Covid madness: Orchestra plays to recorded conductor

Covid madness: Orchestra plays to recorded conductor


norman lebrecht

July 20, 2020

The Tokyo Symphony orchestra has performed the ‘first ever concert with recorded-video conducting’.

Due to covid-19, Jonathan Nott, TSO Music Director was unable to come to Japan for TSO July concert series. The Orchestra took place first ever concert with recorded-video conducting on July 18 at Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall.

The concert was also live-streamed on Nico-Nico channel. Followed by Britten’s Frank Bridge Variations without conductor in the first half, Dvorak 8th Symphony was performed under recorded video conducting of Jonathan Nott via screen in the second half.

This is mildly insane. The musicians are performing to a remote video when they could be working with a real live conductor in Tokyo, which would make both social and musical sense.

But no, they say, we have to work with our highly paid  music director, even if he’s asleep  in bed while we’re performing live.

It’s a mad, mad, mad world, my masters.

Photo (c) T. Tairadate/TSO



  • Pianofortissimo says:

    “This is mildly insane.”

    I’ve given some thinking to this statement. Yes, it is only mildly insane. Completely insane would be to conduct a pre-recorded orchestra. I can think of [edited} or [edited] and why not [edited]feeling good doing it.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      I’ve often conducted pre-recorded orchestras, but only while driving my car.

      It helps keep other drivers at a cautious distance from me. 😉

  • J.Bond says:

    Look at that egomaniac go!
    It also might be interesting how much he got paid for that; how long are these high fees acceptable while so many musicians are struggling to pay for rent?

  • mary says:

    Why stop with the living?

    Let all orchestras play to a recorded Furtwangler, a recorded Toscanini, a recorded Karajan.

    Let’s play with recorded great soloists of the past: Play along with Rubinstein, Heifetz, on film.

    What have we come to??

  • Steve de Mena says:

    How did they rehearse? How were balances worked out?

    • José Bergher says:

      They rehearsed after the concert. After the rehearsal they worked out the balances.

    • henrirenquist says:

      I don’t think Nott cares about such matters, judging by live performances and recordings that I have been ‘fortunate enough’ to endure. The man’s ears are in his arse.

  • José Bergher says:

    Maestro Nott kept plenty of social distancing and wore no mask.

  • Dave says:

    Taking phoned-in performances a little too far?

  • Chicagoan says:

    Maestro? I think Nott!

  • Not stuck up says:

    To all the haters, Nott is actually one of the few great serious and professional conductors out there. If you’re not happy, take it out on your kids. Stop trying to posture and act like you have the moral high ground. If this makes people happy, then so be it. What are you trying to achieve with the disparaging comments? Make your sorry selves feel better by putting others down?

    • Player says:

      One of the few great serious and professional conductors? I guess everyone has an opinion. I am left wondering who the others are..

  • Archie_V says:

    The bulk of what a conductor does is either reactive – making micro-corrections to what the conductor is hearing at any given moment – or predictive – making eye contact and gesturing to cue certain players’ entrances. Since neither of these is possible if the conductor can’t hear the orchestra, his role here must have been reduced to beating time. A click track in a monkey suit! Bravo!

    • Frankster says:

      The conductor can’t hear the orchestra?? Have you ever been in an internet meeting?

      • Peter San Diego says:

        In this case, he couldn’t: his conducting was pre-recorded. The variable time lags of internet communication would render him (or any conductor) conducting the orchestra, live, a fiasco. All the stay-at-home and other remote-collaboration music videos we’ve seen rely on either a click track or a lead instrumentalist’s performance, to which the others play as individuals; the final result is synchronized, balanced and compiled by an internet sound engineer (if that’s the right term).

      • bratschegirl says:

        According to the post, the video of the conductor was pre-recorded, asynchronous (i.e. not happening in real time at the same time the orchestra was playing). So no, he was not hearing the orchestra, and given typical Internet latency issues, he couldn’t have conducted live effectively even if he had been present by video at the same time as the performance.

  • This would only increase the suspicion among the general non-musical public that conductors do nothing but wave their arms except that the general non-musical public isn’t even reading stories about conductors anyway.

  • Frankster says:

    Lots of posters here seem to be above “a certain age.” Millions are now working from home and holding meetings around the world in different time zones. If teaching and managing can be done, why not conducting? You can see on YouTube string quartets playing in 4 different locations – why not conductors and orchestras? Technology needs to be best to avoid slight sound delays, of course.

    • Fazil says:

      What a stupid comment! You clearly have no clue what an orchestra conductor is about

    • Peter says:

      Yes, but usually the person facilitating the meeting isn’t pre-recorded–the ultimate in time delay! Live conducting via Zoom would be different.

    • Anonymous says:

      Even really old people have used a telephone, but they generally don’t hold a two-hour phone call with a recorded friend. I think that is what people find absurd, not the novelty of the technology.

    • Le Křenek du jour says:

      The politest possible retort to this kind of post would be “OK, Zoomer”.

      It should be noted — it has, indeed, been noted in many communities — that our contemporaries with a higher mileage on the life counter have been among the keenest adopters of a digital lifestyle during the lockdown and, of necessity, beyond.
      In my neighborhood, the one expert in setting up high-speed WLAN extensions and bridges is a sprightly lady of 75, a journalist not even close to retiring. Several professionals half her age, forced to work from home, would have been stranded without her tech-savvy help.
      Setting up remotely synced barber shop quartet multicasts is one of her favourite recreations.

      And, Frankster: The “slight sound delays” you refer to are properly known in digital tech parlance as *latency*. I learned a fair bit about latency, its multiple causes and tricky remedies, from my sound engineer, who has been wrestling with it, locally and remotely, for more than 40 years. He’s 78.

  • Keith says:

    I’m curious: what if the video or link freezes? Do the musicians just hold the notes? The violins bow the same note and the brass and winds stagger their breathing until the video unfreezes?

    • Bratsche-scratcher says:

      We would do what normally happens when a conductor f***s up… just carry on till they get their act together.

    • José Bergher says:

      Exactly as you said. The musicians just hold the notes. Furthermore, should the freeze last for a long time — say, one hour and 45 minutes, or even six hours — the musicians must continue to hold the notes. Food breaks, trips to the bathroom, phone calling and messaging? Cancelled, of course. Discipline must be kept. There is no art without it.

  • Keith says:

    A mockery of great music. If this is what it’s come to, why bother?

  • KeepCalm says:

    People, easy! It’s just something symbolic because he can’t be there himself, relax!

  • David Boxwell says:

    Surely, the Japanese could devise a cute little Robot Jonathan Nott to fill in for the duration, in lieu of Video Jonathan Nott.

  • Fiddlist says:

    Yes, it won’t work at all in all moments with an individual solo where any flexibility is common. An idiotic idea.

    A conductor always should respond to the musical pushes and pulls from the musicians in front of him or her. So many conductors have forgotten, or chosen to ignore, this fundamental principle.

  • Karl says:

    What about robot conductors? Is someone going to invent one soon?

    • Dragonetti says:

      Too rude to name him/her but a certain conductor was always known in the trade as the Clockwork Orange.
      Would fit the bill perfectly.

  • Karajon says:


  • Nathaniel Rosen says:

    It is more important for the conductor to look at the musicians rather than vice versa.

  • Beckmesser says:

    Not sure from picture if those live orchestra members are socially distanced or wearing masks.

  • fflambeau says:

    Not mildly insane. Batshit insane. What is a conductor if he cannot hear and react to an orchestra? Buy a metronone and save money.

  • Larry W says:

    What recording of Dvorak’s 8th Symphony was Nott following when he made the video?

  • Alexander Tarak says:

    Bonkers !!