World renowned conductor Jerzy Semkow teamed up with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and violinist Rachel Barton this weekend for a spectacular concert. Unfortunately, the concert was performed for a group of predominantly impolite audience members.

After a long silence between the dimming of the lights and Semkow’s stage entrance, which became a routine during the evening, the RPO opened the concert with Mozart’s Symphony No. 29. This symphony was one of Mozart’s earliest to become part of the standard orchestral repertoire. Although the orchestra began this piece sounding hesitant, their sound and performance blossomed by the second movement.

During this movement, Semkow arrived at the ends of phrases with a slight bow, as though he were really conducting a chamber orchestra at tea time on one of those rare nice days in Rochester.

The piece ended with a finale movement, which one elderly gentleman from Henrietta described as his favorite, “Because it sounded the most like Mozart with lots of fast notes and repetitions of the theme.”

Barton, the featured soloist and a native of Chicago, came on stage next to perform a wonderful rendition of Mozart’s third violin concerto. Her crisp, clean playing was delightful, and was artfully shown off in the complex cadenza in the first movement.

Perhaps just as remarkable was Barton’s ability to maintain her composure and flawless playing despite the continual coughing of various audience members throughout her performance. One woman coughed so loudly and repeatedly that she received a look of disgust from the conductor, who paused conducting to turn in her direction.

After a stellar performance despite the distractions, Barton treated the audience to a self-composed Theme and Variations on the national anthem of New Zealand, “God Defend New Zealand.” The hall was filled with her rich sound. Her technical ability, which included playing two notes simultaneously, made for what a young couple jointly called “a charming and relaxed performance.”

Following the intermission, the RPO played Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” originally written as a piano suite.

The piece opened with a strong, clean sound from the brass section. In the second movement, the lower string section “really dug in,” said a Rochester resident named Mark.

The piece only improved as it went along. By the final movement, “The Great Gate of Kiev,” the orchestra looked like they were truly enjoying themselves. The standing ovation they received was well deserved.

I left the concert thinking two things ? first, as usual, that the RPO had played a dazzling concert. Secondly, I thought of how rude the audience had been.

The woman who repeatedly coughed during the violin concerto failed to leave the concert, and was eventually asked to leave by a RPO usher. Other members of the audience repeatedly coughed as loudly. While it is true that coughing is occasionally unavoidable, the performers have spent countless hours practicing for the concert. They deserve nothing less than the utmost respect from the concertgoers.

Getting up and leaving, turning pages of a program loudly or taking off a jacket during a movement are all common practices by audience members that distract both the performers and fellow listeners.

Far and away, the most amazing thing about Saturday’s RPO concert was Barton’s ability to play for an ungracious audience, maintain her concentration and still be gracious for the opportunity to play in the Eastman Theatre. Kudos to her.

Jansen can be reached at

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