In Covid-era concerts, pity the poor page-turner

In Covid-era concerts, pity the poor page-turner


norman lebrecht

April 27, 2020

I’m watching tonight’s concert from Bavarian State Opera – a Handel aria in memory of Peter Jonas, a Mozart piano quartet and Jonas Kaufmann with his regular accompanist Helmut Deutsch.

In each instance, the pianist has a page turner.

When that person leans forward he or she is by no means two metres away from the pianist.

This is patently unsafe.

Nor is anyone wearing a mask.

What’s to be done?

UPDATE: That’s no page-turner. He’s my partner


  • Straussian says:

    Try putting the score on an ipad, controlled by a pedal. It’s hardly a new invention by now…

    • Pedals are fine for other instruments, but as a pianist I would find it awkward to have to remove my foot from the piano pedal(s), tap the page-turning pedal, then return to the piano pedal.

      Kit Armstrong sometimes uses a regular laptop (MacBook, I believe) and turns by pressing some keys on the computer’s keyboard. His virtuosity in turning pages is quite impressive (and his pianistic virtuosity even more so, of course!)

      • Ron Swanson says:

        The high end specialist pads are capable of listening and changing the page automatically. You can even write on them to make score notes. Those will set you back around $1500.

      • Alan F laherty says:

        There’s no reason why any digital music display could not be advanced by a page-turner in the wings.

      • NYMike says:

        Practically every pianist appearing @ CMS/LC including co-director Wu Han along with many of the other instrumentalists is now using iPads. So far, I’ve seen no glitches at their concerts.

    • Gus says:

      They are okay until they malfunction. We were at a concert earlier this year, remember those, of Liszt’s piano transcription of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and the pianist used a pedal turner. He had to stop and correct it when the displayed pages went backwards.

  • johannfisch says:

    Enjoy the music

  • Ron Swanson says:

    There are several specialist tablets designed specifically for the display of sheet music. They are operated by a Bluetooth foot pedal. The technology already exists, people have adjust to new reality.

  • Schwalde says:

    Page turner looks to be a young person and thus has close to 0% risk of suffering from corona.

  • V.Lind says:

    I didn’t notice a page-turner with Deutsch.

    Nice little concert, though — much better sound than these living-room/phone affairs.

    I found Kaufman’s comment at the end quite wistful.

  • AngloGerman says:

    If you had actually watched it (strange that this was posted before the livestream was over…) then you would have seen that Deutsch did not have a page turner. Indeed, only the Mozart did to my knowledge, and it is essentially required for that piece.

  • SVM says:

    Tell publishers to make more extensive use of fold-out pages. Most pianoforte stands can take four A4 pages easily (some can take five). And yet, so many editions are inflexible in having only two-page spreads all the time (yes, I know that fold-out pages are more vulnerable to ripping, but a performing edition should be designed principally to be user-friendly in performance).

    Tell self-published composers that they must make a serious effort to make their performing parts as user-friendly as possible when it comes to page-turns. If inviting self-published composers to submit scores for consideration, tell them that this will be criterion in deciding which works get chosen (because sloppy parts and scores waste rehearsal time).

    If printing out-of-copyright PDFs, take the time in advance to figure-out how to arrange the music in a mixture of two-, three-, and four-page spreads, so that page-turns are as convenient as possible (hint: if there is nowhere good to turn at the end of a page, print a page twice and turn in the middle). With some good magic-tape and a comb-binding machine, it is incredible how many horrible page-turns can be eliminated. With a craft knife (or even scissors), one can even cut and paste (in the literal, physical sense) systems or bars (on single-sided printouts, at least) if a good page-turn is just around the corner.

    As for in-copyright publications, tell performers to avail themselves of the permissions granted in the MPA Code of Fair Practice (where the rightsholder is a signatory to the Code) or overseas equivalents. Section III, permission 2 is the relevant one here:

    “Performance Difficulties: A performer who possesses a piece of music and who needs for his personal use a second copy of a page of the work for ease of performance due to a difficult page-turn, may make one copy of the relevant part for that purpose without any application to the copyright owner. Copying whole movements, or whole works is expressly forbidden under this section. When such a work has been hired, the copy made must be returned with the other hire material after the performance. Each copy must be marked with the following: ‘Copy made with permission’ ”

    Source: p.9 of

    • John Rook says:

      This is what I do in recitals. I prefer to do without a page turner if possible and just arrange three and four-page spreads according to the song. You end up having to do a couple of turns yourself but that’s no big deal. There’s also something comforting about having the entire song open in front of you; you see the architecture as well as hear it.

      • SVM says:

        I agree with your sentiment. Whilst I have been fortunate to have a few excellent page-turners over the years, most page-turners elicit more nervousness on my part than the actual task of playing the music. I remember one occasion when I was accompanying an instrumentalist in a soloist-and-pianoforte reduction of a famous concerto movement on short notice (2 days, but not getting the sheet music until the short rehearsal just before the performance on the day), and, whilst I knew how the work went (it is core repertoire for the instrument concerned), I was sight-reading on the day. Unfortunately, the page-turner (engaged in the green room shortly before going on stage for the performance), despite being able to read music, insisted on having a “nod” for every turn, which, I soon realised, made my life harder than had I undertaken the page-turning myself.

        As for the excellent page-turners (i.e.: those who do it perfectly without any need for “nods” or other such nonsense), they tend to be so overqualified as to elicit nervousness on my part because I know that they *will* be able to spot any weaknesses or mistakes in my performance. I remember one song recital where I had an elderly page-turner who is a former principal in one of the top London orchestras (he did not mention this, but one of the volunteer ushers at the church did), who was completely reliable in page-turning. However, he cleared his throat (quietly enough so that only I could hear it) a few times during the performance, and I wondered whether he was expressing displeasure. Fortunately, at the end of the song recital, I was relieved to learn that he approved of my playing.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    What about electronic page turners? This human variety is so yesterday.

  • Brian says:

    You’d think in 2020 pianists could all read from iPads. Maybe this will be one of the antiquated traditions that disappears after the Coronavirus has receded.

  • Catherine Davis says:

    The pianist ought to be using an iPad resplete with bluetooth connected foot pedal for pageturns.

  • Catherine Davis says:

    Please correct my spelling in post just submitted (replete NOT resplete!)

  • MJDL says:

    Score stored and displayed on a large screen tablet, and the page turner with excellent visual acuity and a Bluetooth controller seated a few feet away!

  • Kolb Slaw says:

    Quarantine them together. Union rules.

  • Karl Keightley says:

    PDF on Tablet and a Bluetooth pedal page turner

  • MDR says:

    What’s to be done?
    Well, you don’t need a page turner to play the piano.

  • Will Duffay says:

    I feel sorry for the poor page turner at the best of times! What a thankless job, one which is only noticed when something bad goes wrong!

  • Piano Lover says:

    What must be done then?The page turner could be wearing a mask or cancel the concert all together.
    We could also think that both (page turner and pianist) do not have virus….why add more fear???

  • Leopold says:

    iPad + PageFlip Firefly and all problems are solved. Works like a charm.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Easy: Let the pianist’s wife/husband/partner turn the pages!

  • Robert Roy says:

    We were lucky enough to see Angela Hewitt play Bach’s ‘Well Tempered Clavier’ complete over two evenings at last year’s Edinburgh Festival. Ms. Hewitt used an iPad with a foot control and she obviously had it well under control.

    Two members of the Cuarteto Casals also used iPad technology. Seems to be well worth the effort invested in mastering it.

  • Maria says:

    Do your own page turning and use your memory, or copy the turn. You get used to your own copy of music, and suddenly have to buy and use an iPad may just be stressful. That has its problems when it fails, as I’ve seen in normal times.

  • José Bergher says:

    While the soloist should definitely appear on stage, social distancing should require the pianist and the page turner to stay at their own homes. Modern technology can be easily adapted so that the accompanist reads his part on a tablet and plays his own piano connected via internet to the concert venue’s piano’s keys and pedals, while the page turner does his own job by means of a device connected via internet to the accompanist’s tablet. This awfully simple procedure would prevent accidents with page turning and thwart displays of bad temper from soloist, accompanist, and page turner.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    iPad, with pedal page turner operated by another human from a safe distance.

  • Mathias Broucek says:

    In my career as a page turner, I was always turning for my wife so….

  • Christine Filas says:

    Really? The economy is in the toilet and you’re freaking out about this nonsense???

  • Frankie says:

    Unlike most other countries, Germany has nailed the testing problem. Every one of those on stage in Munich could have been screened beforehand and know for certain if they had the virus or not. That is also why they are able to move forward confidently. If only we could say the same in the UK!

  • Karl says:

    Testing for COVID is getting better. Soon we will be able to get results quickly and ensure that people are safe. Abbott has developed a molecular point-of-care test for novel coronavirus that can deliver results in 5-15 minutes.