Beethoven 9 sales slump at UK Three Choirs Festival

Beethoven 9 sales slump at UK Three Choirs Festival


norman lebrecht

July 08, 2019

Threats and misinformation from Brexiteers have prompted a box-office slump for Beethoven’s 9th symphony at Gloucester Cathedral.

The festival’s chief executive has sent us this placatory statement:

On Friday, I became aware that a report was being filed in the Observer relating to a complaint I received regarding this year’s festival and the programming of Beethoven’s ninth symphony. I feel it’s important to respond and to clarify some misconceptions.

Shortly after announcing our programme in late March, I spoke with a gentleman who planned to boycott the festival – and encourage others to do the same – because he felt the inclusion of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony was a pro-EU provocation in a region with a strong ‘Leave’ profile. Our conversation was measured and respectful, but despite my assurances that the choice of repertoire was apolitical, and his own long-standing devotion to our event, he remained determined to avoid the festival this year. Although I regret that he will miss a magnificent week of music-making and conviviality, and do not share his views, I respect his right to express them.

Ticket sales for the festival overall are healthy, but it’s true that sales for this particular concert are below the level we would generally expect for our final night (although we’ve sold almost a hundred more since this story broke)! There are likely to be several reasons for this: the other major work on the last night programme is a rarely-performed and unfamiliar work – The Mystic Trumpeter – by Cheltenham-born Gustav Holst; there could be other local events which have diverted audiences; bookers might have decided they prefer some of our other 70+ events. Additionally, there’s a general trend emerging for people to book later, so all I can say with certainty is that two people are not attending this event because of a perceived connection with Brexit politics.

As our Artistic Director, Adrian Partington has already made clear, Beethoven’s inclusion was not politically motivated. I expect this is true of most, if not all, other performances taking place this year, including one at the BBC Proms a fortnight after our own. We’re staging a magnificent, celebratory work to close a festival which sees thousands of people – audience members, internationally renowned performers, our locally-sourced festival chorus and a host of dedicated volunteers – come together through a shared love of music. While there’s no denying that music can be, and is, used as a powerful tool in communicating a message, it should also be allowed to stand as a simple expression of creativity; a monument to the extraordinary achievements of human cultural endeavour and a common language that has the power to move us all, regardless of our politics.

I’ve been saddened by the aggressive nature of some of the responses directed at the complainant described in the article. Events in Strasbourg last week have made an isolated conversation suddenly topical, but the response seems symptomatic of a deep division which will not be bridged by what amounts to little more than name-calling. Perhaps it’s appropriate then, to quote the other composer in our contentious concert (composer of, among many other things, the tune to the hymn “I vow to thee my country”), Gustav Holst: “I believe most thoroughly in comradeship in all shapes as being the ideal of this world”.

When we come together on the 3 August, I hope we can celebrate the performers’ achievements – it’s an extraordinary feat of stamina to cover so much repertoire to such a high standard over the course of the festival – and let the music speak for itself. It is joyful music – I hope we can all raise a smile.
Alexis Paterson, Chief Executive Monday 8 July 2019


  • M McAlpine says:

    The hijacking of Beethoven’s 9th by a largely corrupt political institution does not invalidate it or its message.

    • Ralph Bateman says:

      Maybe this will become a trend and there will also be problems at the Proms performance on 19-August. Hope not.

      • John Sorel says:

        After last year’s ‘Battle Of Thr Flags”, a Proms showdown with Brexit-Ears seems very possible….

    • Akutagawa says:

      Any more than the hijacking of Holst’s wonderful tune from Jupiter by a jingoistic hymn writer invalidates its beauty either

    • Pc says:

      These people are off their trollies.

    • MJA says:

      I see – so would you turn your back on it perhaps, like your fellow travellers?

    • Robert Groen says:

      Come now, Mr. McAlpine! It’s an open secret that Beethoven himself was a committed Remainer and personal friend of Jean-Claude Juncker. Not only that, the composer is said to have had a deep admiration for Vladimir Putin, spending regular holidays in the Russian President’s dacha in the Crimea, just outside Sevastopol. Contrary to what has always been assumed, Beethoven removed the “Eroica” dedication of his Third Symphony in 1812 after Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion of Russia.

      • John Sorel says:

        [[ after Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion of Russia. ]]

        Beethoven gladly accepted the commission from Count Razumovsky for a set of String Quartets, which he completed in 1806.

  • C_Porumbescu says:

    “All I can say with certainty is that two people are not attending this event because of a perceived connection with Brexit politics.”

    Norman, that’s not exactly “threats and misinformation spread by Brexiteers have prompted a box office slump”, is it? Two ticket sales?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      It’s the threat to discourage others, allied to the evidence of poor sales for B9, that make this incident noteworthy. Not to mention the festival’s response.

      • C_Porumbescu says:

        The festival’s response was clearly addressed to that ludicrous headline in the Observer – and the torrent of self-righteous bile that it’s provoked from the more swivel-eyed Europhiles.

        Beethoven 9 did badly at the last Gloucester Three Choirs too, in 2016. Opening with a contemporary work, and conducted by one of the lower profile conductors that week, it’s easily one of the least saleable orchestral concerts in the festival – though it’s far from being the only programme that’s not sold out.

        TWO people not attending an unpopular concert…I repeat, there is simply nothing to see here. The story is the story: or more accurately, the story is nothing beyond an extremely disingenuous headline, concocted by the Observer to tickle the prejudices of its readers with a shamelessness worthy of the Sun or the Mail.

        • Alexis Paterson says:

          Hi C_Porumbescu,

          Beethoven 9 wasn’t in the 2016 Three Choirs Festival (which did rather well for ticket sales), and I’m afraid I must take issue with the description of Adrian Partington as ‘one of the lower profile conductors’ since it is his festival programme and he is much loved and admired by our audience and chorus (and the orchestra seem to like him quite a lot too!). But you’re right that I felt we had to dampen down the fire a little – we didn’t solicit the coverage and it feels a little over the top!

  • Patrick says:

    Nobody wins.

  • Fan says:

    Holst is a Gustav, which will not go down well with some …

  • John Sorel says:

    The ‘Ode To Joy’ is an anthem for the whole human race. Those who feel unable to self-identify as humans – because of their allegiances to sub-genuses of Neanderthals, witches, rodents, or parasitic insects – would probably feel excluded from the event’s broad parameters. Perhaps they should try to pop along anyhow? They could hum the tune, even if the words are beyond their grasp.

    • Adrienne says:

      “The ‘Ode To Joy’ is an anthem for the whole human race.”

      Really? Most of the human race is totally unaware of it.

      • John Sorel says:

        Don’t tell me. Write to your dear Ann Widdecombe.

      • Po says:

        Quite a silly comment, and totally no fact-base (like most of Brexit lies), Adrienne. This tune is one of the best know tunes by human around the world. In which country they don‘t teach it in schools? I know China, Japan and India do, and that‘s already “most of human race”.

  • Pedro says:

    The day will come when it will be mandatory in the UK to perform just the first three movements of Beethoven 9. The fourth one was a fake news for nearly 200 years.

  • Escamillo says:

    Give me the Eroica any day!

    • John Sorel says:

      But there’s 0 for thr chorus to do in Eroica… and it’s primarily a choral festival….