I’ve played 1,600 string quartets. Only 1 in 3 promoters asked us back

I’ve played 1,600 string quartets. Only 1 in 3 promoters asked us back


norman lebrecht

March 09, 2021

From a viral new post by Will Fedkenheuer of the Miro Quartet:

In over 20 years, I’ve played over 1600 professional string quartet concerts for over 425 organizations in my career to date
Of those, only 30% had me back for a second time
Wait for it…
Only 9% of those had me back more than 5 times (~ 40 organizations)
AND. If I look really closely
There are twenty organizations that have made my career, my life, what it is
A full life.
20 years, 20 organizations
And then I look at what music education is prepping us for.What stories is it telling us
or NOT telling us
What fantasies is it selling
How antiquated IS our music education?
We’re stuck in old patterns of soloist, orchestra, chamber musician, teacher AND we’re still educating the way it was fundamentally setup between 1960-1980.
1960-1980. Either date you pick, that’s 40 years ago.
I’m turning 45 in 3 days. So. This was the education that was happening when I was BORN.
EVEN THEN the education wasn’t completely relevant to what musicians went out and did to thrive.
Here’s a secret not-so-secret….

Read on here,



  • JB says:

    Maybe he wasn’t very good?

    • Anon says:

      Both he and his quartet are outstanding. And very successful. With a residency at a well funded music school. They were all trained very well.
      Which is why none of this makes any sense.

    • Donna Pasquale says:

      Clearly a connoisseur here.

  • Larry says:

    Not sure what his problem is. He’s played 1600 concerts in 20 years and that is bad?? There are hundreds — nay, thousands — of fiddle players who would give their right you-know-what to be in that situation. He chooses to be a member of a string quartet, then complains about being “stuck?” The fact that a presenter may or may not invite the quartet back means absolutely nothing. Am I missing something here??

    • Peter San Diego says:

      Indeed. Seems like a good illustration of a Poisson distribution, which is pretty much what one would expect: the majority of the result is due to a small minority of the sample.

  • Stuart says:

    I hope he plays better than he writes. So, his quartet has played, on average, 80 concerts a year for 20 years. And approximately 40 organisations book them regularly. You just can’t make some people happy… And regardless of how NL wrote the title, note Will’s focus on “me”, “me”. Only 30% had ME back, not had the group back. Not a team player, which one would think is a disadvantage in a tight knot string quartet.

  • Amos says:

    Perhaps we should begin with the significance of a member of a string quartet who repeatedly asks the rhetorical question how many times has an organization had me rather than us back?

  • Tei says:

    Sounds like he just wasn’t very good to begin with. I’ve never heard of his quartet or him. I probably wouldn’t invite him.

  • Basso Continuoso says:

    Why is it music education’s fault? Presenters have nothing to do with it. Presenters want a never-ending parade of string quartets. Well, that’s only the fault of their being so darn many string quartets out there, which kill the market for mixed-ensembles, which are so much more interesting. There are too many string quartets! Maybe your programming was off, as most quartet programs are. Maybe there aren’t enough residencies out there. But if you don’t want to tour and spend your life on the road, then don’t. Stay in one city/state.

  • A.M.D. says:

    I think some of these commenters are missing his main point which is: having a career as a professional musician involves a lot more than being able to play your instrument well. Networking, financial and organizational skills, teaching experience, and in this day and age, social media and styling, all play a role in a career that may be have to be varied to be viable. He feels traditional music conservatories focus too much on preparing instrumentalists for either a solo career (unlikely) or playing in an orchestra (maybe slightly more likely, but still very hard), and not enough on other life skills that will end up being more important. Thinking about the day-to-day lives of many friends who went to absolutely top-notch music schools, I believe he is right.

  • Mr Paganini says:

    Of course, this reads like someone who is selling something. AH yes, I see his website lists him as a “consultant”.

  • Roman says:

    I’m not a musician, but I’ve gotten degrees in engineering in both the UK and Russia. Both my degrees contained compulsory modules tackling negotiations, marketing, interpersonal skills, entrepreneurship etc. All of these modules were bullshit. These skills are actually very important (they got crucial when I got into management), but it is just something that cannot be properly taught in academy. Reading a book like “Difficult Conversations” or similar is both more beneficial and easier than taking a corresponding course at university. Musicians are blessed that they don’t have to learn this stuff academically in their institutions, unlike engineers, economists, etc. It is just a waste of time.

    I am also surprised that Mr. Fedkenheuer is objecting to a requirement of playing concertos and Paganini. What is the alternative? Drop the requirement to be able to play the musical instrument at a technically challenging level and admit students who are able to play “Fur Elise”?

  • Freddy says:

    Difficult to understand how that string quartet is not rolling in the dough when they have a member named CHING…

    Disclaimer: No racism intended.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    I certainly wouldn’t invite back a moaner like him

  • Another orchestral musician says:

    1600 concerts in 20 years is 80 concerts each year. That’s pretty good I think. Maybe the organizations didn’t call the quartet back so that other ensembles had also the chance to play too? I’m just trying to guess and to understand why 80 concerts a year sounds like failure to him (and he’s only 45 for crying out loud, so that means that he has many years ahead to keep playing professionally). Nevertheless I read the whole post on Facebook and he raises interesting points about the music education system, and it might be interesting to discuss them.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Waaaahhhh…. cry me a river, Will.
    What a kvetch! It sounds to me like 80 or so concerts a year for 20+ years is a pretty fair number of gigs for a string quartet.
    And you make it sound like 40 organizations repeatedly re-engaging your quartet is a bad thing.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Gary Graffman got into this topic, a little bit, in his wonderful book I Really Should Be Practicing. He writes about his early career when he was picked up by the Community Concerts organization and got, by his own admission, lots of concerts. But rarely if ever an invite back regardless of how successful the concert had been and how rousing and friendly the reception from the audience. It was just Community Concerts’ way of doing things — they evidently strongly discouraged the local presenters from requesting or getting a “repeat” plus they likely had a steady stream of new “acts” that they needed to tour around. The problem is not how well the Miro Quartet plays, any more than it was how Graffman played.

    It is gone now, alas, but for years Milwaukee had a very nice chamber music series called Artist Series at the Pabst (the theater built by one of the beer barons). Most of the audience bought the series. And yes it was rare for there to be a repeat artist even over the decades that I subscribed. There are, after all, so many quartets, chamber orchestras, pianists, violinists, cellists and the list goes on. There was also evidently a tacit agreement between the Artist Series and the Milwaukee Symphony not to have the same artists within a short time frame. Sometimes it was inevitable.

    Soloists with orchestras often become favored and repeat, some nearly annually. When Zdeněk Mácal conducted the Milwaukee Symphony hardly a season went by without Alexander Toradze as piano soloist; Mácal left and I do not believe Toradze has been back since. Just the way it goes.

    Wisconsin also has a quite good summer festival in the popular vacation area of Door County with a small but fully professional symphony orchestra, in many cases representing top section people from orchestras around the country, and some international ones as well.
    There, favored guest soloists would repeat, and often, and would become audience favorites. Lilya Zilberstein being the most recent example, an obvious favorite of the now retired music director Victor Yanpolsky. But the next music director will have his or her own favorite soloists. Back in the founder Thor Johnson’s day, the favored soloists who came repeatedly, some almost annually, were names like Claude Frank, Eugene List, Charles Treger, Zara Nelsova. Then Johnson died, a new conductor took over, and new favorites soloed and the old favorites came back far more rarely.

    • Guest commenter says:

      Funny you mention Macal/Toradze. Milwaukee post-Macal didn’t see Toradze because he was busy playing with Macal with the NJSO

  • Chilynne says:

    There are many truly excellent string quartets. Also, many venues for strung quartets try to bring variety to their audiences, which means 2 or 3 of those excellent quartets scheduled each season with few repeats. No disrespect intended.

  • Jack says:

    Didn’t help that you posted only about half of his Facebook Post. People who are not registered Facebook users cannot read the portion you left out. As a result, nearly everybody here failed to address his main point.

    And for those who don’t seem to know the Miro Quartet, here’s a bit of background on who you’ve been putting down. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miró_Quartet

    Or perhaps visit their Web site: https://miroquartet.com

  • Chilynne says:

    String, not strung…

  • Bill says:

    The Miro is a fine quartet that I have enjoyed seeing several times. But if you base your comments only on what NL has included here, rather than reading the whole piece, you’re missing much of the point, and look like it to anyone who did read it all.

  • Paganini says:

    Usually the violinists who can’t play my music are the ones who say they don’t like it.

  • J San says:

    Many listeners want novelty. Our classical music organizations rarely invite people or groups to return because they know that many audience members will say, “eh, we heard them already.” They see repeat artists as a sign of a lack of creativity in programming. Sad but true. The writer should thank the heavens for his good career instead of complaining.

    • Arnolphe says:

      Never happened in the case of the truly great quartets, such as The Lindsays, who played in a converted bijou cinema in Denmark Rd, Manchester, throughout their tenure as Quartet in Residence of the University of Manchester, and regularly attracted much the same audience for their inspirational performances.