Watch: The first Corona-compliant symphony orchestra

Watch: The first Corona-compliant symphony orchestra


norman lebrecht

May 12, 2020

The German authorities* have published rules for reopening theatres which are highly impractical for orchestras – for instance, the distances to be maintained by wind players: 12 metres ahead and three metres either side.

The TfN-Philharmonie Hildesheim decided to try out Beethoven’s 7th symphony at prescribed distances in an otherwise empty theatre.

Here’s how it looked:

*UPDATE: We’re advised that these are not Goverrment rules but a guideline by the VBG: Verwaltungs-Berufsgenossenschaft (VBG), a State Accident Insurance scheme.

The 12-metre rule has been contested by the Charité scientific institute here.


  • Tran says:

    It’s better to study and do something completely different if this is the new normal in the music world, even though this is still better than all those living-room concerts.

  • Gerhard von der Linde says:

    Dear Mr. Lebrecht,

    the regelation with 12m room in front the wind musicians was coming from no authority at all. This was a recommendation from one single scientist. No federal or region government, and no institution has thought to make this a regelation.

    Gerhard von der Linde

    • Dear Mr. Lebrecht, dear Mr. von der Linde,

      as the music dramaturge of the Theater für Niedersachsen I would like to explain properly the conditions that led to this video: These regulations were issued in cooperation with the Federal Ministry of Labour by an authority called VBG, which is the professional association responsible for all public theatres. The regulations are a legally binding standard and mandatory for us in terms of occupational health and safety law and there is no choice whether to follow them or not. Fortunately, they have in the meantime issued newer, more practicable guidelines, but on 6th May the 12 m for wind instruments were still obligatory.

      Susanne von Tobien

  • John Borstlap says:


    Why would audiences take the trouble to listen to something like this if they can play one of their CD recording of this symphony at home?

    • SVM says:

      Time to commission composers to write works that can be done in this setup. Charles Ives would have relished the challenge (it occurs to me that something like /The Unanswered Question/ could be done like this).

      • Arthur says:

        So instead of Beethoven we’ve heard 1492753 times, now played out of of balance and sync because no one can hear anyone else, we get to hear one off performances of “commissions” from “composers” for these “forces”? I can’t wait to hear the same flaccid, tuneless, rhythmless, overcomplicated garbage these “composers” will copy and paste into Sibelius – just like they’ve been doing for years.

        All these attempts at repurposing are just so sad and awkward. It’s like prepping and staffing an entire 5-star restaurant in order to serve a bowl of Cheerios. No chance.

        • Poor Arthur says:

          Man your comments here on this website the past few days have just been miserable and pathetic. I feel so sorry for you.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Actually, it’s 1.492.754 times since I just listened again to the Serioso Quartet.

          For the rest, I think it is a rather careless generalisation to refer to ‘flaccid, tuneless, rhythmless, overcomplicated garbage these “composers” will copy and paste into Sibelius’, maybe there are some Klangkünstler out there, surely in Germany, who could invent something interesting in terms of spacial set-ups.

          For music performances however, it looks as if music life has to wait for a vaccin. That will be disastrous if this takes too long time, no doubt, but I’m sure it will survive. Maybe the coronie has to be seen as a winter storm that blows away the dead leaves to make place for spring – the dead leaves being the ideas about the art form which have no life in them. Music is too deeply rooted in the human psyche and in culture to die from a minuscule little ball with nasty protuberations.

      • R.J. Tobin says:

        Best to doit with music rarely performed and with new music. Note: my e-mail is not functioning currently

  • JLS says:

    Wonder what the first movement will sound like…

  • drummerman says:

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about this.

  • Andreas B. says:

    This is the relevant document, published on May 7th:

    Specifically, it requires 2m to 3m distance between orchestra musicians and suggests various other protective measures.

    In fact, these “guidelines” are de facto government rules, as VBG is the body to implement health and safety regulations for various employment sectors.

    In this instance the government’s ‘SARS-CoV-2-Arbeitsschutzstandard’ published by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) is being adapted and applied to stage / studio / rehearsal situations.

  • Andreas B. says:

    The link in my comment above leads directly to a pdf download – just the webpage can be viewed here:

    On this page, various downloads can be found.
    The relevant one for orchestras is the first.

  • sam says:

    I think the terraced kind of hall (Berlin, Paris, Hamburg etc) is much better suited to the seating arrangement here. And aesthetically it’d be better as well.

    I want to see the Berlin Phil trying this seating arrangement, making use of the space behind the stage.

  • V.Lind says:

    So if that’s how the orchestra is placed, where does the audience go?

    I’m all for adapting, but this is insane.

  • Anon says:

    As an orchestral musician I have to say that this looks really intriguing! Yes, it raises issues as to where the audience – if there even would be one – would go, but the idea of using the entire hall to stage & perform a symphony looks wonderful.

    I can see some drawbacks – they are so far apart from each other that the ensemble is understandably a little sloppy, but that might just take getting used to.

    I love the idea of not confining the musicians just to the stage, allowing them to explore every corner of the hall. Not sure if it’s practical, but I’d sure like to try it!

  • Brian says:

    Maybe antiphonal music would have been a better fit for this. Some Gabrieli, for instance. Or the Ives Unanswered Question. Put the brass in the balconies and have the audience appropriately spaced out on the orchestra level.

    • Anon says:

      Unanswered Question is actually always done that way. Flutes & trumpet offstage, usually in the back of the hall or balcony.

  • José Bergher says:

    It would be nice to try Mahler’s 8th Symphony, which requires a gigantic orchestra and gigantic choral forces, plus 8 vocal soloists.

  • Mark London says:

    All nonsense and propel have been conned because even scientists on gov Covid committee have said there’s nothing magical about the 2 metre rule ! It’s just number they all dreamed up

  • Dave says:

    Let’s just try and remember that this situation is temporary. Yes, it does feel fairly extreme right now but normality will resume once vaccines are produced etc. This is NOT the future.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      It is likely to be many years before we have a vaccine (if we ever have one). We are not going to wait that long before returning to something like normality. We are just going to have to find a way to live with it.

  • Gustavo says:

    I hope this approach will encourage many other ensembles worldwide to keep up the good spirit.

    For example, it may be a suitable format to give members of youth orchestras a perspective in 2020 (and an opportunity to perform before adolescence is over).

  • John Rook says:

    Interesting, if only to confirm that certain music cannot be convincingly or practically performed if adhering to the hysteria-motivated conditions imposed by authorities in the light of a bug which might end up killing 0.24% of the populations of certain countries. The final figure will probably be even lower, once other factors have been taken into account.

    Wash you hands, wear a mask if it makes you feel safer, and just get on with life. It’s a virus, it’s not going away, so we should stop trying to hide from it.

  • Una says:

    Still better than some of the Zoom efforts we’ve had with people sounding like tin bins with lids on! I’m sure it will be a great experience of everyone having to listen and being able to hear for a change. Beethoven 7 is just a wonderful work – as Wagner said, the apotheosis of the dance. But still, just shows you the difficulties with what sounds compliance regulations, whoever made them up. Wonder if non-woodwind players will have to wear masks of some sort?