Concertgebouw chorus is devastated after pre-Covid Bach Passion

Concertgebouw chorus is devastated after pre-Covid Bach Passion


norman lebrecht

May 11, 2020

On March 8, five days before lockdown, the Amsterdam Gemengd Koor (mixed choir) gave a performance of Bach’s St John Passion in the great hall of the Concertgebouw. That concert will be remembered for many tragic reasons.

It was announced on Dutch news last night that four people associated with the chorus – one singer and three partners of chorus members – died of Coronavirus after the concert, and 102 more fell sick, some seriously.

The chorus has 130 singers in all.

The conductor Paul Valk was among those who were hospitalised.

The Gemengd Koor, founded in 1928, is an amateur ensemble whose performances take place at the Concertgebouw.

Full report here.



  • Iain C. Phillips says:

    Correct spelling = Gemengd Koor

    • Bruce says:

      Apparently it’s been corrected, by the time I read it anyway (8:15AM on May 11).

      Why downvote correct spellings?

  • R. Brite says:

    It saddens me greatly, as an amateur choir member, to think that we may not be able to even rehearse, much less perform, until a vaccine is found.

    • Jack says:

      Indeed. It’s tragic that while choral music is some of the most beautiful music in the repertoire, we’re not likely going to hear any of it live for some time after other musical forms resume performances.

    • Eric says:

      Our church choir has been performing every week … a vastly different experience… performing to a backing track and the choir director combines them. So no physical presence… the results have been amazingly good. Listen to the backing track on your tablet or laptop…. record the performance on your phone.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Don’t hold your breath about a vaccine. The talk is already of “management”. Since Coronavirus is one and the same family of viruses which causes the common cold – and there has never been a cure for the common cold – it stands to reason that this mutating version of Coronavirus will not see a vaccine either.

      • LK says:

        Please stop the madness.

        There has never been a vaccine for the common cold because there’s never been enough interest or money to be made in developing a vaccine for what are…. a common colds.

        SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, the most recent pandemic coronaviruses (this is called SARS-CoV-2 for a reason) had vaccines in development. SARS-CoV-1 pandemic ended on its own with containment, no cases diagnosed since 2004 worldwide and interest and $ for development disappeared. MERS is still active in the Middle East and a candidate from the Oxford Group that was proven safe and effective was in a second round of human trials in Saudi Arabia in December. This is why the same Oxford group (Jenner Institute), was able to leap so far ahead in development for the SARS-CoV-2 (aka Covid-19). They have already proven efficacy of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine in monkeys in preventing the disease and started accelerated human trials last month. Also Covid-19 isn’t mutating in a meaningful way. The media and their fear/panic agenda is criminal.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          No, I am afraid there is a good chance we will not be able to develop a functioning vaccine for Covid-19 for many years. The work on SARS-CoV-1 only ended after 10 years of trying.

          This does not mean that someone won’t eventually be successful in developing a vaccine for Covid-19. But it does mean we can not sit around waiting for one to appear since it will almost certainly take several years. We are going to have to learn to live with the risks, and accept some people will become extremely ill from the virus.

          • Maria says:

            SARS didn’t cause a world-wide shutdown! Awful for those involved but this is – statingthe bleedin’ obvious – global and so the scientific experts will have to work even harder to keep people safe for this virus, or we’ll all be dead sooner than we thought.

      • Vera says:

        There are vaccines against the flu – which is dangerous and deadly as well. So there is no reason to be sure that there will be none.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          It took many years to develop a vaccine against the flu. And the flu vaccine is only partially successful.

          • Tamino says:

            the flu is many viruses. The vaccination never is against all. That’s why it’s not very efficient. Different situation with CoV-2

        • Una says:

          The flu vaccine has served me very well for 27 years!!!

  • Monsoon says:

    Everyone who thinks that concerts could happen this year needs to read this.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed. But one should also consider that many of these choir members apparently are quite old.

      • norman lebrecht says:

        I read that the average age in this chorus is 50.

      • Jim says:

        As are all classical music audiences….

        • Rob says:

          I used to think that as well, however, it depends on where in the world you are I guess. The classical concerts in Edmonton Canada whether Symphony Orchestra, Pro Coro Canada Chamber Choir, Richard Eaton Singers etc. are well attended by those under 40. They are not yet the majority, but, they make up a huge portion of the audience and it is growing. I think in some areas classical music is making a come back.

        • Maria says:

          Certainly where I live in the north of England.

      • Nelson says:

        “Consider”? And what, pray tell, would be one’s adjustment to the concerns raised by this incident based on that “fact”? Perhaps to allow rehearsals and performances by children’s’ choruses…as long as they stay away from folks who are “quite old”?

      • Stage Manager says:

        Are we to consider their ages because their lives are somehow less important?

        • Bruce says:

          I read Borstlap’s comment as meaning they were part of a more vulnerable group, not a more expendable one.

          • Tiredofitall says:

            Exactly. What is “quite old” exactly? The more I think about this incident and what it means for the future of any type of gathering, classical music or not, the sadder I become. This choir didn’t know at the time, of course, but now we do and can try to control our destiny. That will show our strength, not the opening up of our society, literally in the shadow of death.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Exactly. That was what I meant.

          • Lucy says:

            Only more vulnerable to this issue … the youth are more vulnerable to other social/health issues. Seriously, since when should we regard people in their 50-70s singing as being more vulnerable …. this is all just too strange.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          He meant the vulnerable cohort. We are hearing headlines in our country about people 80 and over dying from Covid-19 in nursing care. Headline news!!

          Read all about it: elderly people die in nursing care.

        • Maria says:

          Not less important but fall into the governments’ vulnerable ages particularly if obese, or diabetic, or got an underlying medical condition. So should be shielded, not less important.

  • fflambeau says:

    Very sad and I think a harbinger of what will happen when these cultures and economies “open up”. It’s way too early.

    • Bill Pandemeri says:

      Yes, we should stay at home. We can open back up when its safe again. No live music, nothing until there is a vaccine. As long as it takes. Lives are more important than live music.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Would you stay in lockdown for 10 years? It is absurd to wait for a vaccine, and it would wreck people’s lives waiting for one.

        In any case, we are likely to have “herd immunity” well before a vaccine is around.

        • Bernd says:

          Sure, 3 percent down, 97 percent to go… Not to mention the fact that not everyone develops immunity.

  • Keith says:

    This is an outcome similar to the choir in Washington on March 10. So much for the findings of the study that you reported on May 8: TWO SCIENTISTS PRONOUNCE SINGING IN CHURCH TO BE COVID SAFE. Singing in groups is not safe at present.

    • Bill says:

      We don’t know for certain that it was the singing part of the gathering that led to all the infections in either the Washington or Amsterdam cases, although at least in the Washington case the group did take some precautions. Still, with airborne transmission known to be an effective way to spread it, the prudent choice would be put more weight on the observation of apparent spreading than the theoretical argument that it isn’t happening!

  • Tamino says:

    Sounds not good at all. What is the average age of the choir members and of those who died?

    • anon says:

      Why should ages matter? Is the death of a 60 year old person less tragic than the death of a 30 year old person?

      • Jack says:

        It is because the 30 year old has an extra 30 years of life ahead.

        • Dr. A. Grimwood says:

          Hi Jack, Tell me, did you loose your humanity all at once or did it happen over a long period of time?

      • Bruce says:

        Must it be a question of a person’s “worth” rather than their susceptibility to the virus? Age has been found to make a difference in the latter.

      • Tamino says:

        It matters to understand the risk for everyone.
        It matters to develop guidelines how to protect people.
        It matters how to understand, how to act responsibly.
        Why so snappy?
        Should I ask you back, is the life of a 60 year old covid-19 victim worth more than a 30-year old committing suicide from the desperation the economic fallout of the crisis had on his life?
        It’s complicated.

        • anon says:

          Well, as a thirty-two year old person who has had my own struggles with mental health, I will gladly bear the stay-in-place orders, as they improve the chances of preserving the safety of my parents (in their seventies), and my 93 year old grandmother. I know how scary the virus was for my 35 year old sister-in-law, so I don’t want anyone, of whatever age, to also have to experience it.

          If you don’t seem to care much about the vulnerable who are succumbing to this disease, I’m not sure I believe you care much about the isolated younger person with thoughts of self-harm.

    • KOV says:

      one choir member died, age 78. The others were partners of choir members, their age isn’t mentioned

    • Bill Pandemeri says:

      Tamino, how dare you? Lives are important, age is irrelevant here. We need to stay isolated, for as long as it takes.

      • Tamino says:

        Since when? Mankind would be extinct by now, were there any truth in what you are saying. I suppose it is tongue in cheek.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        “We need to stay isolated, for as long as it takes.”

        That is not a viable policy choice since it would require us to stay locked down for many years. Apart from anything else, the government would run out of money way before then.

        Policy choices really involve a trade-off between rates-of-death and the quality of life of those living. This is how all governments make those choices.

  • John says:

    Correction: One member of the chorus died plus three partners. Not “four choir members”.

    • John Kelly says:

      Still 4 people. This is incredibly contagious, much as we might wish it were not so…

      • Tamino says:

        Apparently it can be very contagious and we still have to understand the contributing factors better. Probably breathing like a singer transports the air with the virus directly deep into the lungs. Now if you are older and your immune system is not the best anymore, there you have two contributing factors to a more severe course of the disease.
        So three factors here at play:
        -virus in the proximity probably from other infected choir members.
        -deep breathing, transporting virus directly into the lungs
        -old age, have deficient defense against the virus

        But we don’t know why, could be something unrelated to the performance. Could be the after party. Could be a bus ride together. Not obvious to the outsider. Needs to be looked into. Avoid confirmation bias.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        “The virus is incredibly contagious”.

        Er…not exactly true. The “R-number” measures how contagious a virus is (how many people get infected by each person who has it). Measles has an R about 15. Mumps has an R about 6. But Covid-19 have an R of a bit above 2.

  • Jaap says:

    You simply can’t announce this as the “Concertgebouw” chorus. Yes they sung in the hall but with this headline you suggest something that is not.

  • David Howell says:

    Wonder how many were infected before the concert and if the uninfected were standing at the back of the chorus.

  • The 102 who got sick should be very alarming beyond the one chorus member who died.

    The focus by much of the media on only the fraction that die of COVID-19 misleads much of the public’s understanding of the danger.

    A large portion of the people who get sick but “recover” are stuck with serious problems… organ failure, lung damage, brain impairment.

    Any of which will lead to a shortened life span.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It’s getting worse and worse, as in a Mahler symphony.

    • Tamino says:

      Could be, but we should avoid sensationalized statments. What is “a large portion”? All we know, most, studies suggest 80 to 90 percent, of those who get the virus, recover without any or light symptoms.
      The difference to other corona virus (read flu or catching a cold) seems to be that in SOME cases, one digit percentage range, it can have a nasty course in your body. For those cases we have all the current measures in place. But for 80-90% it is like a light flu. Fact.

      • Polio has even better recovery statistics than the 80-90% you are proposing for the coronoavirus.

        How did that work out? Anyone recall?

        • Tamino says:

          Recovery rate for Corona is somewhere around 99% or higher. We will only know exactly, after we know the true number of infected, not only the tested.

      • Jla399 says:

        No one seems to do the math.
        US population is almost 330 million. To be conservative, let’s not include the 30% under age 20 and let’s even say another 20% have magical immunity and just somehow never catch it. So this conservative scenario leaves 165 million Americans who eventually get the virus. And let’s assume the health system doesn’t get overwhelmed and can handle all these patients so that the death rate is “only” 1% (rather than 6% or 8% which is what happens if the system is overrun).
        1% of 165 million is 1,650,000 people dead. Even if “only” .5% of those who get it die, that would be 850,000 people dead. How is that okay with anyone?

        • Saxon Broken says:

          The death rate is between 1-in-100 and 1-in-1000. The US will have herd immunity when about 150 million people have been infected. If 1-in-1000 die that would imply around 150,000 deaths (as long as the health system is not overwhelmed). This is about two-to-three times a bad flu outbreak.

          Aside: I think around 1-in-400 is more plausible and that 1-in-1000 is optimistic.

      • Bernd says:

        You’re wrong. Fact.

    • Bill Pandemeri says:

      I fear for our world. There has never been a vaccine to a coronavirus strain EVER! We must isolate until the virus is no longer spreading. Bidens doing the right thing by staying in the basement, we should do the same.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Even the WHO believe that the virus will never disappear. Hiding in the basement until it goes way is not a good strategy.

  • Ira says:

    To my knowledge “Concertgebouw” has no chorus (neither the building, which is technically what the name translates is “Concert building”, nor the Orchestra… although you didn’t say “Koninklijke Concertgebouw Orchestra Chorus”, many classical musicians still shorten that name to Concertgebouw meaning the orchestra). It’s just a tad misleading as this was rather, a chorus which often rents the large Concertgebouw hall as many do, for their yearly performances. Mind you, there was once a Concertgebouw Chorus connected with the orchestra started in the 80’s at the initiative of Bernard Haitink prepared by Arthur Oldham who would jet between London where he had a similar position and Amsterdam but in the end I believe it was disbanded as the quality was not on par with the orchestra.

  • Well let the drama of life go on Norman, for God’s sake! Doesn’t it occur to a man of your calibre that that is the kind of thing – on a far greater level of magnitude – that inspired the St John Passion in the first place!