Can London orchestras survive without touring?

Can London orchestras survive without touring?


norman lebrecht

August 16, 2020

The last published accounts of the London Symphony Orchestra showed earnings of £3.5 million from overseas tours.

That source has dried up due to Covid-19 and will not be replaced any time soon.

In this new video, the LSO’s chief executive Kathryn McDowell introduces a technological partnership with Yamaha that is supposed to maintain links with overseas audiences.

‘What we’ve learned in lockdown is that there is a way of keeping in touch with our audiences,’ she says.



  • Miko says:

    Covid + Brexit + Tory indifference = catastrophe for British classical music.

    • Maria says:

      I would hardly say indifference and unfair to pontificate on unreliable paper talk. There are so many facets to our British way life at risk and workers and not just musicians who are struggling. Thousands about to lose their jobs from Debenhams if it goes into liquidation, a major private sponsor of the arts toi, and where will they all find work?

    • Allen says:

      Three issues and a conclusion summarised in a single line.

      I don’t expect lengthy, in-depth analysis in these comments, but this?

      • Miko says:

        I keep it short and sinple so that those who voted leave can understand.
        I’ll put the caps lock on next time if it helps.

        • Allen says:

          Posting a comment which is little more than a bumper sticker does not sit well with questioning the intelligence of those you disagree with.

        • DAVID says:

          That was a brilliant comeback. And yes, although most situations do imply a certain degree of complexity, simplicity often goes to the heart of the matter.

        • Adrienne says:

          But all your comments are short, black or white, and very simple.

          • DAVID says:

            Not putting everything in simple, binary terms would just be too confusing for most people. It would imply a capacity for nuance, for thinking critically, and might actually jeopardize some of our most cherished and unexamined assumptions. Our thoughtless, though comforting and reassuring worldview, might thereby be put in question.

    • Anonymous says:

      If the LSO earn £3.5 million on overseas tours, shows they are good!

    • M McAlpine says:

      As someone who has relatives in the entertainment industry, this continual blaming of the government might be a convenient scapegoat but it does nothing to help the problem. The Opposition have certainly made no positive contribution to the debate about what should be done. It is like we have had a war foisted upon us. Just this continual blame game is not helping.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    Perhaps London can only sustain about two truly great orchestras (something that it currently lacks) and a single opera house. The concerts can be repeated just like in most other cities around the world. London is much better known for popular culture entertainment these days than classical music.

    • Omar Goddknowe says:

      I’ve thought that for years

      • SVM says:

        Since World War II, the bureaucrats have made several attempts to merge or “rationalise” the London orchestras. These attempts have invariably met insurmountable resistance.

        Part of what makes the London music scene special is the sheer variety of ensembles (which is great news for audiences), their friendly rivalry (which drives up standards), and their fierce independence. It is a decentralised scene in which nobody can claim overall leadership, despite some unworthy individuals attempting to do so. If you remove those virtues, you are removing the main reasons why any professional musician would endure the hideous cost of living in (or commuting to) London.

    • Edgar Self says:

      Given London’s demographics, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. London clearly cannot sustain five major orchestras if only for lack of rehearsal and performing space if not patrons, plain for years and now worse.

      Any bets on which goes first or how? The LSO spunds best to me, but I’ve heard just two of them in recent years. I’d guess BBC or Philharmonia, but the Philharmonic and Royal are said to be venerably vulnerable. A great resident conductor could make the difference, but where to find one and nail the pumps to one podium?

  • Fiddlist says:

    How on Earth does any orchestra make any money touring? Very conservatively estimated: flying around 80 musicians and 20 support staff, 8 extra chairs for cellos, 6 double basses in extra cargo space, four-star hotels for all of them, too long to list all the ancillary costs. How many concerts per week, with how many tickets sold, at what price, pays for all of this?

    And is it worth it to accelerate sea-level rise, when there are now so many regional talented orchestras on each continent? (Okay, Antarctica isn’t there yet 😉

    • Rachel says:

      Extra chairs for cellos…. 20 support staff 4 star hotels you’ve never been on an orchestra tour have you?

      • Peter says:

        What is wrong here? Think 1000 hotel nights for a ten day tour (average £100/night), 500 flight/train tickets (average £100/person/flight tickets), we’re already talking £1,500,000. If an average income for a ticket is £50, we’re looking at 30.000 tickets sold for one tour just to cover travel and hotel – what am I missing here?

      • Fiddlist says:

        Actually I’ve been on many tours with a top orchestra. That involved on average 90 musicians, over 20 support staff, 10 cellists and 8 double basses, hence my “very conservatively estimated” comment above. Haven’t been on tour with a British orchestra – are you saying they penny pinch to try and turn a profit? Sadly, that doesn’t change the excess carbon emissions very much.

        Did you have another point?

      • Fiddlist says:

        PS to clarify, the extra chairs for the cellists are on the planes – or do you send your cellos in the cargo hold too? :-O

        • rachel says:

          Hi Fiddlist, Sorry my smile emoticon was omitted which made may comment read more harshly than intended. It seems we are discussing the differences between US and UK orchestras on tour here. For UK orchestras every expense possible is minimised to make the tour financially viable. Cellos and basses timps etc cross the channel overnight by ferry to mainland Europe in a massive lorry (truck)and travel from venue to venue overnight. Moderate hotels close to concert venues will do a good deal in return for x number of beds. Orchestras tend to provide a couple of staff members and foreign agents who know the venues ect a couple more. Musicians spend many hours each day on coaches. Six or seven concerts a week is normal, each in a different city. We actually love coming to the States as the distances are greater so more flying and less road travel and moderate hotels are of superior quality!

          • Fiddlist says:

            Thanks Rachel, I appreciate that, and it’s definitely good to know many details and differences between the UK and US orchestral touring strategies.

        • MWnyc says:

          Ah. We’d have understood you better if you had said “extra seats” for the cellos. That’s the word most of us use to refer to places on airplanes (or in theatres and concert halls); to most of us, the word chairs, in most contexts, refers to furniture.

    • Old Man in the Midwest says:

      Tours have corporate sponsorship which actually creates a net profit for the orchestra.

    • Henry Wood Hall says:

      Fiddlist. Apologies but you haven’t a clue regarding British orchestral touring. Everything is cut to the bone. Perhaps three members of staff, which double up with librarian duties, second instruments due to logistics, hotels who will accommodate eighty at a reasonable price, ditto airlines/trains and a week of one night stands being Berlin, Köln,Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Vienna….wherever. You get the drift. I hope. The most for the least amount spent!

    • Bill says:

      Sponsors pay for much of the costs of touring, so the orchestra gets to pocket some of the ticket revenue.

    • SVM says:

      “How many concerts per week”

      As many as are humanly possible — UK-orchestra tours do not have much time for sightseeing!

      “with how many tickets sold”

      The big-name UK orchestras often play to full houses when on tour.

      “, at what price, pays for all of this?”

      No idea about the price, but it is not all about box office takings. Orchestra tours are often built upon big sponsorship deals, so a lot of the cost is borne by organisations in the region being toured.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Rising sea level? Lucky that touring orchestras displace their weight, not their volume. Thoughtier question: tour where?

    Yet orchestras have done since at least the 1930s. A French orchestra with Cortot, and the legendary Wagner Opera Company did in 1919-1920, although like their operas it ended badly.

  • Pedro says:

    This is an old problem. Mahler went to Paris with the Vienna Phil. in 1900 for concerts at the Châtelet (the first tour of the orchestra). It was a financial fiasco. He had to ask Rothschild for help to buy the train tickets back to Vienna and he got it.

  • AllesMahler says:

    Mahler conducted the Wiener Philharmoniker at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900