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:
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.