Orchestra says: We may never see each other again

Orchestra says: We may never see each other again


norman lebrecht

March 13, 2020

A desperate message from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra:

In the last 48 hours, we have received notice that our planned performance at next week’s Beethovenfest Bonn will not be taking place, that our long-awaited US tour with Mitsuko Uchida is no longer possible, and that our week-long residency at Heidelberger Frühling with Pekka Kuusisto must, in its current form, be cancelled. Yet the spread of the coronavirus pandemic continues. We expect even more cancellations to follow as more governments take the necessary steps to ensure the public’s health and safety.

We will receive no payment for any performance that must be cancelled under these circumstances. Our musicians will not get their fees and the MCO must still bear any logistical costs already incurred such as previously booked travel and accommodation. This situation leads to huge losses that threaten the livelihoods of our members and the very existence of our orchestra. Because we do not receive any structural state funding, we must rely almost entirely on touring performances to earn our income and to cover our operational costs. So if we cannot perform in public, we cannot get paid. The same is true for our musicians, who operate as freelancers. Continued losses on this scale are simply unsustainable.

At present, we are working closely with all of our promoters, our guest artists and every single one of our partners to find mutual solutions in spite of a shared uncertainty. And we are encountering a willingness to cooperate and a spirit of generosity that is encouraging and reassuring to all.

To our colleagues and friends who are already using digital technology to share their music with the world: we are all applauding you loudly and encouraging you to continue. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra has no hall of its own. We have no empty house to stream from. And as cancellations continue, our members, who live in 16 different countries across the world, do not even know when they will see each other again, let alone make music together.

Substantial decisions are needed quickly that will secure the future of cultural life and classical music after the coronavirus pandemic. We are united with every effort to ensure freelance musicians and free ensembles the financial relief that they will need to survive.

We face a serious global threat, an unpredictable future. As musicians, we will choose to face this by making and sharing music, however and wherever we can for as long as possible. Coronavirus will not silence us. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra will #KeepPlaying.

Founded in 1997 by Claudio Abbado with former members of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, the MCO is based in Berlin.


  • Max says:

    And that, Mr. Lebrecht, is exactly what it doesn’t say.
    How do you even come up with such headlines? Do you enjoy making click bait out of people’s misery?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Can you read, Herr M? Look at the italicised phrase within the message. It has been slightly condensed for the headline, its meaning accurately reflected.

      • Max says:

        The message within, Herr L, is: „we are having a hard time, but we will make it through this and SEE EACH OTHER AGAIN.“.
        Maybe have a look at the likes under my comment and the dislikes under yours, to see whether you reflected accurately.

      • Emil says:

        The message refers to “when” they will see each other, not “if”.
        And as for “Can you read”, I might refer you to the last sentence of the message: “Coronavirus will not silence us. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra will #KeepPlaying.”

        You can’t pretend that you are reflecting the content of the message accurately. The distorsion is as obvious as it can be.

        • norman lebrecht says:

          why don’t you start your own Slipped Disc, Emil? see if you can do better

          • Emil says:


          • Paul says:

            Careful, sir. He (or someone else) might take up that offer seriously and wind up beating you at your own game!

          • Andrew Barnard says:

            Norman, you obviously have done something right in gaining a wide following on this blog, at least in terms of appealing to an audience. But why does that mean that you’re immune to criticism? This “see if you can do better” is an odd line for a critic to use. You literally make your living critiquing other people who could tell you to “go try this yourself if you think you’re so good”.

    • Melisande says:

      Critically and analytically reading is also a difficult art!

    • jobim says:

      Click bait? How many people are interested in orchestra life? Don’t remember if it was 4 or 5 billions in the last account………Thanks Norman for covering virus disrupcy of musical life.

    • K says:

      Instead of focusing on the method of phrasing, why don’t you applaud Slipped Disc for posting the message that otherwise might not have been seen? It is indeed clear from the text that the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, as an entity, may not reconstitute.

  • John Marks says:

    Please state the facts that support your accusation.

    Thanks in advance.

  • Monsoon says:

    “the MCO must still bear any logistical costs already incurred such as previously booked travel and accommodation.”

    I’m surprised that their insurance doesn’t cover some of this, especially given that governments have imposed restrictions making it impossible to travel.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      It depends on what the insurance contract says.

      And the insurance companies are likely to go bust if they have to pay out to everyone for four months (e.g. they can’t pay every claim when the crisis is too big).

  • Allen says:

    Sorry, Norman, but that title does not seem like an accurate rewording of even this part: “as cancellations continue, our members, who live in 16 different countries across the world, do not even know when they will see each other again, let alone make music together.”
    The phrase “WE MAY NEVER SEE EACH OTHER AGAIN” occurs nowhere in their statement, nor do they ever even use the word “never”. Never say “never” 😉
    For instance, “we don’t know when or if you will re-word that”, is a bit different than “Norman says he will never change the title of this article.” 😀

  • Gustavo says:

    Time to compose new symphonies?

  • anon says:

    The scenario, sad and costly, is being played out elsewhere. Who would have predicted that Master Agreement clauses denying musicians payment for services cancelled due to “state of emergency” would be invoked for a pandemic? Sad day in the morning for many formerly working musicians worldwide.

  • Maestro says:

    Of course pandemic is a bona fide Emergency along with blizzards, tsunamis, hurricanes and terrorist acts (and strikes btw) needed to be handled only by government authorities. Fully falling under ‘act of god’ and force majeure’ clauses.

  • Vaquero357 says:

    OK, I’m gonna jump in and defend Norman here. While the communique from the orchestra doesn’t explicitly say what his title says, we know the players are thinking exactly that. And I certainly hope the sentiments of optimism at the end prove true. Unfortunately, optimism alone doesn’t always carry the day.

    The real “takeaway” here is that this crisis is putting a lot of music organizations at risk of extinction – rather more quickly than they, or we, would expect. And ALL of us who come here to read this blog care about that!

    I also suspect that a lot of contracts in the future are going to contain language for dealing with cancellations due to unexpected crises like pandemics.

  • Maestro40 says:

    Get in line people. Many, many of us are fending because of this. It’s hard having sympathy for a group with such major sponsors, when normal musicians like us lose everything. The difference between the orchestra disbanding, and many of us going bankrupt and maybe never getting into the concert life again…