Breakthrough? Maestro and scientists agree 90cm gap between players

Breakthrough? Maestro and scientists agree 90cm gap between players


norman lebrecht

June 29, 2020

The Japanese conductor Kazushi Ono has been testing Bunka Kaikan Hall in Tokyo with scientists from Keio University in an attempt to ascertain safe distances between players that are also musically viable.

We reproduce part of his report below but the findings are encouraging –  90cm between string players and 1.3m between winds and strings.


On 11 and 12 June, the players of Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and I took part in trials in the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan Hall, in cooperation with Keio University and Saint Marianna School of Medicine. Our goal was to find the delicate balance between creating sanitary conditions and making music, and to explore the possibilities of orchestral playing post-Covid, while reassuring the musicians….

European trials have recommended distances of 1.5m and 2m (including studies by Freiburg University in cooperation with Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and Berlin’s Charité Medical University with seven Berlin orchestras). We started with 2m between musicians, each with their own stand. This meant that only one person from each section could be at the front, as there wasn’t enough space for two people on the front desk. The number of players in each section was 8–7–6–5–2: a total of 29. With 2m distancing, they were spread far apart and filled the stage, so there was no room for any more – either strings or winds. We also kept 2m between the conductor and front desks, and there was an acrylic board between us.

On the first day we were strings only, with a programme of the Prelude and Air from Grieg’s Holberg Suite and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings (first and fourth movements). I chose the Holberg Suite because the score includes many divisi, so it’s a good test of how divided parts sound and how the musicians can play together when they’re so far apart. They couldn’t hear each other very well and the players on the back desks couldn’t see the conductor properly. It was clear that 2m is difficult to accept from the point of view of musical quality.

Taking account of these results, our medical adviser, Dr Kawase from Saint Marianna School of Medicine, proposed that we take closer positions, under the presumption that non-speaking string musicians wearing masks are not at danger of infection. So, we tried 1.5m, which meant that there was space for more musicians to join us on stage – the formation was 10–9–8–6–4, with a total of 37 players…..

Carry on reading here.


  • CA says:

    I have little to no faith that we will see full orchestra concerts using the regular setup and size of orchestra here in the USA for a very long time, if ever again. I wish someone would say that I’m wrong. I’ve lost my career and no doubt thousands upon thousands of others have or soon will. What are we supposed to do? Become garbage collectors? Janitors? What?

    • Peter San Diego says:

      I feel for all performing artists in this time. There is hope for effective therapeutic medications, and for effective vaccines (though the likelihood that they will have lifetime efficacy, a la measles vaccines, is probably small). Concert halls and theatres may need to redesign ventilation systems (see Augustine’s comment, below); installing UV disinfecting systems inside the ducts of recirculating air systems seems desirable. But I’m not prepared to accept that orchestral and operatic performance has become a thing of the past.

    • Skippy says:

      It’s an awful situation, for sure. But with all respect, I think you’re too pessimistic. Normalcy will return. It may take a while—a vaccine, for sure, but also a “settling in” as covid-19 becomes yet another coronavirus circling about, more-or-less harmlessly—but it will happen. Might be 2023, 2024. Not longer than that.

      In the meantime, hang on as best you can and develop your craft. It’s all one can do.

      • Dave says:

        With all due respect, people are disobeying the distancing rules and the wearing of a mask. It has only been a few months of this. Do you really think your Pollyanna outlook will last beyond the next couple of years? It is highly doubtful.

  • Augustine says:

    Air turbulence is as much a part of the solution as distancing between performers. If the air flow is not accounted for in trials, all for naught.

  • Don Ciccio says:

    Hopefully, this should also help:

    I am nonetheless worried about long term exposure which has not been studied. Which is why I said ‘hopefully’.