After the lockdown ends(2), concerts will be shorter

After the lockdown ends(2), concerts will be shorter


norman lebrecht

April 29, 2020

The second in a short series:

We are starting to forsee a future in which Covid restrictions are gradually eased and life returns to a simulacrum of normality, but not as it was before.

Concerts, for instance.

There will have to be distancing for many months, maybe a year or more, both among the musicians on stage and in the audiece.

That means smaller attendances, lower revenues, less takings at the bar.

How do we maintain concerts without going bankrupt?

One solution being considered is to split concerts into two, each lasting an hour. The first would start at 7 and end at 8, followed by an hour’s deep-cleaning of the hall. The second concert would start at nine.

It’s not a bad idea. Think of it as an opportunity.

The early concert will attract the straight-from-work crowd, in for a musical fix and home in time for dinner.

The second show will draw the young about-town set and the after-dinner oldies.

These are very clear demographics and they will require very different concert planning.

Which we will consider in greater detail tomorrow.

See also: Mahler will be smaller.

Next: After the lockdown ends(3), the music will change


  • Stephen says:

    The LSO started a series of what they call the Half-Six-Fix, so there’s a precedent. I don’t know how successful these mini-concerts have been but it’s an idea that might be worth considering/developing.

    • V.Lind says:

      Lots of orchestras have had these early concert options for years. Atlanta was an early adopter, I think. But I know of others, some of whom have gone at it half-heartedly, seeing diminished revenue in it.

      Maybe the notion of early starts and shorter concerts will now get proper trial, and full-evening concerts starting a little later (so there is time to go home and dress and maybe have dinner first) will become the exception.

      Two in an evening is a different matter — is an hour enough to “deep clean” a hall? Will people go to a concert starting THAT late? Even a short one?

  • Jan Václav Stamic says:

    … an hour’s deep-cleaning of the hall?

    Between two evening concerts?

    Mahler will be smaller?

    nah! Orchestras will play as they always have, once the virus is better understood, and to think otherwise is to ignore the meticulous evolution of the orchestra since cori spezzati, and even to overlook how orchestras work.

    Front-office mumbo-jumbo.

  • Brian v says:

    Perhaps It will do me a favour sitting further away from people. Then I will not have a nutter siting next to me. Which has happened to me in the past

    • Brian v says:

      Once at the festival hall. This man sitting behind the wife tapped her on the shoulder and said move your head I cannot see the orchestra..
      I said to him I hope you like hospital food because if you do that again you will
      Be eating it he quickly got up and ran I never saw him again. True story

  • Gustavo says:

    Bayreuth could use Henk de Vlieger’s format of the major Wagner operas to cash-in on an hourly basis, serving popcorn and soft drinks during deep-cleaning intervals.

  • C Porumbescu says:

    “How do we maintain concerts without going bankrupt?” Same way we always have – with subsidies and fundraising. There isn’t an orchestra in the world (apart from Andre Rieu’s) that survives on ticket sales alone (and many new music groups receive so little income from audiences that it’s statistically insignificant).

    Not saying ticket income is irrelevant, just that it’s not the only part of the picture, even in the best of times. As it dips, orchestras will simply need to apply intense political pressure and step up fundraising still further in order to make up the balance. They’ve never existed (and probably can’t exist) in a purely market economy, and the need for external subsidy is now greater than ever. But it’s not a new idea.

    • Brian v says:

      The people that go to Andre Rieu shows are not knowledgeable concert goers
      To see somebody dressed up as a bull chasing a lady in red is a circus
      Good for the grandchildren

      • Saxon Broken says:

        “The people that go to Andre Rieu shows are not knowledgeable concert goers”

        On the contrary, they know what they like and they know what they are getting. Even if such concerts do not appeal to me, I would never be this snobbish about what that audience enjoys.

        • Brian v says:

          Andre Rieu is worth £31million he is more successful than Iam a retired civil servant and better looking. I have nothing against his followers
          It is not my taste in entertainment the same as I have nothing against
          People watching Eastenders. Just not my scene. People think Iam mad
          Going to formula 1 motor racing

    • John Borstlap says:

      The classical music culture is not a business but a cultural offering to society, and thus should be supported by that society, it is for its own good – independent from numbers of attendants. It is a culture comparable to the theatre rituals of the Greeks of Antiquity. So, money put into the central performance culture is not money lost, but money invested into an immaterial good. In fact, classical music concerts should be entirely free, and paid for entirely by the state. All wishful thinking of course, but that does not diminish the truth of the matter.

  • CA says:

    One hour isn’t enough time for a deep cleaning. Of almost anything.

    • Brian says:

      It depends how you define deep cleaning. They clean airplanes sometimes within 15 minutes between flights. The key would be wiping down armrests and other surfaces. Maybe spraying an industrial-strength disinfectant on the seat cushions and keeping the bar and restaurant areas closed for the time being. We’ll see.

      • Enquiring mind says:

        And how long would that take in a 2000+ seat concert hall?

        • Brian says:

          Depends on how big your janitorial staff is. With say, 15 or 20 workers, you could probably wipe down and disinfect every seat in under an hour. We’re probably assuming that no more than half of those seats will be occupied anyway.

      • DiZi says:

        Can’t wipe down the air, which is the real issue. Could hand out masks though.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          Masks won’t change the air in the room (they would need very good air conditioning). In that environment, it is difficult to believe that masks would make any difference.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That’s the excuse my PA always offers when she is late.

  • Monsoon says:

    Concert halls and orchestras are going to have to be much more creative than this. Putting aside how convoluted these plans are to make concert spaces “safe,” polling data shows that even Americans are taking social distancing seriously and are avoiding unnecessary risks — people just aren’t going to show up.

    I think the solution is going to be something along the lines of chamber performances in empty halls that are recorded and sold through a paid streaming service, and ensembles being brutally honest with patrons: “If you want us to survive, we need you to buy this product and donate. It’s not optimal, but this is the best we can do.”

    • V.Lind says:

      Risky. It depends on activity when people are in a passive setting (home, relaxed). How many of the FREE online offerings since all this started have you availed yourself of? And of those, how many of the musical ones have been really satisfactory? (The Staatsoper concert yesterday was the best I have yet watched, though I have not watched all I could have).

      We will pay for something we make an effort to do — we dress up, organise an evening out, are glad to pay for the event. But how many times are we going to want to pay to turn on our TVs or computers, to risk dodgy sound and an experience that is subject to all sorts of distractions — the phone ringing (you can hardly demand phone silence in the home), the cat demanding to be fed or petted, the dog needing to be let out, the baby screaming or the teenager demanding to know where his blue T-shirt is…

      Concerts will need a rethink, but it will have to be better than a streaming option. That is the current situation. The future means getting back to real life.

      • Brian v says:

        As I emailed before I purchase cds because the sound is as good as it gets
        And it keeps the staff at my Manchester retailer in a job they are also
        Nice people to deal with.

  • Giovanni says:

    If I’m going to go to the bother of walking to my local train station and then riding the train into a city to go to a concert, and then making the return trip afterwards, I expect the concert to last at least two hours.

    • V.Lind says:

      Hmm. I do see your point, but I for one was always delighted when a concert wrapped before 10:00 (rare). When t was good, I knew had had enough to satisfy all the thoughts going through me — a good concert left me reliving it the next morning and occasionally thereafter.

      But I worry about opera, most of which is much longer, and of course whose performance requires proximity in the acting of parts. I fear that not only are we only going to get opera in concert for the next while, but we are also only going to get “highlights.”

  • It is against all musical values to have the musicians on stage performing six feet apart. Leaving aside the matter of ensemble, there will be no cohesive sonic order. While we certainly will have shorter concerts, the whole experience will be mind-numbingly eerie at best.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Leonard: there were a large number of pandemics during the 19th century and the concert giving orchestras survived. What typically happened was that the pandemic hit the locality for c. 6-10 weeks, and then things gradually returned to normal. There is no real reason why we won’t have a similar experience with Covid-19.

      Since the lockdown is stricter than any in the 19th century during their pandemics, we have managed to limit the number of deaths (a good thing since otherwise the health system would break down). This also makes this pandemic last a bit more than the 6-10 weeks that was typical in the 19th century. But we will be able to return to normal.

  • marcel says:

    On what data are these predictions based?

    • A couple of orchestras have asked me to reconsider my programs for next season. They are thinking about fewer musicians and somewhat shorter concerts.

      • Jack says:

        Looks like you’re going to have to dust off some chamber symphony scores, Maestro.

      • Gustavo says:

        I would suggest that all members of an orchestra get tested for the virus on a regular basis rather than hoping that an adjusted repertoire will solve the problem.

        • Jack says:

          Unfortunately, this is a non-starter for the foreseeable future since testing capacity is so limited in most places.

          • Saxon Broken says:

            Actually, this isn’t really true. At the moment the priority is health workers, and other “key workers”. But since these people will not need to be tested all the time, and as capacity increases, more-and-more non-key workers can be tested.

            Also, since catching the virus makes people immune from getting it again (for how long we don’t know, but it will almost certainly be for at least 2-3 years and probably much longer), the circle of people who need a test will fall over time.

          • Brian v says:

            Are you in the medical profession

      • Guest says:

        Stravinsky: Suites for Small Orchestra, Symphonies of wind instruments, Poulenc: Suite Francaise, if its in Baltimore-Washington region. My vote

  • jmccarty3 says:

    My recipe for shorter concerts:

    Mute the conductor. Our local maestro babbles endlessly about stuff people could look up easily if interested.

    Play the most popular work first instead of last. This will tell you whether people really want to hear that modern/diverse/atonal crap that begins most every concert nowadays, or whether we are just enduring it and applauding politely.

    • M2N2K says:

      That kind of applause usually seems to me as being an expression of gratitude and relief that this sort of opening piece is finally over.

  • Bruce says:

    My first reaction is “nothing wrong with that.” Our programs have typically been 2 hours and 15-20 minutes. The one or two times this season that we got finished by 10pm, we could barely believe it.

    A couple of thoughts though:

    • At least half of that hour between concerts will be consumed by people getting in and out of the hall, and having people milling about in a crowded lobby between shows would be counterproductive.

    • What are the musicians supposed to do? Do we all just agree to breathe each other’s air for rehearsals and performances, knowing that’s what we have to do if we’re going to do our jobs?

    • And backstage between shows — my orchestra’s hall barely has enough room backstage for a Beethoven-size orchestra to cram into the dressing rooms, let alone a Mahler-size group with a chorus. Even before the pandemic, I would notice how the crowds backstage for certain big programs (e.g. Daphnis with chorus, Mahler 2 or 3) would overwhelm the ventilation system a bit, making the air more humid and, shall we say, fragrant. I say this about my orchestra’s hall, but I don’t suppose our situation is unique.

    Not whining, just trying to point out a couple of things that will have to be taken into account.

  • Brian v says:

    Play the popular work in the first half . When they play the contemporary music you get your hat and coat.

  • NYMike says:

    In streaming, the home’s internet connection plays a big part. Is the bandwidth large enough to prevent buffering?

  • My money is on concerts that have no interval. It makes perfect sense that the audience, whatever size it is, does not congregate at the bar or in the foyer.

    • V.Lind says:

      Sure. But bar revenue does a lot toward paying bills.
      Not to mention corporate lounges, which are usually provided for a certain level of donors.

      What with fewer seats sold, and shorter programmes — which MAY cause a demand for lower ticket prices — the financial ramifications of re-opening are going to be very challenging.

    • Brian v says:

      I agree Leonard the bar is like the London Underground in peak time

    • Saxon Broken says:

      They will congregate at the bar before the concert.