A profound and irreversible change to our concert habits

A profound and irreversible change to our concert habits


norman lebrecht

March 17, 2020

Over the next three months and more, there will be no concerts, no opera, no public sharing of art.

The major opera houses and orchestras have arranged to stream past performances free to all who care to watch, building up their databases for the day when the doors can reopen. We have reported the first big streamers from Berlin, Vienna and New York. By the end of the week, the list will be too long to take in. And there will be performances every night, as usual.

The question is, are they doing the right thing?

The concert habit is a delicate organism build up over decades and following fixed social patterns. You go on a certain night of the week and expect to see certain faces in the audience. For many people, that certainty is essential to the experience.

There is an alternative to streaming every night of the week, and that is selecting certain nights when people expect to hear music.

I am intrigued by the strategy adopted today by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, which will post a concert twice a week, Tuesday and Friday, with the aim of preserving the habit. By having a fixed appointment, music lovers in their homes can continue to maintain the habit of sharing music with other music lovers, also in their homes. The can discuss the concert by phone during intervals and afterwards.

Here’s what Gothenburg tells Slipped Disc:

Due to the corona pandemic, the concerts of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra are closed to the public in the up-coming weeks. However, with a strong commitment and belief in the uniting power of music, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra will be available to all music lovers on gsoplay.com. The concerts can be enjoyed for free for anyone on the web or through our app.

The ambition is to have a new concert available each Tuesday and Friday, starting a week after the initial release on 17 March, culled from our rich archive with international artists such as Santtu-Matias Rouvali, Barbara Hannigan and Kent Nagano. Our hope is that sincere and heartfelt music-making will constitute a soothing and encouraging element in these troubled days.

The first concert is

Sibelius Symphony no 2 (which GSO has played over 150 times since 1907, and with Sibelius conducting in 1912)
Strauss Don Juan
Beethoven Piano Concerto No 2 with Mari Kodama

This makes sense to me as a reasoned, unpanicked approach to chaotic, unprecedented times for classical music.



  • David Boxwell says:

    Magnetophonkonzerte! Like Berlin in 1944!

    (There is precedent).

    • John Borstlap says:

      Much earlier, in the Paris of around 1900, one could listen-in to theatre performance through the telephone. The network was still quite small: only relatively wealthy people could afford to have the new invention: telephone connection, in their home, but we know that Proust listened to these plays through the phone.

  • A.L. says:

    Then there are our beloved old recordings (in whatever format) and a universe of great music on sites like YouTube, for free.

    • A.L. says:

      A few favourite YT channels:

      Dead Tenors’ Society
      Jozef Sterkens
      Danny’s Radio

  • Steve says:

    “The concert habit is a delicate organism build up over decades and following fixed social patterns. You go on a certain night of the week and expect to see certain faces in the audience. For many people, that certainty is essential to the experience.”

    And there was me thinking people went for the music.

    • SVM says:

      I agree with Steve. My own concert-going varies according to the distribution of events I think will be interesting and/or worthwhile, as well as my own commitments. As a result, there is no fixed pattern as to which days and how frequently I attend concerts.

    • Bruce says:

      “And there was me thinking people went for the music.”

      It’s possible to go for more than one reason. Say you purchase season tickets to your local symphony. There are several non-mutually-exclusive reasons why you may do that: you love classical music, you love live performances, you want to support the orchestra. And there may be other reasons — also not mutually exclusive — that make themselves known over time: a reason to get dressed up and go out, maybe you become friendly with the season ticket holders next to you and look forward to seeing them.

      We can only say what the determining factors are for us, not for other people.

  • Nightowl says:

    Well, I guess that now the Orchestras and Opera houses in France can not go on strike for awhile…

  • Anon says:

    And what about the orchestral musicians, travelling to play the streamed concerts? Not much thought there.

    • SVM says:

      The streamed concerts are not live, but archival recordings from the past. So, the real question is, “how are the royalties going to be funded, given that the footage is being made available for free?”. At a time when many individual freelancers (both /tutti/ orchestral players and soloists) will be suffering financially, it is incumbent (both legally and ethically) that any royalties they are due are processed accurately and expeditiously.

    • Brian v says:

      I have been incapacitated through a road accident which occurred in 2018.
      Thankfully I have good audio equipment and a large collection of cds.
      Classical/jazz. That keeps me going until I get more mobile.

  • Just sayin' says:

    “You go on a certain night of the week and expect to see certain faces in the audience. For many people, that certainty is essential to the experience.”

    Not quite so uncompromising or traumatic for some. You buy season tickets to a couple series, you go the night they’re scheduled to play (rarely Saturday or Sunday; otherwise, it’s flexible). You greet your neighbors, and at times there’s a new face — they couldn’t make it and gave their ticket to a cousin or a colleague. A few neighbors change each season; they up- or downgrade, or are simply gone. But Steve’s right — you continue to go… for the music.

  • david hilton says:

    “no public sharing of art” . . . Actually, Bach in the Subways is still going on, at least in New York, as of yesterday. https://bachinthesubways.org/

  • Vaquero357 says:

    Eh, no. I’ve been a crazy record-collector for 40 years, who’s also all over live streams like stink on a skunk {;-) And I still go to many, many live concerts every year…..well, up until this past weekend.

    The live experience is just different: When you arrive, the performance is a thing that hasn’t happened. How will it unfold? Will it be one of those amazing, transformative performances that’s a once-in-a-lifetime event? Will you discover a “new” piece or artist? Will you meet some kindred-spirit music-lover in the audience? But mostly, it’s about experiencing something AS IT HAPPENS.

    Recordings help you get prepped for a live performance, or help you re-live it afterwards.

    I don’t ever see myself saying, “I don’t want to go to concerts any more. I’ll just stay home and listen to recordings.”

    Nope, not gonna happen!

    • Brian v says:

      Live performance is still the best. But recordings are good so you get to know the piece of music before you attend the concert.

  • BillOxford says:

    Remember that it’s not just classical music. Other genres are also affected, as are theatres, cinemas, art galleries and museums.

  • Bruce says:

    Profound, yes. It seems a little early to call it irreversible though.

  • Matt D says:

    Very disappointed that I will be missing my first live performance of Nielsen’s “Inextinguishable”. Could there be be anything more applicable for these times? Coupled with my most beloved work of music ever created: Beethoven Piano Concerto #4. I will be listening to these over and over again in the next few months.