The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music notes: Page-turners can make or break a concert

April 30, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger


Then some more beautiful music.


Then more beautiful music

And so on for 40 minutes or so.

There I was recently, listening to a wonderful piece of chamber music, a piano trio by Schubert, the energetic opening of which is performed here by Yehudi Meuhin at the 1964 Bath Festival in England.

But the music was interrupted by this sound of an annoying thwap, and another, and another.

It was by the very capable pianist who was turning her own pages.

Of course, I understand why someone might do that. I know one pianist in particular who is really fussy about turning pages and who does it. Get the wrong page-turner and you can get in serious trouble. It’s a special skills as you can read here:

String players and other instrumentalists turn their own pages all the time and usually seem to have the time to do so. And pianists do it when they are practicing.

But when you are a playing the piano in a performance, I’m not so sure that turning your own pages is a good idea, especially when you’re playing a fast movement (first movement, last movement, middle scherzo) and have to turn the page really fast – thereby creating a loud and distracting paper crinkle of the page.

Then too, the noise gets even louder when the page doesn’t turn fully and you lose your place as you slap the page back down again because it doesn’t stay flat.

Of course, maybe something happened in the concert in question. Maybe the page-turner didn’t show up, though the nearby University of Wisconsin School of Music should be full of capable student willing to turn pages.

“I wanted to offer to help,” said another sympathetic listener after the performance, when we were chatting.

I had had the same impulse.

But I figured, as he probably did, that she did what she wanted to do. And maybe neither of us would have been an improvement because we hadn’t rehearsed it with the pianist.

Anyway, I really urge piano players in chamber music performances to line up a capable page-turner. (Notice the one in the one the video above of a thoroughly professional piano trio.)

And I encourage the public to appreciate the good and bad that page-turners can make in a concert. They seem so secondary or tertiary — but they can be vital.

Take a look at this story:

Have you ever been distracted by a musician turning pages during a performance?

What do musicians say about the dilemma?

Do any page-turners have something to say?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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