Where is the missing concert audience?

Where is the missing concert audience?


norman lebrecht

October 15, 2021

The German commentator Axel Brüggemann has called out what others only whisper under their breaths – that a significant part of the habitual concert audience has failed to return after the Corona epidemic.

There are many possible reasons why – geriatric anxiety, too many forms, anti-vaccination – but the facts are visible and incontrovertible:

The occupancy figures of German classical music organizers are sobering: From Baden-Baden to Bielefeld, from Leipzig to Lübeck – the audience is finding it hard to buy tickets.

The only industry response so far, says Brüggemann, is to blame the defecting audience.

But what else needs to be done?

Read here.



  • Matthias says:

    Here in Vienna, I’ve been to some sold-out opera and concert performances and to ones where the Musikverein was only 50% and 70% full. The good news is that tourists are back (except from Asia).

    I think what might be at fault is that people have been hesitant to buy subscriptions in a season still under the shadow of the pandemic. Also, while masks are no longer mandatory, you have to be vaccinated to attend – a negative test is not sufficient anymore. That may be driving away a few anti-vaxxers.

    • Hans Winkler says:

      I agree with Matthias to a certain extent. Yes, tourists are back, but although individual Asian tourists are coming again, groups which accounted for a large part of audiences in the State Opera and the Musikverein are still holding out. And don’t forget the Americans who are still not coming to Europe in large numbers. But I remain puzzled as to the inconsistencies of the data. I go quite often to the State Opera and see that some performances are almost sold out and others are half empty although the piece is popular and the cast is excellent. I just have no explanation.

      • Matthias says:

        Yes, attendance has been quite inconsistent, unusually so. I’m under the impression that the opera is more reliant on tourists than the concert halls in Vienna, which are more supported by the local subscriptions. So my theory, which is only an educated guess, relates more to those venues.

    • David Rowe says:

      It is not only Germany / Europe. I am at the moment sitting in Boston’s Symphony Hall which is at best 30% filled for a Friday afternoon program of William Grant Still, Strauss, and Sibelius. Goodness I hope this is a temporary stop on the way back to more normal attendance!

      • Tamino says:

        How is the Covid regime in Boston? Also checking certificates at the entrance and masks all the time?
        We don‘t have to think about attendance going back to normal, before these measures are gone. It‘s a hassle for too many.

    • Janet P. says:

      The left has over complicated and destroyed everything as they always do. That’s all. The results are clearly seen at most live venues which have had permission to open by local brown shirts. It’s obviously too much trouble to bother paired with DREADFUL SJW music.

      Fortunately older patrons are pulling their funding so most of these venues will fall into the poverty they’ve brought upon themselves.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      But go to their website and see the unimaginative fare on offer at the Musikverein. That will tell you quite a bit.

  • msc says:

    My wife and I go to a lot of concerts and have done so for a very long time. Perhaps half the time I walk away feeling that overall the cost and time spent was not worth a particular performance. They are not often bad, just a bit too often ordinary. Concert going had become a bit of a ritual in some ways. I have always been a keen collector of recorded music, and over the last few years of decent employment have built a stereo system I am relatively happy with. I’m not close to creating the acoustic experience of a live concert in my home, but most of the time I am very happy with the sound I do achieve. And at home I am guaranteed of good perfomances. If I want, I can hear broadcasts or streaming of concerts from all over the world. All this means that I have been listening to more music at home than ever before, enjoying it immensely, and will probably never go back to attending as many concerts as we did before COVID.

    • Maria says:

      Different priorities and different watching and listening habits – and now with the winter on its way, no incentive to bother.

    • David Sanders says:

      While your listening experience might be “good enough”, it will never be the same as a great live performance.

      • msc says:

        I agree completely. It’s a matter of good enough, most of the time. I will certainly still attend some, just a lot fewer.

  • Nick says:

    “….But what else needs to be done?”
    Idiotic politics and policies MUST BE STOPPED all over the world!! And the FEAR MONGERING should be stopped as well.
    Not easily achievable if at all!

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      These SJWs and their lefty enablers will NEVER get it and when they’ve run a train through the system and destroyed it they’ll scratch their collective heads and look over at conservatives and yell, “it’s all your fault”.

      NB Gulls: it’s they who have the CASH.

    • Good says:


  • henry williams says:

    i do not think the over 60s audience
    will ever return. some where a mask when it is not necessary

    • words matter says:

      This over-60 assiduous concert-goer will return as soon as it looks feasible for my situation. I will wear a mask; hope it won’t bother you.

    • JB says:

      Since it reopened, I went to the Met twice. Both shows were sold out (3800 people) and many were over 60. As pointed out by others, what is still missing for the moment are tourists and subscriptions for season tickets. I am not so worried that this will go back to normal next year.

  • I bet a lot of people… once they had to break the weekly or semi-weekly routine of getting dressed up, driving in, finding parking, standing in line, hearing a war horse they’ve heard before, making the late-night drive back home… grew to like the lower hassle life.

    • Sidelius says:

      We better hope that people snap out of their fears and inertia or many wonderful and irreplaceable classical ensembles, orchestras, etc., will wither away and die, which would be tragic, in a world that needs the depth and emotional resonance of music and the arts
      perhaps more than ever, as meaning is lost in the blind rush to whatever ill-considered future lurks impatiently to devour our souls. And recordings just will never communicate in quite the same way.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Add to that the threat of covid and Beethoven, and the main part of the audience is lost.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        You’ve nailed it. Again. That disgusting dead white male Beethoven and his imperialist supporters is just so last century!! NOT.

        Rather, it’s the intellectual pygmies which project this garbage who are so last century. They should get back to selling fries at McDonalds, where they belong.

      • K says:

        Glenn Gould: Beethoven’s reputation as a composer is based entirely on rumor.

  • Concertgoer who likes mask up says:

    Before the pandemic, I used to go to concerts every week, may be every other week in London & was eager to go back to concert halls when they started opening up again in May.
    But now, with the UK having exceptionally high cases rates compared to the rest of Europe & 150+ deaths every day despite vaccinations (as well as millions of cases of long Covid), I simply don’t feel safe attending concerts in full capacity halls with no mask mandate & no vaccine passports.

    There’ll always be people on here who claim that this is “scare-mongering”, “it’s just like the flu now that we’re all vaccinated”, and that “we need to learn to live with Covid”. But it’s just that I’ve made a personal decision to not spend 2-3 hours in a poorly ventilated room when an airborne virus is spreading like hellfire, even if the government says all is well.

    I feel terrible because I know how much the music industry has suffered during the pandemic & for me, nothing replaces the sound of live music. But I simply don’t find it worth attending concerts right not & risk my health and risk passing Covid onto my family members who are older than me.
    And no, it’s not “geriatric anxiety” either – I’m a healthy, young man, fully vaccinated, who would rather wait it out a little more until the pandemic is under control.

    • Living local says:

      Totally with you on this! If we had protocols in place which were actually observed in the UK, I’d go to more concerts too. I’m mid 30s & fully vaccinated, but I see the case numbers in London and make a personal choice to weigh up what risk I want to take. I have friends who have been double vaccinated but have still been really unwell with covid, so whilst they didn’t die, it was still very unpleasant and scary for them. Equally, I have got out of the habit of commuting to central London and have grown to really like not having to use the tube and living a more “local” life… the lack of wearing masks on the tubes puts me off going into London more than sitting in a concert hall to be honest. I’m still working from home so no incentive to make the unpleasant trek into town.

  • Peter says:

    Germans are very loyal to the government, and when the government asks for hysteria, they respond with hysteria. When the government will calm down, people will calm down.

    Same thing in Scandinavia. The moment the government let go of restrictions, people came back.

    Sheep will always be sheep.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      They’re the ‘good little germans’ – something the USA is frantically trying to instill in its own populace through SJWs and woke propaganda.

  • GCMP says:

    Advertising and subscriptions (or lack thereof) may also play a role. And then theaters play with things like start time to cater to one set of audience-goers and cause problems for others. For instance, Chicago Lyric Opera changed from a 730 pm weekday start to 7 pm. They said this was to accommodate train schedules but schedules haven’t changed. So, clearly done to get people who work downtown home earlier. Problem for people who don’t work downtown and have to get there and eat beforehand.

  • It didn’t help that it was also Beethoven’s 250th birthday anniversary, with even more of his music played than usual.

    I’m sure everyone can’t wait until Mahler’s next red-letter anniversary comes up …

    • debuschubertussy says:

      To be honest, I didn’t realize it was Beethoven’s 250th anniversary year or whatever. Musically speaking, it seemed like a normal amount of Beethoven like any other year (make of that what you will)

  • Lausitzer says:

    It is entirely beyond me how anyone here in Germany can get the idea to call the current situation “after Corona”. We are still in full state of emergency (“Epidemische Lage von nationaler Tragweite”), with rules in place that would be legally impossible under normal circumstances.

    Just take as an example what they call the “2G option” here: One evening in a discotheque led to 34 (or what the exact number was) cases. Local health authorities jumped to the conclusion that the vaccination certificates of these individuals must have been forged and contacted the guests of this evening, demanding proof that they are not guilty. Do concert organizers / venues really expect their audiences to return without hesitation if they have to expect such hassle and intimidation afterwards?

    I think a discussion about audiences returning or not will only make sense once the state of emergency has been lifted. If that will never happen and face mask mandates, vaccination certificates (as subscriptions to a shot every six months) and contact tracing with related orders by health authorities will be with us for the rest of our lives, then my message to the industry will be: Well, good luck!!

  • KMP says:

    Why? Because we don’t want to be policed by overly eager house staff. We don’t want to sit in half-empty halls wearing FFP masks. We don’t want to be counted when entering the restroom, or admonished for lowering our masks. We don’t want to stand outside in lines waiting to write down our addresses on forms that no one sees. We don’t want to follow colored lines. We’re vaccinated and want to be treated like adults. We’re more than ready to resume our concert visits and renew our subscriptions.

  • debuschubertussy says:

    Could it be that due to the pandemic, we’ve come to appreciate what is truly worth paying for and what we can just be happy getting for free…and that most classical music concerts, operas, etc. are simply not worth the cost?

  • Gustavo says:

    We’re all here in Berlin with Kapellmeister John Williams!

    It’s selling like warm Buletten…

    • Grabenassel says:

      well, that’s definitely NOT an “average classical concert”…..(he is conducting only own compositions….)

  • Grabenassel says:

    Well, at the Berlin Philharmonic Hall you have to wear a mask during the whole concert (and during the whole stay there), it takes much more time to get in due to ticket/ID/Vax/test checks, no backstage meeting with the artists possible after the concert, bar closed after the concert a.s.o. So all in all half the pleasure for the “average” concert-goer. We will see what happens once we can return to “normal”…..

    • Gustavo says:

      It was possible to enter the Philly in a jiffy. Had preperformance Sekt without mask. So this felt pretty normal.
      The concerts as such were extraordinary, with >13 min standing ovations yesterday.

  • Michael Marunchak says:

    I suppose European audiences have been so focused on not dying during this pandemic, that they’re forgetting to live. I’ve been to the Chicago Symphony twice thus far this season, and both performances were packed.

  • heybrook says:

    Some are still scared to attend the concert even they are vaccinated. Then the unvaccinated are not allowed to attend the concerts. And some are disagreed with the mandates and refused to attend the concerts. What’s left?

  • Sean Witherby says:

    Yes and maybe being forced to be vaccinated to come to these events is the reason why.

  • Operacat says:

    I’m a musician, and have A LOT less disposable income than before All This. I’m sure I’m not the only one budgeting for the cheap seats less often than I used to. I am also planning far less in advance than I used to – what would I do if I got sick, or the performance was cancelled? I’m immensely glad that performances are back, but it’s going to be a long while before things feel anything like normal again.