The ‘orgasm-twitter-tchaikovsky’ case

Over the past few days, highbrow media (we’re not dead yet) have been abuzz over an episode during a recent Los Angles Philharmonic performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. During the slow movement, a woman in the audience very audibly experienced, or maybe faked, an orgasm.

Details, if you can’t resist, from the Los Angeles Times’ Christi Carras:

The “orgasm-twitter-tchaikovsky” case is the latest upending of classical concert decorum. (We’re way beyond applauding between movements.) Refreshingly, this one doesn’t involve somebody’s phone going off. This concertgoer’s more organic going-off conceivably was a genuine heart-and-points-south-felt response to the music – Tchaikovsky has been known to provoke physical manifestations of listeners’ emotions. It was certainly a more human disruption, arguably less obnoxious than random electronic bleats.

And it was cartoonishly sexy, which is irresistible. (You’re clicking on that link, aren’t you?)

Music and sex have cohabited from the beginning, and Western classical music is not an exception: The chants and songs of the 12th-century German nun Hildegard of Bingen take the “bride of Christ” concept pretty literally, cloaking Christian mysticism with palpable, sometimes intoxicating, sensuality. . . . Liturgical works by Palestrina and other Renaissance masters often ran afoul of church authorities for sounding too “worldly” (i.e., sexy). . . . Great opera runs on sexual tension (c.f., “Don Giovanni,” “Tristan und Isolde,” “Carmen,” “Porgy and Bess”). . . . Great ballet music enhances the moves of physically attractive and revealingly clad (increasingly, less and less clad) dancers in stylized foreplay (lately, rounding third base, dashing for home). . . . Symphonic and chamber music from the mid-19th century onward are awash in love themes of varying degrees of explicitness and intentionally sensual sound textures. (The French, naturally, got there first; but before long everyone else got in the mood.)

Ejaculations from concert crowds are also old news. Accounts of audiences’ responses to Franz Liszt, Jenny Lind and other 19th-century virtuosos and divas suggest that orgasms (real or feigned) may well have been part of the proceedings, and critics of the time harrumphed about the sensual/exhibitionist qualities of the latest compositions.

Never pass up the chance for an orgasm – that’s hard-wired in the brain and body chemistry of every animal. Social norms attempt to govern when, where and how humans act on that imperative. Norms change over time. Western and Western-influenced societies now live in a time of sexual liberation (or promiscuity), when, thanks to social media and other factors and vibes, the once-private, sexual and otherwise, is now public.

We also live in a time in which outrage seems to be as essential as a morning jolt of caffeine. If you get your outrage fix over orgasm-twitter-tchaikovsky, at least you’ve avoided many more toxic ways to vent (c.f., today’s news).