The miserable sight of dispersed players and an empty symphony hall

The miserable sight of dispersed players and an empty symphony hall


norman lebrecht

May 03, 2020

The Tonhalle Düsseldorf  reopened on Thursday with spaced-out groups from the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker on stage.

Try as I might to summon enthusiasm for the lovely playing, the setting is all wrong.

Watch below. See what you feel.


  • johannfisch says:

    art is the base on which our society is built, no infectious person on stage due to compliant testing – so just lean back, enjoy and be happy that there are people who understand how to keep art alive in this crisis

  • EPBiggs says:

    This is inspiring, courageous and defiant. Many other orchestras are doing this also, e.g. Berlin’s beautiful, revelatory chamber version Mahler 4 a couple of days ago. They’re showing the way back. Of course this isn’t the “full experience.” It’s a different art form, inspired by the limitations of the terrible situation, and all the more inspiring for that. Should Messiaen not have played the first performance of his Quartet for the End of Time because they couldn’t wear tails?

  • Peter San Diego says:

    Lovely concert, but the sight of the wasteland of empty seats is a distressing distraction. A sound recording is preferable, or camera direction that focuses as tightly as possible on the musicians and not their sterile setting.

    • Bruce says:

      I didn’t find it a distraction or a sterile setting; poignant, perhaps, but still full of meaning — and hope.

  • Tom Purviance says:

    The concert this weekend from Berlin Philharmonic worked in a spectacular fashion

  • V.Lind says:

    It’s inspiring, and the music is lovely. Nice positive attitude. Think of it as a version of the at-home videos and it is charming. And it does let these musicians play — and presumably get paid.

    But you are right about the empty hall and, despite the musically satisfactory outcome, the space between the musicians.

    It’s now, not the “new normal” (an expression we are all going to be heartily sick of before much longer). For now, it is a treat. As was Berlin the other night, and Kaufman and the lot at Munich a few days ago. And the Juilliard kids’ Bolero. AND THE MET GALA.

    • Lausitzer says:

      I’m already heartily sick of this expression, because it appears that exactly such things will be called the “new normal”.
      I have to admit that for this reason it felt wrong and disturbing also to me. This does not appear to be a viable option as long as there are no prospects of letting in an audience again, be it on every third seat or whatever. In the complete absence of such a later option (other than “maybe in 2022”) perhaps whatever other formats should be tried, leaving behind the dead venues.

  • Ridiculous just STOP says:

    Ridiculous. They are not six feet apart when walking onstage. They were obviously not six apart backstage. The entire scene is funereal as was the Berlin Philharmonic.

    Either go into full orchestras again or just STOP!

    • Dü Sym member says:

      Speaking as a musician who was on stage… 2 meters was our requirement which we were instructed to hold also offstage. We had very complicated organization backstage, using different entrances, bathrooms, rooms, and even sections of the lobby for warm up.

      Do you think that silence for the next year is better than just trying something? I think it’s a good step in a positive direction, and count it as a success.

  • CWM says:

    Norman, you’re right. The music making is so soothing but reflects covid angst also. The camera angles fail to capture the visual emotion…but this music, it washes me clean.

  • John Rook says:

    Let’s take the positives from this: gorgeous playing and an event which could (should?) be viewed as a plant pushing through concrete, hopefully showing up our response to the Emperor’s New Infection for the gross overreaction it is. Good on those players and Düsseldorf for allowing this initiative. More, please, and quickly.

  • Stanislaw says:

    Don’t be so obsessed with your temporary emotions and listen to music instead! It’s beautiful! Mona Lisa would still be a glorius painting even if locked down in basement. Not so much drama queens! This is like sleeping with condom, not optimal, but it works! Live music will be back! Thank you, Dusseldorf!

  • MezzoLover says:

    How can anyone watch these Düsseldorfer Symphoniker musicians (and the conductor, Axel Kober) leaning into Grieg’s Holberg Suite and not feel their joy?

    And as soon as they started playing the sublime Sextet from Capriccio, I just closed my eyes and let the music wash over me. Who cares if there’s no audience in the hall?

  • sam says:

    the setting is all wrong because they are on stage!, when they ought to be using the entire hall, playing from the seats, in the balcony, in the mezzanine, etc, the hall is big enough to accommodate an entire orchestra including a chorus

  • Jeff says:


  • Mick da Knife says:

    I feel that it is good. Very well played. I could get used to it. But the program is boring, for the most part.

  • Capt. Nemo says:

    This was a wonderful concert. The only “miserable” aspect was your attitude towards it, Mr. NLB. No surprise, however, given your proclivity for inflammatory/ click-bait headlines.

  • Bone says:

    So glad to see my friend Bassam Mussad playing. We miss him in Augusta – happy he found a wonderful life in Europe! Still see his mom at church from time to time.

  • music_montreal says:


    So what should we do instead, Mr Lebrecht? Feel sorry for ourselves while we wait for a vaccine? Bravo to everyone *trying* to bring some amount of live music back, one small step at a time.

  • Bruce says:

    Finally — a quiet audience!

    Seriously, though, I didn’t find anything wrong with the setting (an empty auditorium). The performers certainly didn’t show any lack of engagement or commitment.

    Obviously it’s not a sustainable way of giving performances, but it’s a good reminder that the music exists independent of an audience. (And there was an audience, of course — just not physically present in the house.)

  • sam says:

    Everyone is still experimenting, still trying to figure things out, but there is one central truth: everyone is going to stop playing when there’s no one to pay them.

    How do you generate revenue with no audience?

    Sure, getting clicks on youtube is nice, but even youtube only pays you for advertising if you hit a million clicks. The Berlin Phil digital concert hall subscription pays for what, just enough to get each musician a dinner and a roundtrip uber ride?

    • Bruce says:

      Yes. Instead of crossing that bridge when we come to it, let’s just burn it now.

    • Christian Atanasiu says:

      This is true, but at least in Germany, where the arts are an enormous chunk of gdp (and push tourism, hotels, restaurants, and many other service industries), ticket sales make uo a small part of most budgets. I am on of the musicians onstage, and this concert is not to justify our paychecks, but rather to provide inspiration and experimentation for temporary alternatives, and to provide a cultural outlet for the city. We have also done projects involving amatuer musicians and collaborations on a city-wide music video, with hundreds of submissions. We are a cultural institution, and especially in times like these, have to seek out ways to engage and inspire.

      • MezzoLover says:

        Christian, you and your colleagues did a brilliant job engaging and inspiring. Thank you and BRAVO!!!