Spain’s first distanced concert does not look like fun

Spain’s first distanced concert does not look like fun


norman lebrecht

May 31, 2020

This is the Baleares Symphony Orchestra this weekend at the Pollença Festival in Mallorca.

The concert is outdoors and strictly distanced.

The programme consisted of reduced versions of Brahms Hungarian Dances 5, 6 and 7 and the second symphony.

It looks like a chess match with human pieces.


  • Musician says:

    Every musician, every organization, and every audience member showing up to one of these kinds of concerts is trying to make the best of an extremely difficult situation.

    To have the most read blog in the classical music world constantly sounding the most defeatist, cynical tones about these concerts is infuriating.

    NOBODY wants it to be like this. But this is the way it has to be right now, and everyone else is trying to make the best of it. If negativity is all you’ve got, we don’t have time for it.

    • John Rook says:

      The ‘extremely difficult situation’ is, unfortunately, due to cackhanded governments and overreactions worldwide. The actual danger of the virus is nothing compared to the political balls-up our elites have visited upon us.

    • Miko says:

      He loves the attention.

    • Distance says:

      Cannot agree more! The damage made by negating that this has to be the way NOW and comparing (Netrebko!!) with photos of full-packed airplanes is just unacceptable. Why are we so stupid as to negate the need for distance (and masks in closed theatres) until a vaccine or remedy arrives? I wonder how many deaths or seriously affected the “defenders” of an immediate back to our past normality have seen…

  • sam says:

    Who knows, maybe in 200 years our descendants will look back in incomprehension that we would herd together like stock to the slaughterhouse just to listen to music, just as we look with incredulity at photos of children in factories during the Industrial Revolution.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      If we’re not careful, our descendants in a year may look back in the same way. We’re all weary and more at this point, but that shouldn’t cloud our better judgement.

  • Cynical Byststander says:

    As things stand at the moment and this depressing picture confirms my worst fears, I will never visit a concert or Opera House again whilst ever this continues.

    The likilehood of socially distancing from people in masks who are being lead to believe that all around them are threats to their lives and are acting accordingly is just too much of a damper on the fast disappearing idea of pleasure for me to want to participate in this social manipulation.

    So I will take my pleasure from the abundance of transmissions on hand until they are stopped and then I’ll get used to remembering how things used to be before authority decided that the way to protect us from ourselves was to destroy the culture that makes much of life tolerable.

    And please no comment about the alternative being death, because the evidence and science indicates that we are sacrificing our freedoms on the basis of a hypothetical outcome that may never happen to the vast majority of us. And freedoms once given up are rarely given back.

    • New York Cellist says:

      The alternative isn’t death, it’s patience. If Shakespeare waited out years of theatre closures due to plague—not once, but repeatedly—surely we can get by for a few months, or a year, whatever, with concerts in a modified format. I, for one, would be delighted to play for any audience at the moment—yes, including one sitting apart and wearing masks, which I find an encouraging sign of people’s loyalty to music and musicians. The world will not go on like this forever. Audiences and musicians alike will not let it. But when I still go to the park some days and see the refrigerated morgue truck driving bodies away from the hospital down the street, I’m reminded that the crisis isn’t over and the least we can do is wait, be creative, and be optimistic.

      • Cynical Bystander says:

        “But when I still go to the park some days and see the refrigerated morgue truck driving bodies away from the hospital down the street,”

        But death is a factor in everyday life, and periodically we encounter something that magnifies the numbers. I appreciate that for many this is a traumatic time but then any loss of a loved one or someone we even only knew is terrible. But the world is being told, not even asked, to stop whilst ‘science’ comes to our rescue. But what if it doesn’t?

        I read of people who say they will not leave their homes until there is a vaccine that will protect them and supportive comments that this is somehow what many more should be doing. And so we are being controlled by fear rather than reason with those manipulating the fear hoping that their brand of ‘reason’ will ultimately deliver us.

        Death is something that has and always will be with us. We are being asked to be patient and all will be well. Well it only took 6 months to bring us to where we now are and the signs are that socially distanced events like the one here are preparing us for much longer than 6 months before what is euphemistically called the ‘New Normal’ is revealed. A Normal where what we can and cannot do is a matter of diktat, not choice. So I’ll preempt being told what I must voluntarily do and get ready to look back at the times when I actually had a choice to mix with people who may have been ill or worse within the brief time we shared a collective experience without sitting metres apart or wearing masks or dining with plastic sheets between our tables. Or even, just wondered who was in that ambulance that just passed by or the morgue truck daily taking away someone whose moment had come.

        • buxtehude says:

          “Death is something that has and always will be with us” and so on —

          CB here is missing a number of fundamentals, first among them that there are very different levels of susceptibility to this thing that’s now all around us. It is a poor cue for grandiloquence on the great abstractions.

    • Alan says:

      Well said CB. Absolutely correct.

    • Stephen Diviani says:

      Well said. And if you wear a face mask, don’t touch your face and/or have hand sanitizer how on earth are you going to get infected from an open air concert. Shopping in my local Marks & Spencer is more risky! In London the ‘R’ rate is 0.4 and of those a fifth may have contracted it in a hospital; the population of London is larger than the entire population of Scotland and Wales combined.

  • E. says:

    A picture today from insist Saint Peter’s in Rome shows much the same. Triste.

  • Michael says:

    No, it does not look like fun. Unfortunately, there is no way I could bring myself to attend one of these events or even watch one of these events online. Watching concerts with people spaced out like this, or wearing masks is just too uncomfortable and awkward. I’ll pass.

    • Ron Swanson says:

      So when all the orchestras have closed down because of no one is viewing, what are you going to do? If you aren’t willing to compromise with reality, reality won’t compromise with you.

    • Maria says:

      Sadly, I couldn’t, as a performer myself, agree with you more and would hate to find myself in either side of this experience. Maybe a higher power is trying to say that it’s all had its time, and to keep something alive that is practically dead is not the way forward. Hardly a reinvention when it does look like a game of human chess. Okay now and novel while the sun is shining, but to go out and attend something like this on a winter’s night in a hall would just depress me even more. Each to their own, and I’m sure many will enjoy this live experience and support it, and people have the choice, but it’s not for me.

  • John Rook says:

    Don’t worry, they’ll get closer and the music bigger very soon…

  • david hilton says:

    Have to disagree: looks like fun to me! Beats a Zoom concert any day.

  • Andreas B. says:

    It could have looked like a twister game with chess pieces for all I care …

    What did it sound like?
    Was it a stimulating interpretation of these glorious pieces?
    How did it make people feel?

    Music by its very nature is a live occurrence; taking place in a specific, fleeting moment; shaping the awareness and passage of time.
    It is being performed as well as experienced by real people who are connected through this extraordinary phenomenon.

    That’s why I’m grateful for resuming real performances in whatever shape – and also why the “I’ll stick to my record collection” approach won’t work for me.

  • Ben Palmer says:

    Please, dear Norman, try to be encouraging about these first steps. As a conductor who’s lost all his work, I would be thrilled (as I know my orchestras would be) to be able to be making music again. Similarly, I’d give anything to be sitting in a space where live orchestral music was being performed, however pared down. We know we can’t have Mahler 6 right now, so please try to help us get to a stage (literally) where we can. Too many people‘s livelihoods are at risk for needless negativity. Audiences need encouragement, and you could be a real force for good. Thank you.

  • Ivan Levy says:

    It was absolutely fab! And all of us had a great night out. Not quite sure why you thought this was no fun,

  • MezzoLover says:

    Here’s what a Dutch solution looks like:

    According to the Concertgebouworkest:

    “Under the direction of conductor Gustavo Gimeno, the orchestra worked on the flat floor of the Main Hall of the Concertgebouw towards an instrumentation for performing symphonic repertoire. During rehearsals with a distance of 1.75 meters between the musicians, it turned out that it is quite possible to perform symphonic works with a not too large staff, as yet without an audience.”

    Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony will be streamed on Wednesday, June 3 at 8:15 pm , and on Friday, June 5 at 8:15 pm, a live stream of Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony will take place.

    A good compromise for the time being, IMHO.

  • Morton Fogg says:

    Dear Norman, are you the only one is the world who hasn’t realised yet we are in a global crisis (that includes arts of course), and therefore almost nothing is fun nowadays? I honestly don’t understand this kind of post…and what are you actually trying to tell?

  • Brian says:

    I’d be up for this as long as I was assured that there weren’t any crowding points on entry and departure. It looks safe here but what if the lobby was like the Met Opera’s at 7:45 pm? People elbowing and breathing down your neck. Also, 2 hours without a (safe) bathroom break might be difficult for many. But hey, it’s a start.

  • As an opera and oratorio singer who has lost many contracts already because of this pandemic, and stands to lose many more, I am happy to read that some performances at least are still happening. I applaud this initiative.

    These musical events are poignant, and strange, but something that keeps the idea of performance alive and provides some pleasure for the listener and the performer is better than nothing at all. It’s a bit like teaching via teleconference: no one really believes that Zoom lessons are the same as teaching face-to-face, but in the absence of in-person teaching, they are better than no lessons at all.

    And the concerts may be strange and unfamiliar, but at least they are performances. I can think of many situations in history when “proper” performances of classical music were not possible, such as in wartime, or during imprisonment, and so on, and those concerts gave solace, and consolation, and hope, and stimulation to those who listened, and those who played. This is no different.

  • geoff says:

    Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony will be streamed on Wednesday, June 3 at 8:15 pm, and on Friday, June 5 at 8:15 pm, a live stream of Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony will take place. The concerts conducted by Gustavo Gimeno can be followed via and the orchestra’s Facebook and YouTube channels. Media partner AVROTROS, media partner of the orchestra, will share the streams via the Radio 4 website.

  • Bruce says:

    I think it looks wonderful: live music for a live audience, and not packed in cheek by jowl. If it were economically feasible, I would wish more concerts to look like this.

  • Barbara says:

    I applaud New York cellist’s post

  • Martin H. Müller says:

    Thanks to chief conductor Pablo Mielgo an his musicians! This concert was the best they could do in the present situation: Brahms in tempore coronae… I would have gone to this event, if there had been tickets left.

  • G. Meinl says:

    Fabulosa iniciativa, única en el vacio de la música vivida en directo contacto con el público. Fue imposible conseguir entradas y asistir, pero los comentarios relativos al programa, interpretación y atmosfera musical son espléndidos. Espero conseguir acceso a la próxima sesión.

    • José Bergher says:

      Fabulous initiative, unique in the vacuum of music lived in direct contact with the audience. It was impossible to get tickets and attend, but the comments about the program, the interpretation and musical atmosphere are splendid. I hope to gain entrance to the next session.

  • ivan says:

    Why is that you, a music critic, are always more aware of how a concert (or an artist) “look”. And not concerned of the way they play or how they affect the emotions of the audience?

  • MacroV says:

    Why all the negativity? You have to start somewhere. You’d think, though, that couples could sit together.

  • David Rohde says:

    Despite the criticism, I think that Norman at the very least is doing us a favor by aggregating all of these photos of actual and proposed audience configurations. Whether anyone agrees or disagrees that these performances should go forward, I do have to say that it’s an apt observation in the headline that it does not “look like fun.”

    In the US it’s been reported that Broadway producers are pushing back against the idea of socially distanced audiences, while the actors’ union (Actors Equity) is pushing back against the idea of solving the audience problem in some way while leaving the cast and stagehands vulnerable. (The backstage areas of major theater houses can be surprisingly small and cramped.) My point here is simply that in all these fields, the idea of a “buzzkill” – to use an American expression that basically means an atmosphere-spoiler – is a valid objection to going forward. You just have to weigh it against the desire to have some method to proceed with live performing arts in any way possible. They’re both understandable positions.