabe continues his long piano-bench interview with maestro Jeffrey Kahane, who has announced he'll step down as music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in 2017.

Hold on to your collapsible opera hats, and get out the tar and feathers: Jeffrey Kahane says it's OK to applaud between movements of classical pieces.

Which, today, makes him a heretic, a rebel. Actually, it makes him a conservative, in the true sense of the word.

RELATED: Kahane plays & explains Goldberg Variations, explains decision to step down

Sitting at the piano at a hall at the Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles, I was talking with Kahane about his approach as the leader of the orchestra. I said I loved it that he often speaks to the audience before the performances. Was LACO doing that when he took over in the mid-1990s?

His two predecessors were distinguished musicians and good friends and colleagues, "but I don't think either of them ever said a word to the audience in their whole tenure. They came from a different tradition."

Until the 1880s, Kahane says, classical music in America was a, "democratic phenomenon." Then, the concert hall became "a temple to art" and classical music became "stifled" ... including adopting the rule that audience members aren't supposed to clap until the end of a piece.

"That was not the way concerts were conceived of initially. That was not how it was supposed to be. And Mozart would have been shocked, dismayed, and furious to get to the end of a movement of one of his compositions and had the audience sit there in silence. To him, it would meant it was a failure."

(From the LA Public Library's Herald-Examiner collection: "Mr. and Mrs. Edward A. Dickson are enthusiastic opera fans. They hold tickets for the season and are among the many social leaders who attend nearly every night during opera week." October 26, 1951)

Before any of you fans of the classical arts get on your high horse (or your high keyboard), consider this additional point: ballet audiences routinely applaud great dance moves in the middle of performances, and opera fans cheer well-sung arias.

In fact, a young tenor was forced to perform an encore at the Met just the other day. So how can you argue that classical music, which provides the score to opera and ballet, is different? If it's good enough for Mozart and Jeffrey Kahane, it's good enough for Off-Ramp.

Make sure to listen to this week's interview to hear Kahane play a Mozart excerpt, and a Gershwin show tune. Next time, as our piano bench interview continues, Jeffrey Kahane debunks another musical myth: that minor chords make you sad and major chords make you happy.

The LA Chamber Orchestra continues its "Westside Connections" series Thursday, May 15, at 7:30pm at the Moss Theater, Santa Monica. Actor John Rubinstein (Bob Fosse's "Pippen") and "From the Top" host Christopher O’Riley are the special guests.