After the lockdown (6), the touring will stop

After the lockdown (6), the touring will stop


norman lebrecht

May 07, 2020

Early this week, the US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said no-one’s flying anywhere for leisure any time soon.

At the end of last year, I published a piece arguing the flying orchestras around the world does very little good to anyone and a great deal of  harm, not only to the planet but to orchestras themselves. You can read it here.

That warning has been sadly fulfilled. Nobody’s going on tour this year, and there will be no funds (or flights) available for orchestras for quite a while after. Many airlines will go out of business.

So how do festivals function in future? And how do orchestras fill the gaps in their schedule if nobody’s paying them to play abroad?

On the positive side, musicians have been complaining for years about maltreatment by airlines and the misery of airports.

There are different options out there.

Start thinking now.

Previously in the series here.


  • Bill says:

    Oh, goody, another opinion piece about how we have a new normal, nothing will ever be the same and we’re all going to sit in our houses for the rest of our lives and wear masks staring at a computer screen while eating takeout.

    Orchestra tours are pretty well at the bottom of the reasons why there is climate change. The real culprits are far more insidious and difficult to reign in.

    Once there is a vaccine, most things will return to the way it was before. Humans want to interact and share their cultural experiences. That’s why orchestras tour.

    • SVM says:

      Spare us the “Once there is a vaccine” complacency. It might be a long time coming, and, even once a reliable and safe vaccine has been made, there will be mutations, new viruses, and new pandemics. Abuse of wildlife, urbanisation, and hypermobility facilitate pandemics. We must seek permanent measures that will guard against *any* pandemic. This is how humanity has defeated previous pandemics (modern sanitation arose to prevent the spread of disease in urban areas). Examples may well include more robust health screening (with quarantine facilities for those who are deemed infectious) at international/regional borders, an end to forms of greeting involving physical contact, and less flying.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      A vaccine might take quite a long time (e.g. several years). There is even a possibility that we may never be able to develop one (although that is unlikely).

      In many places we will likely have “herd immunity” before a vaccine. In any case, we will have to find a way of living with the virus well before having a vaccine.

  • Nico says:

    The Concertgebouw touring South Africa did everybody who heard them a lot of good. Hearing a truly great orchestra here was something that nobody will forget.

    • Bernard says:

      Good touring: once in a generation tours to new places as you describe, or London orchestras (NB not the LSO!) that have residencies in orchestra-less cities outside the capital.

      Pointless touring: LSO jetting to Luxumbourg, Hamburg etc every 2 months where audiences hear the same repertoire and near-identical playing style and orchestral sound to their local band.

      • Anonymous says:

        Comparing the LSO to the local bands in Luxembourg and Hamburg is a bit of a misnomer. That’s why the two above are comparable to the top five orchestras in the world, and pay the LSO to perform *ironic* – Berlin, Chicago, Vienna, Concertgebouw! LSO bashing has always been fashionable!

        • HugoPreuss says:

          With all due respect: calling the NDR Symphonieorchester (now the Elbphilharmonie) a “local band” is beyond ridiculous. It is one of the greatest orchestras in Germany, and has been for decades. Schmidt-Isserstedt, Atzmon, Tennstedt, Wand, Gardiner, Blomstedt, Eschenbach, von Dohnányi, Hengelbrock and Gilbert saw to it since 1945.

      • Orchestral Player says:

        You are evidently a total idiot and you don’t know what you’re talking about. LSO concerts abroad generate full halls everywhere round the world apart from generating a well needed income thank you very much. So keep your ignorant comments to yourself

        • Partial idiot says:

          I was merely comparing to a utopian post-Corona new dawn in which local citizens embrace and treasure their marvelous orchestras who can rehearse for programmes that they can repeat for local audiences whichout the need to constantly be jetting around to make ends meet… There must be an ideal amount of touring beyond which it becomes detrimental to well-being and the artform, and as a semi-attuned member of the audience, sadly it does sometimes show. The economic reasons for heavy touring are obviously complex and not the fault of hard-working musicians!

      • Brian says:

        London orchestras should tour in other uk cities . I have been in manchester
        For 9 years i have not seen the LSO or philharmonia here.
        I used to live in london i came up here for the weather

        • Anonymous says:

          Too expensive to tour in Britain for both the LSO and Philharmonia. That’s why touring abroad is lucrative for the orchestra and musicians. Both are self governing, no luxury of being salaried.

    • There s a fantastic documentary Royal Orchestra in DVD about that tour there the year of the 125th anniversary in 2013.

  • Tom Moore says:

    Touring is something that got started in earnest only when railroads covered most of Europe. At that point it was something only for notable soloists. The idea of transporting an entire orchestra would have been as absurd as transporting an art collection or a cathedral. And the gradual extension of the railroad network is visible in the places that only begin to have visiting soloists after the railroad arrives there. By the later 19th century one starts to have soloists traveling as far as the Pacific coast of the Russian Empire, but only because one can get there by train.

  • Arthur says:

    There will be little classical touring, either of soloists or orchestras in future. There will be no money or demand to support it. The days of Star pianists getting large five figure fees etc is over.

    • Andy says:

      Why? Star pianists are star pianists. They could command large fees even if they were playing in their own countries most/all of the time.

    • Brian says:

      Don’t worry about the star performers they have made enough money to retire
      To monaco or somewhere similar.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Star soloists will be back touring in the next year or two.

  • christopher storey says:

    Unfortunately, my crystal ball, unlike Arthur’s , has gone on strike, so I cannot say definitely what will happen in future, but I anticipate that since touring of star artists has gone on consistently since the Industrial Revolution, despite wars, pestilences and famines, it is likely to resume at some stage

  • MacroV says:

    It will not stop. Sure, I would like to see COVID lead to some long-term societal changes (such as universal health insurance in the United States), but I doubt orchestral touring will be ended. If there is money to do it, it will resume as soon as people feel safe to gather in large halls for performances.

    It does seem as though Norman’s business model (other than scandalous-sounding headlines to generate clicks on SD) largely relies on predicting the death of classical music in various ways. As the saying goes, its imminent demise is perhaps its most enduring tradition.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That is very easy to say, but since WWII there have appeared different kinds of threat which were new and on a much more fundamental level than before. One of them is the commercialism enabled by the recording industry, another the maestro cult, a more recent one is the entirely new idea that ‘classical music’ as a genre is incompatible with modern times, which is driven by ignorance and social justice warrior narratives. Classical music was always at the heart of the culture of Western civilisation, not needing mass attendance to ‘deserve’ that position; over the last half century, the art form has gradually been pushed to the margins of public life as an insignificant niche interest for old dudes, a museum culture without much relevance for society. That is a new development and Norman has been right to point out various causes for that development in his books. Another development was the movement of sound art which wanted to replace the contemporary writing of music, which underlined the character of a museum culture of most of the repertoire.

  • annnon says:

    How about playing cruise ships?

    -It’s the right demographic.
    -Unlimited transport space for bulky instruments.
    -No visa hassles.

  • Brian says:

    I used to travel by boat and train they must do the same.

  • Sharon says:

    No large group touring in yesteryear? Into the 1960s I believe the New York Metropolitan Opera was touring once a month into Philadelphia with full costumes and props and other city orchestras were doing a lot of touring into suburbs and rural areas. At least nationally, touring is the only way that people who live in relatively remote areas and have relatively limited means would have access to live professional music .

    As far as “rethinking” is concerned I believe that we should look to history, for ex. the 1918 Spanish flu and try to discern how that affected the arts.

    I am not an expert but it seems to me that major changes in the performing arts happen more in response to technology for ex. trains, recording technology, computers etc as opposed to political, economic or environmental upheavals–but I may be wrong.

    Was it the movies, the Great Depression, WWII or TV that killed vaudeville and later large scale night club with live band and cabaret attendance? I know that the Great Depression had a huge impact on live performance but did the Spanish flu?

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Television largely killed vaudeville. Live bands playing music got destroyed by the record industry (why pay for a band when you can play a record instead). The internet has killed newspapers.

  • NYMike says:

    As a New Yorker, I’m excited to hear orchestras other than our excellent hometown bands play here on tour. Hearing Amsterdam, London, Berlin, Vienna, Philadelphia, etc. is a wonderful way to enjoy music!

    • Brian viner says:

      I always get excited when a famous foreign orchestra come to the uk.
      The musicians also like to chat in the interval.

  • Edgar says:

    Conductors will then also be in one and the same place, I take it? The title “Music Director” would make sense again, without music directors doing only six operas (like Yannick at the Met).

    For opera, there is hope that the revered house ensemble tradition will be revived, instead of excessively relying on peripat(h)etic stars to fill the box office.