Why can’t we have concerts like this?

Why can’t we have concerts like this?


norman lebrecht

March 27, 2019

We’ve been sent for review a 1955 Stuttgart concert conducted by Ferenc Fricsay.

It consists of:

Rossini, Voyage to Rheims overture

Strauss, Burleske (soloist Margit Weber)

Kodaly, Dances from Galanta

Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Caboclo

Honegger, Concertino (soloist Weber)

Ravel, Bolero

The sheer variety is breathtaking, a reflection of Fricsay’s brlliance at programme making. The colour are dazzling and each component complements the rest. The orchestral playing is edge-of-seat.

Why the hell are we stuck with two-work or three-work concerts these days? Whatever happened to ingenuity?


  • Tamino says:

    Why no concerts like this?
    Maybe because we do not have the hungry, curious, interested audiences anymore?
    Instead we have saturated, sensually overwrought audiences, who are looking for intellectual finger food and entertainment more than satisfying meals and adventures?

  • EricB says:

    There are MANY reasons “why” :
    1. Audiences nowadays (supposedly) only want to hear warhorses and rehashed “masterpieces” …
    2. The vast majority of conductors are mostly interested in conducting works that will flatter their ego, rather than works that will flatter the audiences’ shriveling curiosity.
    3. The vast majority of programmers will prefer to program works which are standard repertoire and will necessitate as few rehearsals as possible. That many “new” works to learn and rehearse in just ONE program ? You’re dreaming….

  • Brian says:

    You should have been in Hamburg last night. The Budapest Festival Orchestra performed magnificently under Iván Fischer’s assistant, Gábor Káli, as did the soloists. Unusual and brilliant programming, and a fascinating mix of folk songs and more mainstream Bartók (in this case, Bluebeard)!

    • Heifetz63 says:

      That’s true, I’ve been there too. An enlighteing programm with a selection from 27 zwei- und dreistimmige Chöre mit Orchesterbegleitung Sz 103! Great performance and the audience liked it very much. More from this, please.

  • Well, we’ve been thinking a lot about it actually. That’s why next concerts of Swiss pianist Joseph-Maurice Weder include newly commissioned works of Swiss composers, in regard to Liszt sonata in B minor.
    Yannik Giger – Accelerated (2017)
    Schumann – Kinderszenen
    Richard Dubugnon – Sonate V, op 68 (2018)
    Liszt – Sonata in B Minor
    A lot of piano…
    If anyone is around in Geneva on May 13, you’re most welcome

  • Caravaggio says:

    Because we no longer have conductors the caliber of Fricsay. Would love to hear this disc sometime soon.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      I agree: Fricsay was a superb conductor and his early death from cancer was a great loss to the musical world. SWR have issued this as a live recording and the German mail order company (who also supply to the UK) jpc are selling it for €11.99

  • Paul Brownsey says:

    Also, what happened to the overture? One used to get settled to a Rossini overture or The Merry Wives of Windsor or Zampa or The Hebrides or … Now it’s straight into Shostakovich 7.

    • Bruce says:

      My orchestra used to play overtures, many years ago. Then our conductor decided to go for an ASCAP programming prize, and we had a new piece at the beginning of every concert. It was successful in that he won the prize (twice!), but less successful in that there was always an influx of new audience members after the first piece. Some people were clearly timing their arrival for 15 minutes late, to make sure they would miss the new work.

      Fub fact: this is my 30th season and I have never played the Brahms Academic Festival Overture. (Well, we did play it literally once – with zero rehearsal. It was the opening piece on a program with several student winners from the local music festival. We used up all our time getting 6 concerti ready, so the conductor said “We all know this piece, right? It’ll be fun! See you tonight!” That was in 1993.)

      • Michael Turner says:

        I can remember Sir Charles Groves conducting the overture to Wolf-Ferrari’s Susanna’s Secret, Sir Simon Rattle doing the Prelude to Khovanshchina and Norman del Mar Weber’s Oberon in my early days as a CBSO audience member. That was in the day when you then had to have a concerto and a symphony sized second half. However, there’s no reason why an overture, or two, shouldn’t appear anywhere in a concert, surely? There’s no reason why a whole concert of overtures (well thought through admittedly) should not make a satisfying evening’s listening.

    • BrianB says:

      Well, I’m not sure about the Herold or even the Nicolai on an otherwise serious (i.e. not Pops) concert but there are so many overtures we never hear now like Cherubini’s Anacreon or the Gluck Iphigenie en Aulide overture in the Wagner concert version both of which used to be done by almost everyone from Toscanini to Furtwaengler and Mengelberg. And some overtures make great concert enders like Semiramide or Tannhauser. I doubt anyone today will do the Viaggio a Reims Overture since modern day pedantry will have put it on the Index since Rossini didn’t write it. It’s a forgery, the music is Rossini’s but it’s a cut and paste job from other pieces.

    • Gaffney Feskoe says:

      I agree. And I would like to add one more overture that is never heard anymore and that is Neilsen’s Helios overture.

  • Michael Turner says:

    What has been said thus far all makes sense. Fewer adventurous types in our audiences, the need to ensure as much income as possible, or the least cost, are all good reasons for the programming that we often see. This is then echoed to a greater or lesser extent by our broadcasters too.

    When, many moons ago, I became the Music Director of the Bloomsbury Chamber Orchestra (one of the many excellent amateur orchestras in London) I said that I intended to programme a lot of less well-known pieces. I was clear that, while the so-called standard repertoire would feature in our concerts, audiences could hear far more excellently executed performances of a lot of that repertoire by going to the Barbican or the RFH.

    So, over the past 23 years with the BCO, I have created programmes including works by Albeniz, Alwyn, Arnold, Berwald, Blacher, Copland, Creston, Daugherty, Dubois, Falla, Gossec, Harrison, Hindemith, Honegger, Ireland, Ives, Lambert, Mathias, Maxwell Davies, Messiaen, Milhaud, Moeran, Moncayo, Montague, Nagle, Part, Piston, Rawsthorne, Revueltas, Salieri, Stanford, Suk, Svendsen, Tippett, Toch, Vaughan Williams and Weill.

    The lack of adventurousness in our audiences partly stems, as I’ve said, from a difference in approach of our broadcasters. I also feel that having the tangible opportunity to flick through LPs, cassettes and CDs (as I used to in my local library and record shops) may well have reduced people’s desire to explore.

    What I’m alluding to is not new or revolutionary (I was a regular, youthful attendee at CBSO concerts when Simon Rattle first arrived there). However, even dropping Holst’s Beni Mora into a programme, Mozart’s Impresario Overture, Walton’s Scapino or Debussy’s Marche Ecossaise will start to sow the seed for a little more exploration because even of the works aren’t that familiar, the names attached to them are.

    From small beginnings…

  • Amos says:

    Fricsay was ~ 40 when he conducted the concert. How many of today’s 40 something conductors has even seen the score for any of the pieces on the program save for the Strauss & Ravel? I’m not sure if it was the early training which usually included mastering an instrument as well as some attempt at composing and/or learning the craft of conducting in small opera houses but the conductors of yore seem to have been better prepared earlier and more curious than today. I’ve lost count of the number of times my favorite conductors from the 50’s and 60’s were informed in their approach to a piece by their knowledge of the same composer’s lesser-known pieces. Questions regarding differences in audiences are also worth considering but it starts at the top.

  • Archie_V says:

    The bulk of programmes performed by most orchestras these days seem to follow one of only two templates:

    1. Short contemporary atonal work (allergy warning: may contain mime and/or a six-minute gong solo)
    2. Warhorse concerto (hi, Mendelssohn!)
    3. Warhorse symphony (hi, Mahler!)


    1. Warhorse overture (hey, it’s at least six months since we last did Leonore No. 3, so it’s time)
    2. Little-known dull concerto (the soloist’s party piece innit)
    3. Warhorse symphony (hi again, Mahler!)

    Best practice: The more out-there the first piece is, the warhorsier the second half’s symphony should be.

  • Robert Silverman says:

    Because the parking lots will be shut by the time the concert is over.

    • Tom says:

      Timings can vary of course, but, roughly

      Rossini 8:00
      Strauss 21:00
      Kodaly 16:00
      Zimmermann 5:00
      Honegger 11:00
      Bolero 17:00

      equals 78 minutes of music, not at all long for a 2-hour concert with intermission. What could prolong the concert would be (excessive) talking from the stage, and possibly the need to move the piano back and forth.

      • BrianB says:

        Right. Not at all a lengthy program. Jaap van Zweden recently did a concert with the NYPh with nearly two hours of music, Britten Violin Concerto and Shostakovich 7. Two works by composers who later became friends and written within a couple of years of each other.

        • Petros Linardos says:

          Van Sweden’s program is not my cup of tea, but makes excellent sense. Except that it stands zero chance of being discussed here in a positive light, because van Sweden can’t do anything right in the SD world.

  • BrianB says:

    I agree. Very nice and imaginative program, well-planned. The Zimmermann Alagoana is never heard now, in part as here, or whole. Very different from Die Soldaten and it would be an audience pleaser today.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      It’s a gorgeous piece

      • Brian says:

        I’m happy to report that the Berlin Phil will be touring with it in February 2020, with Kirill Petrenko conducting. The Cologne and Frankfurt dates are official, as I’m sure are some others (London?), but the Berlin season has not been published yet.

  • Don Ciccio says:

    While not frequent, I did hear similarly inventive programming from Neeme Jarvi, Ivan Fischer and Gianandrea Noseda.

  • Peter says:

    Marvelous program until the last work, whose presence I’d find dispiriting. If, as Bruce mentions below, some people come to avoid the new work at the start of a concert (and these days, it’s not at all likely to be an atonal one, pace Archie_V), I’d be one to leave early, after the Honegger…