After the lockdown ends(4), we need to talk about time

After the lockdown ends(4), we need to talk about time


norman lebrecht

April 30, 2020

There is no cogent reason, other than tradition and musicians’ convenience, that concerts start at 7.30 or 8 pm.

Over time, patterns of life have changed but the habit has not.

Now, with socialising and the possibility of refreshments likely to be restricted for a long time to come, we need to consider what’s the best time to start a concert.

Has the audience ever been asked?

Many, in my experience, would prefer 6.30, straight out of work.

The older generation, generally retired, would like to go even earlier.

Before concerts resume, it would be a good idea to conduct a survey of what concertgoers actually want in order that orchestras can go back on stage confdent that they are addressing the maximum number at the optimum time.

Music needs to find a different place in people’s lives. Yet very few organisations, so far, are embracing radical change.

Previous posts in this series here, here and here.



  • fflambeau says:

    I disagree.

    I think the time of 7:30 or 8 pm. for concerts is just right and came about because most people wanted it then.

    This is another “non issue”.

    • Brian v says:

      I think 6.30 would be ideal because a lot of concert goers live in the suburbs
      And take a train and bus in order to get home. I used to live in Middlesex and
      By the time I arrived home it was nearly midnight because of travel delays.

  • PaulD says:

    I think that, in the U.S. at least, a 6:30 pm start will not be “straight out of work.” For that to happen, one would have to leave work at 5:30 pm, or earlier depending on the distance. Good luck with that. My instinct is that this is one of the challenges the Met Opera has been facing for years now. People are working longer hours and can’t get to the theater during the week.

    • John Kelly says:

      Absolutely right. This is an complete non issue of a discussion. The Met has for years done Saturday matinees and is now offering Sundays at 4. Many US orchestras have tried “rush” concerts at 6 or 6:30, many play Friday afternoons at 2 (Philly and NYPO for donkeys years).

  • Ed Cole says:

    8:00 PM is fine with me. I like a drink and repas before I settle in for the concert. It is a night out not a rush to get it over with.

    • Edgar says:

      My trouble is, having a meal and a drink before the concert puts me at risk of falling asleep and starting to snore. “Wenn ich schlafe, werde ich zum Ereignis” (Monsieur Taupe, in: Cappriccio)

      A 1:30 or 2PM concert tears a hole into the day, yet has the advantage that it is over by cocktail time (too late for Afternoon Tea, alas).

      At any rate, I agree with Norman that this is the time to radically re-think how we want to practice classical music performances. We must muster the courage to leave no (sacred) stones unturned.

  • Hmus says:

    It seems like a good idea, but in my recent experience with the idea I’m not sure it pans out. Last season Curtis began to experiment with mixing 6:30 pm student recitals with their traditional 8PM ones, and they seemed (to me at least) to be less well attended. But of course the seasons was curtailed early, and this would be anecdotal evidence at best. Nonetheless, I can’t see why concert times wouldn’t align with the most popular times for film and theater, which seems to be a 7-8pm start time.

  • Alvaro says:

    Al always, operating under archaic mindsets and tools of a past generation.

    “Surveys”, “Nielsen”….no wonder young people avoid classical music more than COVID.

    Analytics on the times of the day in which the current livestream happen. But thats obviously too much to ask. Do we even need concerts anymore? Old, subsidized models are in for a major refresh….I personally hope only 10-20% come back full time.

    Really want to have a barometer for the interest in the “arts”? Don’t subsidize it. Lets see how far your “stars” get.

    The major question is: other than the folks who will likely need to stay in quarantine until 2022, does anybody else really miss these taxpayer subsidized events?

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    6.30 is too early. Do we want the concerts to be aimed for geriatrics, who tend to nap almost invariably during a piece. I try to avoid geriatric audiences as much as possible.

    • Brian v says:

      Mustafa. One day you will be an old guy like me. Remember a lot of old men get
      Married to young women. We have men here who are 90 and the wife is 44.
      And they have kids. My wife is 3 months younger than me I also like young ladies.

  • Mike Carter says:

    What about those of us who both work and live outside London, but depend upon London concert venues? How do we find the time to get there?

    • Brian v says:

      I agree it is late by the time you get home. And have to get up for work the next day

    • fflambeau says:

      Mike, I used to live in Sussex. That’s one hour by train from London. No problem. 7:30 or 8 pm. is fine.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      I wouldn’t mind if the concerts started at 7pm rather than 7:30pm. But much earlier would make it tricky sometimes to get there travelling across the city after work. I doubt anyone really goes for dinner before the theatre or the concert anymore.

  • Ron Swanson says:

    An early start can also mean people from out of town can attend without paying for an overnight stay. It’s takes us roughly 3 hours door to door to get to the London venues and that makes it an overnight stay with an 8pm start. A 6.30pm start means we can get home in the same day. In practical terms we can go more often because it costs less.

    • Julian Elloway says:

      If you live on the Stroud, Gloucester, Cheltenham rail line the last train back leaves Paddington at 10.15 p.m. So a London concert means paying for a hotel. I do that occasionally, but it cuts down London concert going if 7.30 or 8.00 start.

      • SVM says:

        Ah, the ‘last train’ problem. If you think it is bad for late trains out of London, spare a thought for Londoners going to a concert elsewhere — the last trains *to* London tend to be even earlier!

        But Elloway overgeneralises. In my experience, Wigmore Hall recitals tend to finish between 21:20 and 22:00. If he needs to get to Paddington for the 22:15, it would be feasible for many (but not all) concerts there, assuming he does not mind leaving as soon as the final applause starts (in order to be at the front of the cloakroom queue):

        *Wigmore Hall –> Bond Street LU station is a 2-minute walk

        *Bond Street –> Lancaster Gate is 3 minutes on the Central Line (which runs every 3–5 minutes at that time of the evening)

        *Lancaster Gate LU station –> Paddington is a 10-minute walk

        So, that makes Wigmore Hall –> Paddington possible in 20–25 minutes (allowing some time for all those stairs and escalators — if you are a fast walker without too much luggage, it may be better to use the spiral stairs at Lancaster Gate instead of waiting for the lift), which will become 10–15 minutes once Crossrail opens *fully* (because the much delayed Crossrail project will, eventually, provide direct trains from Bond Street to Paddington).

        • Saxon Broken says:

          I wouldn’t want to chance leaving Wigmore Hall at 21:45 to catch the last train from Paddington at 22:15. I can’t imagine many other people would want to do that either.

          Fortunately most of the London venues also do some afternoon concerts.

      • Brian v says:

        I had this problem when we lived in Middlesex now I live in altrincham
        Cheshire. It is a 20 minute tram ride to reach the concert hall. It makes
        It easier to go out. But we still go to London concerts when we have a
        London weekend break. Nothing like London I come back every month approx

  • Will Duffay says:

    I completely agree on this. 7.30 concerts in London means getting home well after 11, so I tend not to bother. I’d happily knock an hour off that. 7.30 belongs to an era when one would dine before the concert, perhaps having driven in from the home counties. Now we hang around at work or fill in time at the pub for a couple of hours.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      A lot of people need to get across town to get to the venue. Or come from the near suburbs where they work. If the concert starts too early then they will not be able to get to the venue after work.

  • Rob says:

    I want all concerts to start at 6.42pm and thirty one seconds.

  • mary says:

    “6.30, straight out of work”

    Let’s take a typical capital, Paris.

    You work at La Defense as a low level banker (trust me, if you were a rainmaker, you wouldn’t be at a concert, you’d of course be a patron, but your wife would go, you’d be in the office until midnight, or with your mistress).

    The Philharmonie is on the other side of Paris, in the slums, because that’s what the good-hearted city and civic planners want, diversity and equal access, thus away from your petit bourgeois neighborhoods.

    Under the best of circumstances, you’re 1 hour away by public transport, because even if you drove, it’s rush hour. But good thing you’re a midlevel banker, so you leave work promptly at 5:30 pm everyday, and no one says anything (to your face).

    But all that time at concerts costs you a promotion, your kids become adolescents demanding more and more, you drop your subscription because it’s too much, you get resentful, you mess around with a co-worker, your wife gets on xanax, your kids are doing drugs…

    If only you worked that extra 2 hours a day and attended your concerts at 8:30, which is the current start time at the Philharmonie.

    • Brian v says:

      You mention being in the office at midnight with your mistress
      I have been working for 50 years and never had such luck

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Start at 8:30? Are they mad. For most people, that would mean hanging around for hours after work. And getting home after the concert almost the next day.

  • dennis says:

    I think concerts are too long and would favour a start at 7 or 8 with a 90 minute programme

    • SVM says:

      Most concerts in London are already not much longer than 90 minutes, if you exclude the interval. For those of us who do not live in central London, it is already a case of spending more time travelling than actually listening to music. Please do not exacerbate this situation.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Some of the concerts are not much more than 60 minutes. Really, don’t make them any shorter.

  • Bruno Michel says:

    Indeed a survey would be a good idea. What we nowadays consider established times was not always so. In the XIXth century, starting times were different. Although sometimes performances ended later than now, as people had longer and more intervals, especially in opera. It seems that audiences’ expectations can vary enormously according to the rep, though. In opera, you can show a Wagner opera and start at 17h00, and nobody minds, and people will leave the office earlier to see it. Try and do that with Elisir… The problem with a survey, I fear, is that half the respondents (people of a certain age and people living far) will want to start earlier, and the other half (the young, who want to socialise, and the workaholics who never leave the office late enough) will want to start later.

  • Louise says:

    I don’t even know why people are giving their views on this . The real question is …WHEN will we ever be able to have concerts again ?
    Speaking as a professional violinist of 30 years for the same Symphony Orchestra .

  • Fiddlist says:

    6:30 PM is the worst time for musicians to perform. Either you cram down dinner at 5:30, get in a food coma just in time for showtime and pray you can keep your gas silent and not-so-deadly, or you go starving until 8:30 PM or later.

    Any earlier doesn’t work because of the work schedules of concertgoers (the industry has been fighting aging crowds for many decades, now’s not the time to change that), any later than 8 PM start time is impossible for those with kids. 7:00 to 8:00 start time is the ideal. There’s a reason things run the way they do. The Covid 19 pandemic might change some things permanently and others temporarily, but start times won’t be one of those things.

    • Brian v says:

      It is a problem for musicians if you eat supper before 6.30 you feel drowsy after eating. If you eat after the concert it is not good to eat late.
      7 sounds about right

  • Mario Lutz says:

    I can read: “Many, in my experience, would prefer 6.30, straight out of work”
    Can I asked y these many leaves working place at six or five o’clock?…

  • Tim Panist says:

    The BBC moved all/many of the concerts their orchestras give in major halls back from 19:30 to 19:00 some years ago. This was to accord with some “live at 7” broadcast marketing wheeze.

    On weekdays, there was a precipitous decline in attendances. Even concerts with programmes that would hitherto have attracted a reasonable audience were deserted. Ask the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester…

    The orchestra managements were desperate to get this scheme ditched ASAP. It was quietly dropped on a spurious pretext in fairly short order. There was a slow and partial subsequent recovery in attendances, but long term damage was done.

    Meanwhile, for many of us in the UK troubled by the tedious business of working for a living and who live outside a few big cities, moving 19:30 starts forward will cut off access to all the concert/orchestra riches therein for 5 days a week.

    Currently it’s possible to reach London (in particular) from quite a long distance away, like 100 miles, after a “standard” work day just about in time for 19:30 and return after. Move this forward even by 30 minutes and it becomes impossible – I speak of what I know from numerous failed attempts to get to the start of 19:00 Proms.

    All of this is moot right now of course, and likely to remain so for perhaps years. However, the arrangements that prevailed before this crisis were not arrived at arbitrarily but by careful evolution within prevailing circumstances.

    Unless you believe that the eventual outcome of the current crisis will be the dawn of some bright new future of liberation for the many from the temporal and financial obligations of conventional work (good luck with that) then there is no particular reason for the constraints to change in the long term.

  • Simon F says:

    There are other reasons for this time. For example musicians generally work morning afternoon and evening sessions. A 7.30 start allows for an afternoon rehearsal finishing at 5ish, time to eat and relax and get changed for musicians. And leaving a morning free for another session. If you push the afternoon session earlier potentially that eats into the morning session which would restrict musicians’ diaries.

  • Gustavo says:

    “6.30, straight out of work”

    People will probably need to work harder and longer after the lock-down or will be straight out of work again.

    Just a thought.

    I always liked the relaxed 21:00 in Salzburg.

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    I have performed in concerts on Sundays at 11AM. I hated it.

  • fflambeau says:

    A thread for whiners and wieners.

    First off:

    1) if you live in a suburb and this presents “hardships” for you, shouldn’t you have thought of that earlier? Face it, it will not only be 8 pm. concerts you are missing but museums, lectures, and lots more.

    2) I used to live in Lewes, Sussex, and it took roughly one hour to get from there to Paddington Station by train. Prices were inexpensive and service was great (hourly, as I recall). And, I was a student with no money at the time. No problem for a 7:30 or 8 pm. start.

    3) Consider staying overnight at a hotel and making an event of it.

    4) If the above is too expensive, consider asking a relative or friend in the city for advice (and perhaps a free overnight experience). Propose a swap: they get a freebie outside the city from you in return.

  • Alexander Jacoby says:

    The trouble is, audiences are diverse and by definition no one start time suits everyone. I live in Oxford, connected to London by a 24-hour coach service. I can get back home no matter how late, but on a teaching day I can’t physically be at a London venue before about 7pm. Obviously, though, I don’t expect concert schedules to be designed around my convenience. Other people have another set of restrictions, but any conceivable start time is going to be convenient for one man and annoying for someone else.

    Anecdotally, a lot of people I know tend to want to make an evening out of a trip to the opera and prefer to eat beforehand. From that point of view, 7:30 is about the earliest start time tenable, and 8:00 might be better. An 8pm start is certainly normal in Italy and Spain, and common in France.