The Bravo Guy

When I worked as an audio engineer at the National Public Radio mother ship in Washington, D.C., one of my regular and very favorite gigs was running the broadcasts of Performance Today. The host Fred Child was absolutely wonderful to work with, as was the director and the other members of the production staff. It was also pretty great to be in the driver’s seat of a humungous Studer mixing board that looked like the dashboard of a space ship.

We used to joke, when playing live recordings of symphonies, about the person in the audience who, well before the final notes of the work had faded completely, and before the applause began, would shout “BRAVO!” cutting short the lovely bit of breathing room at the end of a piece and jangling the audience out of it’s reverie. We called him “The Bravo Guy”, and almost without fail there was one in every orchestra performance. He is not so present in opera, and not usually in chamber music, but can often be spotted—or rather, heard—at the symphony.

Tempting as it was, The Bravo Guy could never really be edited out of a recording, because he always gave his first shout out as the music was dying away, and so the music would cut off along with his voice. Depending on the recording, he might sound rather distant, or he might sound disturbingly close by, as if he were laying in wait for his big moment. My colleagues were quite accustomed to dealing with The Bravo Guy, and soon I learned to check the end of a recording for his presence, and then work the controls on the mixing board just enough to calm his voice down without mucking up the end of the work.

Last weekend I finally encountered this phenomena in real life, at a concert of the National Symphony Orchestra, which was premiering a new work by Augusta Read Thomas. Her violin concerto was framed by two Schumann pieces, and this rather unusual programming choice (we’ll talk about that later), made Thomas’s transparent orchestration stand out all the more. Her piece sparkled and danced as her music tends to do, and a split second before the last sound had faded into nothingness, what should erupt from the quiet but:

BRAVO!

He was just a couple of rows behind us; a solitary figure in the back third of the orchestra section, standing up and clapping before anyone had taken a breath. Of course the audience quickly joined in, and there were many more bravos, both from this guy and from others. My annoyance quickly melted upon seeing the excited, happy look on his face. Maybe having someone like this in audiences is a good thing after all.

If there are any Bravo Guys out there reading this right now—you know who you are—your enthusiasm is appreciated. But please, try to hang on to that for just two more seconds.

8 thoughts on “The Bravo Guy

  1. Scott Pender

    So I’m not the only person annoyed by “Bravo Guy”? I’ve entertained a couple of theories about this person: (1) he’s a plant, trying to get the audience revved up, (2) he’s a showoff (“I know the piece better than any of you, see I even know the end.”), or (3) he’s just so excited that he can’t contain himself. In all cases, just a moment’s additional self-control would really be nice. Sometimes, I just want to sit there and let the end of a piece wash over me…

    scott

    Reply
  2. Paul Muller

    I play in the Cal Lutheran Univ orchestra and we did Mahler’s 4th this past April. We rehearsed the last 4 bars of the last movement several times for the specific purpose of discouraging premature applause. The time to start applauding is when the conductor puts his hands down at his sides – and we rehearsed it so that there was no sound or movement for a full 10 seconds after the last note sounded. The conductor hunched down over the podium with his baton half-raised and our instructions were not to even blink! It worked and was very effective. The point was thus made that the most important part of that piece was the silence that follows the last chord.

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  3. Chris Becker

    That’s right! Music lovers – come to our concerts. But make sure you don’t cheer, say “brava,” laugh, fart or otherwise make a noise at the WRONG TIME!!! WE know when to make sounds and when not to make sounds, not you, peasant!

    Reply
  4. Mischa Salkind-Pearl

    Yeah, it took me a few years to come around to liking this guy, but I’m thrilled when he’s there. He just has the balls to show his excitement as emphatically as I wish I could. Going to a public concert you kinda have to sacrifice the purity of the sit-at-home-with-headphones experience.

    Reply
  5. Phil Fried

    Ok let me get this straight. This “Bravo guy” hangs around orchestras and yells every time he hears your brand new work.

    Whats not to like? In fact I would be more than happy to provide music to any orchestra to replace those composers who would prefer not to be irked by said person.

    Phil Fried, lets talk.

    Reply
  6. MarkNGrant

    The funniest example of a premature bravo I ever experienced as a concertgoer occurred during a solo piano recital. The artist was playing Chopin’s Bb minor Scherzo, a piece of about ten minutes’ duration, and right after the thunderous chordal Db major cadence to the first section of the piece, before the Trio– only about 3 minutes into the piece– a small claque of people erupted raucously clapping and “Bravo!”-ing with an over-the-top fervor more suited to a World Cup victory. I spent the remaining 7 minutes of the performance trying desperately not to explode in an equally audible eruption of laughter.

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  7. Peter

    My experience with the Bravo Guy: during a recital of Leontyne Price she sang Vissi d’arte from Puccini’s Tosca (not exactly an obscure aria), she did it in her familiar slow way, like she always did at recitals, with lots of ritenutos so every moment you think the piece is over (but of course WE know when it is finished). Just before her last grand frase ‘Perche me ne rimuneri cosi?’ she slowed down again and the the Bravo Guy, who was sitting right in front of me, exploded in a very loud BRAVA!!!!!! and jumped up from his seat, only to be shushed down, even by his friends sitting next to him. Since this was the last number before the intermission, you could hear people laughing and making fun of this unmusical jerk, who was left with a lot of egg on his face. Needless to say, for the rest of the concert, he waited AFTER the applause started. For once, the Bravo Guy was exposed.

    Reply

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