Petrenko shuts down Berlin Phil with John Cage’s 4’33”

Petrenko shuts down Berlin Phil with John Cage’s 4’33”


norman lebrecht

October 31, 2020

Kirill Petrenko tonight ended the last Berlin Philharmonic with 4’33” by John Cage – four and a half minutes of silence. The video is presently being edited.

The following statement was made before the performance:

Nach Beschlüssen von Bund und Ländern zur Eindämmung der Corona-Pandemie wird die Philharmonie Berlin vom 2. bis 30. November 2020 geschlossen. Vor diesem Hintergrund haben die Berliner Philharmoniker und Chefdirigent Kirill Petrenko das heutige Konzertprogramm um ein weiteres Werk ergänzt.

Following measures taken by the Federal and regional authorities in Germany to contain the corona pandemic, the Philharmonie Berlin will be closed from 2 to 30 November 2020. In view of this, the Berliner Philharmoniker and their chief conductor Kirill Petrenko have added another work to today’s concert programme.

Watch here (when available).


The rest of the programme consisted of Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen, Shostakovich Ninth Symphony and Andrew Norman’s Sabina.

UPDATE: The sound of silence


  • Paul Dawson says:

    A great way to close. Little doubt that the great man would have approved. How was it done? My way would have been to leave it off the announced programme, but for the conductor to return to podium after the final piece as if giving an encore. It would then take the members of the audience varying amounts of time to realise what had been chosen as the encore piece.

    • Concertgoer says:

      Great man. He was a stunt artist, an abstract-sound expressionist. 4’33” is only the most obvious of the stunts. Ryōan-ji is for meditation, the prepared-piano pieces clever clowning. As for the Europeras, people’s time was squandered. If Petrenko’s is a good use of 4’33” it is precisely because it is not music.

      • It was a piece that had to be. It sums up an entire era. It’s not supposed to be ‘music.’ It’s supposed to make you listen; just to really listen. Doesn’t really merit hostility.

        • Norbert says:

          Exactly Gerald. The point he makes is that music is silence – it only exists from the context of slience, just as black can only exist relative to white, North to South, up to down.

          Sound and silence are in this sense – varying degrees of the same thing – consicousness and listening.

  • Thomasina says:

    I watched the concert via DCH, the long and big applause to the orchestra “before” Shostakovich was very touching ( the great expression of solidarity! ) and no cough during 4’33”.

  • Fernandel says:

    At last a piece in which Petrenko’s lack of agogic is not disturbing…

    • Dr James Cain says:

      I think this performance has exceeded your capacity to think of the profound implications of our tragic era !

  • M2N2K says:

    My favorite part of this post is the statement about the fact that the video “is presently being edited” – no doubt an enormously complicated task when it comes to this piece. Let’s hope it does not take 4 years plus 33 weeks to complete that process. And that orchestral performances with full audiences will resume sooner as well.

  • Elizabeth Twohig says:

    Is the concert not being repeated tomorrow, 1 November?

  • Whyyyyy? says:

    The emperor’s new clothes. I can’t understand why people try to recreate this. It could only happen once, and then, I doubt it was music.

  • sam says:

    “… added another work to today’s concert programme”

    Is it really “added” though? if nothing is heard?

    That’s like saying, “we will play John Cage’s 4’33” continuously nonstop from now until the end of the shutdown, listeners can tune in anytime, any day to the live feed and hear the performance perpetually in progress.”

  • J Morris Jones says:

    There was a pretty commanding performance of this by Lawrence Foster with the BBCSO a few years back. I liked the humour in the fact that, at the end of the first movement, Foster took out a handkerchief and mopped his brow – and he had a pound-shop alarm clock (on silent mode) ticking away on his conductor’s stand

  • Ronald Cavaye says:

    Whenever I’ve done it, people complain that the second movement is too long…

  • Margaret says:

    I watched it live and was quite moved.

  • Ghoul Chud says:

    Thank the Lord we aren’t attempting to do art right now. This virus with a 0.26 IFR leaves us no other option than to destroy our society. We must not consider any other options or attempt to quantify the massive health and economic costs that our draconian lockdown measures will incur. All that matters is the scary number of PCR positive test results. All praise the holy vaccine that is coming one day to save us!


    John would have been very pleased. However, I do believe that Haydn’s “Farewell Symphony” with the musicians gradually disappearing from the performance area still is the champion of clever endings.

  • Joe Joe says:

    I wonder what the rental cost was to get the score and parts for this full orchestra version?

  • John Porter says:

    Cue all the John Cage haters.

  • Bill says:

    4:33 is not a piece of music.