Some like it not so hot

Some like it not so hot


norman lebrecht

August 16, 2015

We’re hearing cries of distress from players in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra who are appearing in an open-air concert in Bodrum, Turkey, today. The temperature at rehearsal this morning is around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, 37 Celsius.

One guest player tells us: ‘This is, quite possibly, the hottest temperature I’ve ever played in. The sun, however beautiful, is punishing.’

So when is a hot date just too hot? When should musicians put down their tools and say it’s too dangerous to play?

sun coast



  • Larry says:

    Many American orchestras have specific language in their collective bargaining agreements about “acceptable” temperatures for outdoor concerts.

  • CDH says:

    Seems to be typo day at the OK Corral. That,presumably, would be Bodrum.

    I agree that it seems inappropriate to put these artists through that. FIFA listening? The World Cup in Qatar might kill players and fans alike. But they will press on, presumably, and consider the musicians to be wusses.

    I hope they are not required to wear full concert dress. Is the concert at night or during the day? There will be differentials.

  • william osborne says:

    If our utilities like water, electricity, or sewage breakdown, we expect the working class to be out there swiftly returning our comforts. We expect our highway crews, farmers, policemen, and construction workers to be out all summer laboring in the heat. We expect those fire fighters like those currently in California to battle blazes in 100+ degree heat and next to 4 story high flames. But if an orchestra musicians has to work in the heat while sitting down in a shaded orchestra shell they howl and moan. It is little wonder that the working class so often holds classical musicians in contempt. If some of the musicians have genuine medial reasons not to work, fine. Otherwise, get out there and do your job as best you can, and remember the working people who make your lives so comfortable.

    • Anne says:

      Class warriors should give a little more thought to the difference between playing a musical instrument and using the sort of tools that highway crews, farmers, policemen, and construction workers are generally confronted with. And also, perhaps, the consequences of playing out of tune in front of a critical audience and a professional critic or two. As far as the above report is concerned, all the player said was “This is, quite possibly, the hottest temperature I’ve ever played in. The sun, however beautiful, is punishing.” Pretty mild stuff, really.

      I’m sure that even the members of an authentic working class brass band could appreciate the difference.

      • william osborne says:

        Norman specifically raised the question about when musicians should refuse. Any professional music critic who judged intonation in 100 degree heat would be incompetent.

        • Janis says:

          Then if the concert is going to sound like @$$, what is the point of holding it? Just to prove how hardcore they are? If you want to express solidarity with the working class — and as someone who was definitively raised in that class, I think I have the right to speak here — there are much more effective ways to do it than to make some abstract point of value to no one by sitting in triple-digit temperatures for no reason.

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      Agreed. Well said.

    • Janis says:

      Not sure I agree. Contempt for the audience can be a very real problem in classical music, but to be honest, firefighters and construction workers do more important work. No one will die nor will thousands of people be stuck in a three-hour-long traffic snarl if musicians don’t do their thing. I come from a working class background with a family full of real, live firefighters and manual laborers, and if I were expected to play music in 100+ degree heat with a somewhat fragile device that could be damaged by it, I’d bow out. Some of the instruments those people use cost upwards of thirty grand, and you can’t have that come to pieces when the glue liquefies.

  • Helen says:

    In my experience, orchestral musicians only complain about these temperatures if there is risk to their instruments (string players, primarily) A few minutes exposed to this kind of direct sunlight can cause irreparable damage, a fact many promoters know about, and appear to ignore. H

  • Marg says:

    I suggest those who think this is unnecessary complaining go try 15 mins sitting in that temperature under a blazing sun and actively bowing or blowing, and see if they still think its OK. Having lived in a hot climate for 20+ years and having been in Turkey over 10 times in the Summer I can assure you I would not want to do it.

    • Dave T says:

      By the same token, who would want to sit in the audience under these conditions? Not I. Of course, some brave/foolish folks will show, so, alas, the show must go on.

  • william osborne says:

    Anyone familiar with top orchestras knows how much the musicians complain, and at the drop of a hat. It’s a curious kind of dysfunctionality that is part of the culture, and is often worked even into their contracts. More and more demands are made. The costs become so high that the orchestras can barely afford to even rehearse. Star conductors and soloists come in for a minimum of rehearsals and do glorified readings. The situation is even worse for new music, where there is simply no time to genuinely learn the pieces. A kind of factory work hollowness begins to pervade the whole enterprise.

    A few more examples: It is pretty much standard practice for musicians in top orchestras to be put in 5 star hotels when on tour and yet they still complain. The budgets and salaries are about 10 times higher for top orchestras than in regional orchestras. The executive director of the LA Phil makes $1.8 million per year. Funding is concentrated at the top in detriment to the cultural life of the country as a whole. An example: the Met’s musicians make $190,000 per year while the USA only has 3 cities in the top 100 for opera performances per year and ranks 39th in per capita performances. Never mind. Hog it at the top for the rich folks.

    This is so different from the kind of urgency and commitment of true artistic activity that one only finds in certain new music and chamber groups these days. Top orchestras are by contrast white collar factory jobs – alienated workers with an eye on the clock, ready to complain at the drop of a hat. It’s too hot to play. So cancel the concert and wait for the next complaint. I can assure you will not be long in coming. In a dead art form that has not significantly expanded its repertoire in 80 years, and that has fallen to factory routine, there will be no urgency or commitment.

    • French musician says:

      Wow William. You seem to be quite bitter about orchestral musicians. I read a little of your wife’s issues in the past with her orchestra and can understand why you think the way you do, but could your current outlook be clouded by your personal misfortunes with orchestral life? As an orchestral musician I fundamentally disagree that there is a “factory work hollowness” to the job.

      There is a massive problem with the distribution of €€€, I absolutely agree. Conductors fees can be scandalous, and agencies can take a massive slice of the pie. A dead art form? If people come to listen then how can it be dead? 90% attendance in our hall, about 2000 people a week coming to hear us play. Doesn’t seem dead to me.

      • william osborne says:

        Dead in the sense that it has not made significant additions to the main body of its repertoire in about 80 years. The factory work hollowness is a common observation about orchestral work, not just my own, and fairly easy to substantiate if one looks at the lack of rehearsal time, the superficial work of jet set conductors, the repetitive programming, low musician morale, etc.

        As expected, orchestra musicians will disagree. Another fairly obvious characteristic is that they do not argue the points made, but rather look at why someone might not be conforming — something they are conditioned to do from their earliest training. It is a fact that classical music will not be able to move forward until the field is freed from the domination of orchestras and orchestra musicians.

  • 110 says:

    I wonder what quality of performance can be when musician are struggling with such heat.
    I feel so sory.

  • Robert says:

    I had to do a rehearsal for the War Requiem in the Herodicus Atticus theatre in Athens from 00:00 – 02:30 a.m. once. The performance was the next day at 21:00 – it was hot!
    Try sitting in/on the chorus risers at the Barbican Hall – awful!