Online editor and cellist Davina Shum ponders show-stealing felines, as well as stressful incidents of insects getting a little too involved on stage


Photo: Mühenna Kahveci

A cat strolls across the stage while the Lucerne Festival Strings performs at the Istanbul Music Festival 

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Earlier this month, a video went viral that showed a carefree cat walking along the front of the stage during a performance of Beethoven Symphony no.6 ‘Pastoral’ at the Istanbul Music Festival. Interruptions from animal audience members happen more often than you might think – indeed our staff writer for The Strad and violinist Rita Fernandes has performed at the same venue in Istanbul, and confirms the presence of many furry felines.

‘There are cats EVERYWHERE in that concert hall,’ she says. ‘The cats are so used to humans that they totally own the space.’

Anyone who’s shares a space with a cat (I hesitate to say ‘own’ because does anyone really ever own a cat?) knows that the funny little creatures have little regard for the personal space of humans – I should know, because as I write this, my cat Romeo is sitting in front of my computer giving me death stares as a way to demand treats. So it is no surprise that occasionally, animals come under the spotlight during performances, for better or worse.


I work to fund his lavish lifestyle and this is the treatment I get in return

The incident in Istanbul was generally met with approval, nods of acknowledgement from members of the orchestra and a frisson of excitement from cat lovers in the audience. I know I’d personally remember favourably any performance that features a cat  – for example, in 2013 I was playing in al fresco performance of another Beethoven symphony, the ‘Eroica’ at the Anghiari Festival in Italy. A big orange cat chose the half-tempo section near the end of the final movement to sit in front of the conductor’s podium and loaf majestically during the triumphant horn theme. What a soundtrack.

But there are many times when the interference of animals can, understandably, cause a catastrophic panic onstage. Take for example, another outdoor performance I took part in on the same Italian trip: an evening staged production of Eugene Onegin was descended upon by swarms of flying ants, who were drawn to the spotlights overhead during the dusk performance in the height of summer. I remember thinking that rogue quavers were running off my music before realising they were ants crawling over the pages, while a bassoonist let out a twitchy honk during a solo as her body was covered with insects.

What do you do when the challenges of the local fauna are thrown at you during a solo? No stranger to playing in huge outdoor venues, such as the Hollywood Bowl, US violinist Anne Akiko Meyers shared her experiences with me:

‘Performing outdoors and being exposed to the elements and nature is always risky,’ she says. She recalls when she was premiering new cadenzas by John Corigliano in the Beethoven Violin Concerto outdoors when she noticed ‘an airliner-sized bug’ flying around the tent in the corner of her eye. ‘I prayed it wouldn’t land on my head. I was so grateful when it made a crash landing in front of my feet and decided to buzz away and crawl in the opposite direction.


Photo: Farah Sosa

Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers performing outdoors at the Hollywood Bowl. This is probably stressful enough already without insects

‘When facing a pesky bee during the last movement of Prokofiev Concerto no.2, I wondered, do I outplay the bee by playing faster?’

No pressure then. Insects interfering with performances are almost certainly something musicians don’t prepare for at music college. However, as Anne embarks on a summer season of (hopefully bug-free) concerts, she says, ‘One never knows what might happen during outdoor concerts but they are also exciting and amazing and well worth the occasional challenges that nature throws your way.’

At least it makes a good story to tell – now it’s your turn! Have you performed in a concert that has been disrupted by animals? Let us know at or via Facebook, X or Instagram.

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