Covid has killed my desire for classical concerts

Covid has killed my desire for classical concerts


norman lebrecht

December 31, 2020

From the occasional blog of our friend and colleague Ariane Todes, former editor of The Strad:

This year, I’ve watched my entire industry collapse. In the absence of live communal playing, musicians and groups have desperately tried to find ways to communicate across the screen, but here’s my terrible confession: outside of my work, I’ve hardly interacted with any of it. This is not because of its quality or intention, but because I haven’t felt like it.

This terrible and surreal year has changed my relationship with classical music entirely, but not only in bad ways. Normally I’d go to a couple of concerts a week, for both work and pleasure. I’d play in an amateur concert every couple of months, with occasional chamber music and irregular boot camp of scales and studies to keep in shape. This year I’ve barely picked up my violin.

Here’s another terrible confession: I don’t feel like I miss either experience. For my own sake, this is alarming because the violin and going to concerts are at the core of my identity. More importantly, if it’s this easy for me to be without live classical music, what does the future hold for those of us who work in this world? What if people let go and don’t come back?

Read on here (it’s not all gloom).




  • Lister says:

    Pre-Covid I would usually be out 4 nights a week for live performances and at weekends the norm of 2 shows in a day. I will not be returning to this. Not because of any fear but because I’ve started to enjoy my free time at home. I’m getting my fix from live and recorded performance on the radio. Never thought I would say that.

    I will still attend the things I want to see but will be much more selective.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Finally people will be liberated from live music!

      This will lead to the dissolving of all those oppressive orchestras, opera companies, chamber music societies, and eventually of the entire educational system: conservatories, music faculties, music schools/colleges.

      While the West will thus disrobe itself from cumbersome identity rests, the Far East will florish and take-over the tradition they have only rather recently discovered and, to their own surprise, found inspiring, elevating, humanizing, wonderful, enriching, civilizing.

      Also for all those future recordings, be them CD’s or internet streaming, it will be Eastern musicians to provide the services since in the West, people will find fulfilment in very different jobs.

      • Gordon says:

        I’m not sure if you’re being sarcastic, but is that necessarily a bad thing?

        Music has always been representative of civilizations that are growing and becoming prosperous. The West is slowly its growth with the exception of the US, and East Asia (particularly China) is growing at a rapid rate. Western music will always be recorded, performed, and observed, but does that mean there’s no room for someone to take over the shining light?

      • barry guerrero says:

        Yes, we need more and cheaper plumbers, not artists.

      • Novagerio says:

        Typical Borst; a bitchslap to musicians. You realize that Livestreams and recordings are like watching porn instead of having actual sex, right? Or maybe because of your dependence of social media you don’t get the difference between real life music vs reproduced. Sad. Lock yourself down, man!!

        • John Borstlap says:

          I know, irony is a difficult thing. It requires thinking. Often it seems that practicing helps a lot.

          • Patrick says:

            Ariane Todes isn’t a working musician, but writes for The Strad! Didn’t earn her living playing concerts, sessions, jingles whatever, in pre Covid days. Amateurs stick together. Rather a lot of them on SD, judging by their comments.

          • norman lebrecht says:

            Ariane Todes is a former editor of The Strad, a violinist and leader of a band. She knows more about music and its workings than most of today’s miserable commenters.

          • yujafan says:

            Yes, Ariane is knowledable and a decent writer, but regardless of the field one works in, if you are not actively working and engaging with it, then it takes away from your credibility as someone with their finger truly on the pulse. Whilst I applaud her honesty, I would read her output now in a slightly different light, knowing that she’s no longer totally committed. It’s a brave move on her part to be so open about this.

          • Hayne says:

            I assume “amateurs” shouldn’t have an opinion then.

        • William Safford says:

          I wouldn’t take his post seriously.

          Your analogy is a bit off base. If livestreams and recordings are like watching or listening to porn, then live concerts are more like watching live sex shows.

          If so, what does that make us musicians? Hmmmm….

          • John Borstlap says:

            Disgusting comment. Should have been redacted, like [redacted].

          • William Safford says:

            To be clear, my comment was directed at Novagerio. The threading becomes unclear several levels down.

      • Laura Farrell says:

        Perhaps for those who had a local supply of live music. For those of who didn’t, these will presumably continue to be in short supply and the quality ones highly valued. Perhaps we might look more at quality rather than quantity?

  • J Barcelo says:

    The same here. I was addicted to playing and was out 2 or 3 nights a week with different ensembles. I would spend hours a week practicing. Then add in the concerts I would attend. All gone. But I’ve rediscovered my collection of great CDs and have had more time for hiking, bicycling, and cooking. When, if, things ever get back to normal I’m going to select one orchestra to play with and recover my life!

    • John Borstlap says:

      While enduring all those lockdowns, I discovered I had actually married a number of years ago, and it happens to be a quite engaging and pretty woman at that. I’m now enjoying things I had not known existed in life, and they are quite quite different from classical music. (Wholehearedly to be recommended.)

  • CYM says:

    Yes, I miss the frills of applauses and standing ovations at live concerts. On the other hand, very rapidly, many musicians refused to put down their instruments, or stop singing. I have watched superb virtual concerts, from all corners of the world, on a high level of artistry. They are often well recorded, with clever filming and editing.
    We also have our cherished CD’s, DVD’s, most of them without applauses. I welcome the changes, and do not fear the future. We will play again, we will sit down again in concert halls and opera houses. We are just in a long bad storm.

  • Roman says:

    Unfortunately, the western culture as we know it is dying. Classical music already had pressure for quite a while from lunatics who wanted to cancel Beethoven and other “pale, male and stale” composers. Then we’ve got absurd diversity requirements over quality (the trend I witnessed corrupting academic circles for quite a while, and this trend is only accelerating). Lockdown cancelled almost everything else.

    I don’t want to sound like a Chinese propagandist, but I think that the only hope the humanity has is in Asia, and maybe to a lesser extent in conservative countries of Eastern Europe, but they are also declining rapidly.

    • Music fan says:

      Once this crisis is ended, Classical and other live performances will bounce back. It may take years for audiences to return to pre-COVID levels, but nothing can replicate live performances. Roman’s crabbing about political correctness is just the usual nonsense.

      Cinema, on the other hand, will never recover.

      • Sixtus Beckmesser says:

        I’m afraid that Roman may be right. Have you spent any time at a “selective” American liberal arts college?

        • Patricia says:

          I went to an American liberal arts university. I went through undergraduate and graduate school before they became ‘selective.’ I think I was a student at the right time.

    • CRWang says:

      As someone who lives in Asia, I don’t share your optimism. China and the communist party gave us the coronavirus, Hong Kong freedom suppression and Lang Langesque vulgarism. Japan is the best country in Asia for classical music. Which city like Tokyo can boast at least 4 world class orchestras? Still, the country is suffering from the Wuhan virus and declining economically. As we say good bye to a terrible 2020, I long to get back to Berlin and Vienna to visit museums and attend concerts. Youtube, Spotify, and my CD collection cannot duplicate the experience of live music, especially in European concert halls. My heart goes out to all the performers who have seen their livelihood decimated by Chinese communist mendacity and their own Western government’s stupidity and incompetence. Hope for a better 2021 when these musicians get back to playing in front of live audiences.

      • Roman says:

        It is not only about pandemic. The absolute majority of white people in concert halls are over 50. I haven’t been to Asia, but I see lots of young Asians in concert halls in the UK, also people look quite young in videos from Asia on YouTube.

        The younger generation here is generally not educated in music at all, or educated poorly. I worked in IT companies with mostly young people and many of them despise classical music as elitist/capitalist/sexist/racist/etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if after 30 years, when most current concert goers dies (me included), playing Beethoven in the UK will be considered as racist as performing blackface.

        If we try to create a Top20 list of most promising young musicians right now, the absolute majority of them will be from either Asia or from Eastern Europe. Even those who are “American” will often be from Asian families with Asian mentality. Just a random stat here. In the last Chopin competition 6 out of 10 finalists were Asians. 3 of the rest are from Eastern Europe. Only one is Canadian. The similar statistics holds for other competitions as well.

        I am not saying that Chinese government is perfect – I disagree with many stuff that they do. But at least Asians seem to care to keep high standards of their culture and they educate their children very well. It is something that I cannot say about Europeans, unfortunately.

        The similar problem is with diversity. I am not a musician, but I’ve seen it from academic and IT business side. I personally accepted without any objections works by females, that were of so low quality that they had no chance of being accepted if they were produced by males. I didn’t have any orders from anyone to do that, it is just a common sense that it has to be done, unless you want to get into trouble. Classical music doesn’t have such gender disparity as IT or mathematics, but it has racial disparity, for example. If orchestras starts programming and hiring people based on race/gender/religion, it is going to weaken European arts even further. It might just not survive.

        • John Borstlap says:

          There is quite a difference between the Chinese people and their government. The people are the inheritants of a civilisation that goes back thousands of years, and that is in their bones.

    • Chamberlain says:

      Try to explain your hope in China to the Uyghurs!

      • Roman says:

        1. How does it relate to arts?
        2. How is the situation with Uyghurs worse that wars in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Kosovo, Afganistan, etc., which was started by so innocent democratically elected Western governments?

        • John Borstlap says:

          To think that wars in Syria, etc. etc. were begun by the West, is historically eroneous. Quite a lot of locals did not need the West to exercise their killing habits.

          • matthew says:

            The anglo saxon ignorance on the Irak war.. without the destruction of Irak Syria’s horrendous civil war would never have happened. I do not defend Assad, Gadhaffi or Hussein but their countries were better places than before their liberation.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      I disagree. The world is far too inter-connected now. Most everyone will be on somewhat equal footing. The death of the west was been predicted before it even started.

      • John Borstlap says:

        The story of the decline and fall of the West is its longest literary tradition.

        Surprisingly, out of nowhere, it always veered back.

  • Bill says:

    I, for one, miss it terribly and cannot wait for things to get going again so I can perform my art and see and interact with my audience. Most of my colleagues feel the same way, as do the audience members in my community. This negative narrative being flogged here for clicks is not reality. I suggest some of you find better ways of coping rather than bringing the art down to a clickbait level. The art has survived far worse than this and it will continue long after these bytes of data have disappeared from your computer screen.

    This site is becoming a truly toxic place. The art deserves better.

    • John Borstlap says:


      The heart of the art form is the sharing with a live audience, that has always been the case and all other forms of transmission are simulations. They are helpful and enriching, and especially have helped to make it more accessible, but they are still not the Real Thing. It is like a good photograph of your beloved, but still not the Real Thing.

  • Karl says:

    If the performances are there I will probably go back to my normal 4 concerts or recitals per week. Half of those are in Canada so that might be a problem. I hear they are building a wall.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It is very reassuring that someone so involved in classical music can so easily travel from Mahler to John Travolta: liberated from constraints, like the birds flying from tree to tree without puzzling about landing places.

    Indeed: the great works of the repertoire have a direct relationship with Nature (with a capital N). A composer like Debussy made it his main point in music generally. There are deep psychological reasons for this, and they point towards something very far removed from the lamp of the composers’ study: the perceptional framework that is embedded deep in the human psyche, which with composers results in a heightened awareness of relationships, proportions, value – as in mathematics. Music is a kind of mathematics in the form of expressive relationships, and – like mathematics – music is not invented but discovered.

    If someone needs to literally be in Nature to get the natural properties of music, it’s a result of a lack of imagination. Perceptive audience members clearly feel that they are wandering in nature while listening in an airconditioned, moderately heated concert hall, sitting on pluche, next to their bored husband in a sunday suit.

    If anything, postcorona music life should go back to the innate properties of music and discard all the obstacles that get in the way. This ‘back to Nature’ – including human nature – easily relates to all the other pressing needs to deal with nature in better ways… as the coronie obviously shows.

  • Hilary Kelman says:

    My feelings are totally opposite to everybody else. I am not a performer, just an attendee at concerts for over 40 years. I have been utterly miserable and bereft at not being able to attend any live concerts. It is my one love and, frankly, listening to CD’s (I don’t have a computer so can’t stream concerts) is nothing like the thrill of actually being in a concert hall with other music lovers and listening to live music. The lack of live music this year had made me very depressed and I can’t wait until I can be in a concert hall again.

    • Geoff says:

      I am listening to some music on YouTube, I find the Goldbergs, on an almost daily basis, sufficient to replace what I enjoyed prior to COVI-19. There are many versions to pick from.

    • Albert Dock says:

      I totally agree with what you say. I have been lucky to be able to go to some live performances here in Liverpool. Have thoroughly enjoyed them.

      They have introduced me to repertoire I’ve never heard in over 40 years. Streamed concerts don’t do it for me.

      Here’s to a return to a full concert soon!

    • Karl says:

      I felt that way for a few weeks, but I have adapted. I also have figured out how much money I was spending on trips to Boston, Montreal and Ottawa. Tickets, gas and car maintenance adds up.

    • William Safford says:

      Hilary, what device did you use to post your message? If not a computer, perhaps a cellphone, or tablet?

      If so, you can stream live concerts on those devices. A pair of good-quality headphones (better than the buds enclosed with cellphones and tablets) can help improve the listening experience. They do not have to cost a huge amount of money. Or you can connect them into powered speakers, or a stereo system.

      If you use someone else’s computer, perhaps that person or institution (e.g. library) would permit you to use it to watch live streamed concerts?

      It’s still not as good as attending live concerts, but maybe it would help tide you over until live concerts come back.

      The question is not if live concerts will return. The question is when, and in what form.

      I hope this helps.

  • Anon says:

    this is all smoke, she’ll be back

  • Gidon Chang says:

    As a violinist and musician myself, I can attest to the same feeling as the writer does.

    I don’t think I or many other colleagues of mine have lost interest in the violin, however, what I have felt is a rebel against was the pre-COVID hustle life of where one had to meet “this” or “that” person in order to be hired for the next gig without clear reasonings. Whether this is from the NYC gig scene to the big shuffle of getting solo dates with orchestras.

    In some ways, I think this has given us light that music was the last thing in our routine that brought us away from the real world, and let’s keep it as that channel where we can share our emotions and find joy in making music and NOT use it like UBER eats.

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    It is hard to remain keen on practicing when there’s no goal in sight. I suggest putting something adventurous in one’s practice routine in order to spice it up and maintain interest in it. Personally, I’ve taken to memorizing pieces; something I had’t done much of before. I also improvise more.

  • Patrick says:

    This is your problem, pal. We really don’t care.

  • buxtehude says:

    A rare insider admission of “is” rather than “ought,” courageous and important.

    Few classicists have been ready to acknowledge what should be obvious — that there will be no return to the status quo ante, now that the inertia has been broken; that tech has already hollowed out the historical holdover of concert halls, multiple orchestras — a system of huge public subsidies whose fruits remain expensive and inconvenient for the shrinking audience and ever less stable for performers.

    The rethink will have to start from such facts.

  • Madeleine Richardson says:

    In a normal year, I go to just about everything: theatre, ballet, opera, classical concerts etc. and at the moment keep living in hopes of actually attending a live event despite an avalanche of cancellations.
    I have got round the problem by watching ballet and theatre on youtube. There are also opera streamings from various major opera houses, so it’s not as bad as it could be.
    People have tended to fall into Lockdown Lethargy but that will pass once things get back to normal.
    Fortunately here museums are actually open to the public so that is one source of cultural satisfaction.

  • Una says:

    He’s not only one. It has changed many of us and our priorities. Hardly listened to any classical music all year apart from the odd Prom concert and the Opera North Fidelio.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I really loved the sudden absence of being taken, against my will, to live concerts, with all the hullaballoo & expensive drinks & perfume smells & coughs & restless rustling of programmes, and all those silly pieces anyway. And sopranos with ball dresses or guys with long hair and painstricken faces and such. A heavenly silence came down on my miserable life and lo and behold! I’ve found some happiness again, no more classical music, working in piece, and free evenings so that I can indulge in my hobby which is creative needlework, no more classics! And finally listening to my Boulez box free of guilt feelings.


  • John Ramster says:

    I think this completely understandable response is more about coping with being in the middle of grief and depression as a world of norms and expectations crumbles around one. This too shall pass – venues will reopen, orchestras will rehearse together again, people will pick up their instruments and people will want to listen to them play.

  • Jack says:

    Norman, please do stay away from concerts. I for one miss the spontaneity of live music-making, the chance that a memorable performance will occur from the electricity that happens when great musicians are in perfect alignment with each other. There are no two performances of any piece that I’ve heard that were exactly alike. Each was its own experience and each came directly from the hearts, minds, hands or voices of real human beings performing their art right there in the moment.

    I’ll never forget Jon Vickers’ Tristan on the stage of Chicago’s Lyric Opera. I’ll never forget Norrington and The Orchestra of St. Luke’s playing Schubert’s 9th Symphony in Carnegie Hall. I’ll never forget Jordi Savall and his band performing Vivaldi’s Juditha Triumphans at the Philharmonie in Paris. I’ll never forget the South Pacific revival on the stage of the Vivian Beaumont Theater. I’ll never forget Bobby Short at the Cafe Carlyle, or Ella Fitzgerald and the Gershwin Songbook with Skitch Henderson and the Chicago Symphony. I’ll never forget Hans Hotter as the Narrator or Jessye Norman as the Wood Dove in the LA Philharmonic’s Gurre-lieder. I’ll never forget Rostropovich playing Bach on the stage of the Ambassador Auditorium. I’ll never forget any number of evenings with Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing any of the Mahler Symphonies. Those are just a few live performances that come to mind. I’m seventy-four now, but I hope to live long enough to add a few more to my list before I have to take my final leave.

    Norman, if you don’t experience that excitement and sense of moment when you go to concerts in a concert hall, you should definitely stay away and surrender your seat to someone really prepared for a one-time performance of great music. It’s sad to hear that you are missing the essence of this great art. I am sad for you.

  • Jim says:

    Perhaps Ariane truly feels like this, or perhaps she is trolling for a response. If it is the former, I suggest she should most certainly find another line of work–IF the Strad stays in business. If it is the latter, it is just a cheap shot to generate publicity and an uproar among its subscriber base.

  • IP says:

    Everything needs training. You may believe that, not having been to concerts for a long time you would rush at the first opportunity. But the sad truth is, the less you go, the less you want to go.

  • William Safford says:

    I am working towards the future, whatever it may end up being.

    In March, all my gigs were canceled.

    Given lemons, make lemonade, as the adage goes.

    Since then, I have put the extra time to good use, to practice more with fewer distractions.

    I have also added extra time for listening to music and score reading. (And other things unrelated to music.)

    One chamber ensemble I play with managed to put together a small partial concert season this past summer and fall, performing outdoors and socially distanced, both for live and virtual audiences. It wasn’t a lot, but it was something. With winter as well as the worsening of the pandemic, we are on hiatus for now.

    I want to be well prepared and ready when it becomes time to perform in public again.

    I miss attending concerts. I am enjoying watching virtual ones, of friends and colleagues as well as others, as well as observing online master classes. But I look forward to the day when we can attend concerts in person again.

    I wish for everyone a Happy and Healthy New Year. May we get past this pandemic soon, with all the excellent work by scientists, doctors, and other health care professionals. But it is also incumbent upon ourselves to follow the best and most recent advice from these professionals. We are far from being out of the woods.