Edinburgh is stunned as Philadelphia scraps Beethoven 9th

Edinburgh is stunned as Philadelphia scraps Beethoven 9th


norman lebrecht

August 12, 2022

The festival has been horrified by the loss of one of its highlights.

Here is what patrons are being told in the most diplomatic terms:

Dear Mr [ ]

I am emailing to inform you that unfortunately, as The Philadelphia Orchestra’s COVID-19 protocols differ from current UK guidance, it has become necessary to change the programme for the Thursday 25 August concert to accommodate the orchestra’s preferences.

The orchestra will now perform:

Beethoven Symphony No 5

Rachmaninov Isle of the Dead

This is in replacement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The concert has been renamed Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on our website to reflect this change.

Regrettably, this means that the Edinburgh Festival Chorus will not take part in this concert. However, they will still perform as planned in our Closing Concert, alongside the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the National Youth Choir of Scotland, on Sunday 28 August. We are confident that we have sufficient measures in place to ensure the safety of the chorus and orchestra to perform on stage together, following standard practice in UK concert performances.

If you no longer wish to attend this concert, please let me know by emailing martina.furlan@eif.co.uk. If you’re happy to attend, your tickets remain valid and we look forward to welcoming you to the Usher Hall.

Best wishes,

The festival chorus are seething. It’s also a major snub to the audience.


  • Gustav9 says:

    This is another blow to the Philadelphians European tour which already had serious issues with a dearth of ticket sales for the Edinburgh and BBC Proms concerts that include Florence Price’s First symphony. This latest setback verges on the farcical. If there were issues related to Covid and Beethoven 9, these should have been obvious a long time ago.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    What’s wrong with the orchestra? Don’t blame EIF they are trying to cope with……?

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Pathetic, gutless, deluded litte virtue signallers.

  • Player says:

    What pussies!

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    The “Isle of the Dead” will sound really good, if that’s any consolation.

  • brassybruins says:

    Given that high profile “super-spreader” concerts in America have been after playing with choirs, this isn’t surprising. A bit irresponsible that they even agreed to Beethoven 9 in the first place.

    At least they didn’t outright cancel their tour like Boston did when 30 people got sick after the Britten Requiem.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Covid isn’t a problem in the UK any more. Didn’t the whole orchestra get tested before they flew over?

  • Shark says:

    The RNSO, one of the worst orchestras in Britain, playing with a Scottish chorus to close a festival – crikey, how could we possibly want to miss that!? Could it be as bad as last night of the Proms? Bin bangers ahoy!

  • James Cook says:


  • Tim Walton says:

    The Festival should tell the orchestra to s*d off back to the US.

  • Benjamin says:

    The Philadelphia orchestra was once one of the great American orchestras.

    Now it is so smug, condescending and patronising and is heading down rabbit holes in search of political correctness.

    I wouldn’t cross the street to hear them now, especially with some of the inferior content they programmed last season and plan for the next one!

    • soavemusica says:

      Fear not, in addition to a symphony, which is justified as great by “social justice”, you might get a free lecture from the mighty SJW Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

      I would attend on the first day of N E V E R.

    • Don Ciccio says:

      The problem is that it still is a great orchestra, which has fallen in the hands of idiots.

      And even worse, Yannick *is* talented. I did like some of his work at the Met, as I wrote before. Problem is that he has no brains.

    • Woman Conductor says:

      Philadelphia Orchestra will reach greatness again when they hire Vanessa Benelli Mosell as their music director.

  • Mr Leon E. Bosch says:

    When did the Philadelphia Orchestra first discover that they had been contracted to perform Beethoven 9?

  • A Singer says:

    Does anyone have more detail about the ‘protocol differences’?

  • Porteroso says:

    Sounds like Philadelphia isn’t forcing everyone to wear masks anymore, and the soloists for Beethoven 9 won’t be on stage with unmasked musicians. Seems like other soloists could be found. And sounds ridiculous.

  • Dietmar says:

    Norman, could you please enlighten us as to what the difference in protocol is between the two orchestras?

    • Cy says:

      The orchestra management wanted the chorus to sing while masked. The chorus refused to wear masks while singing. Too bad the “safe and effective” injections were so overwhelmingly ineffective. If they had performed as anticipated when workers (including orchestra musicians) were being forced to choose between jab or job last year, this wouldn’t be an issue.

  • Tom says:

    Them’s protocols. The substitute program is not inferior, and many would prefer it. I hope chorus members will at least be offered comp tickets.

  • Nick2 says:

    How is it that the Orchestra’s covid19 protocols only became known as different from UK protocols two weeks in advance? Have these protocols in the USA changed in recent weeks to make a long advertised programme in Edinburgh impossible to perform? Seems like either someone has not been doing their job or the Orchestra finds it has not enough rehearsal time – given the length of its tour and variety of other repertoire.

  • just saying says:

    Beethoven’s 9th swapped out for Beethoven’s 5th. I agree, that is a crummy replacement. Why not at least one of the longer Beethoven symphonies like 3 or 6?

    • Barry says:

      YNS has been leading the Beethoven symphonies a lot with the Philadelphia the past couple years because of the 200th anniversary of the composer’s death. While I haven’t seen the performances in person, I’ve heard a few online and via the car radio, and have seen him lead most of the symphonies earlier in his tenure.

      To back up your statement, he takes the fifth at such a fast tempo that it sounds extreme even by modern standards. In my opinion, he does a much better job with the Eroica. And they are performing that – as well as Dvorak’s 7th – in other cities on this tour.

      They are only playing one concert in Berlin, as opposed to two or more in the other cities, but have scheduled the Price 1st there instead of the Eroica or Dvorak’s 7th. I understand them playing the Price in cities where they play multiple concerts given that they’ve recorded her symphonies for DG and want to promote that. But I would argue that when playing a city as important in the music world as Berlin for a single concert – especially given that they very rarely perform there – they should go with what will showcase the orchestra best. And that would be the Dvorak 7th or Eroica, both of which they excelled at when I saw them perform those pieces some years back.

    • Charles says:

      Enough of that Ninth. The Fifth is as great as any other Beethoven symphony, or greater. I can always listen to it, and have avoided the Ninth for a good long while now.

  • Miche says:

    The audiences of Edinburgh feel “snubbed” because one of the world’s great orchestras performs one of the world’s great symphonies for them? Is this an audience of adults or 5 year olds?

  • christopher storey says:

    That is really no more than 1 hour’s worth of music. Why bother coming at all ?

    • ML says:

      No different to a few Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. Or many Wigmore Hall concerts. Quality, not quantity. Nezet-Seguin also offers brilliant encores that can be quite long. There are also many patrons (first timers, children, some elderly attendees, etc) who like shorter pieces with longer intervals.

  • Dwayne says:

    Perhaps, COVID worries, or soloist cancellations, could be the reason for the cancellation. Of course, I’m speculating! To line up the choruses, and then cancel, at the last moment, so to speak, when all those plans were made, would, of course, be extremely upsetting, for leadership, chorus members, audience, conductor, and Orchestra! Perhaps this was an unavoidable decision!

  • Brenda Peterson says:

    It doesn’t make sense that if the chorus cannot sing Beethoven’s Ninth due to the contagious nature.of the Wuhan flu, that it is safe for them to sing another composition.

    • x says:

      The chorus is no longer singing on the program…

    • ML says:

      They’re not singing with the Philadelphia Orchestra any more. They are of course welcome to sing with other musicians or ensembles who have different requirements.

    • Musician says:

      No they are not performing with Philadelphia orchestra at all because of their very late in the day mask wearing requests.

      They are still performing works during the festival with other orchestras though…those who are adhering to covid protocol uk guidance.

  • Andy says:

    Edinburgh is stunned??….HARDLY!! I think you greatly overestimate the general public’s opinion on classical music.

  • Maria says:

    I thought you obeyed the rules of the country your were in, not the ones you were leaving?? They should never have accepted the engagement in the first place, brought in the BBC Scottish or the RSNO.
    Using covid rules from Philalelphia in Scotland is just taking the p! They’re coming to the Proms in September for two nights as well, probably all masked up. No wonder the Edinburgh Festival Chorus is furious.

  • Una says:

    Orchestral preferences? What about the programme they agreed to do and get paid a mint for? Total disrespect by a band of whimps!

  • Edward says:

    It’s astounding that some quarters in the Arts, a sector massively affected by the various government responses to covid, seem hell-bent on shooting themselves in the foot by clinging to covid hysteria as long as possible.

  • Context matters says:

    In the interest of full context this is the first stop on a large multi city European tour for the orchestra. The risk of a Covid outbreak from this performance would jeopardize the remaining concerts on the tour. (A major outbreak took out nearly 20% of the orchestra at a fairly recent Carnegie concert with chorus) Therefore, the orchestra respectfully requested the chorus mask for this performance to protect the musicians and the rest of the tour. However, the chorus is refusing this request. Understandably, the chorus sees masking as less than ideal but under the circumstances it was the best solution. The orchestra is performing Beethoven 9 tonight with a masked chorus so it could have been performed in Scotland as well but it’s clear the chorus’ refusal to mask under the circumstances certainly owns part of the blame for this disappointment for all involved.

    • Herr Forkenspoon says:

      I’ll bet that it’s really fun to sing wearing a mask.

    • Michael Turner says:

      How is a chorus supposed to sing in a mask?

      • Anthony Sayer says:

        Many did while covid was actively circulating and some still do. They hate it, but they prefer it to not working.

    • Rhaika says:

      Thank you for providing context that the author SHOULD HAVE done. Reading most of the comments, it is clear that had this info been included in the article, they’d point fingers more so at the chorus and not Phil management, who are also responsible for accepting the program, before factoring Covid sentiment/Covid spread amongst them all.

    • SVM says:

      Masks ceased to be a legal requirement in Scotland in April (and ceased to be a legal requirement in neighbouring England in January), so Philly had plenty of time to discuss the matter if that had really been such a concern. In the absence of a legal requirement or contractual provision, the chorus has every right to refuse to impose such a ridiculous measure at short notice, especially in view of how impractical it would have been to sing in a mask (I assume that Philly were demanding “singing in masks”, as opposed to “wearing masks when not performing”, since the latter would have entailed demanding that audiences be masked, which would be completely untenable now). In any case, the preponderance of scientific evidence suggests that masks do *not* prevent the spread of respiratory viruses.

      • Dr Spick says:

        Completely agree that the whole thing should have been discussed months ago and leaving it to the last moment was shambolic. But you are dead wrong about masks – there is a vast amount of evidence showing that masks reduce the spread of Covid.

      • Anthony Sayer says:

        Doesn’t only suggest it, it pretty much proves it.

      • Kenny says:

        the latter would have entailed demanding that audiences be masked, which would be completely untenable now.

        Don’t understand “untenable.” Have only been to three performances this year, St. Matthew at Carnegie, Rake at Met, Hamlet at Park Armory. Fully masked for hours at each, as required, along with everyone else. Where is the problem?

    • Brad M says:

      The initial agreement was that the chorus members would take a lateral flow test the day before the concert and then the day of the concert. This was agreed months ago. Two weeks ago the orchestra asked the chorus to wear masks. The chorus were surveyed and did not want to.

    • Murdo says:

      Thanks to you and Brad M for providing the context. The decisions of the Orchestra and of the Chorus are each entirely reasonable but of course this should have been decided months ago. I am surprised and saddened by the anti-mask anti-scientific comments here.

  • drummerman says:

    wouldn’t they have discussed all of this way in advance?

  • Ellingtonia says:

    Simple answer, cancel the Philadelphians from appearing and send them back to America to ruminate on their decision!

    • ML says:

      If the festival goers are too petty to attend the Beethoven 5th performance, we’d be very happy to have the Philadelphia Orchestra a day early in London. I’ve got tickets for their Proms gig. They could even perform outdoors if there is no vacant and staffed hall available! (Many patrons were asking for a Prom in the park concert this year but none has been scheduled.) That programme would be perfect for us- love Beethoven’s 5th and Rachmaninov’s IOTD.

  • Margaret Koscielny says:

    How petty to complain. I suppose the health of the chorus, the orchestra, and the audience is not as important as certain concert goers, critics, and chorus members think they are, by comparison.

  • Fenway says:

    Phuck Philadelphia. They should just stay in their crime ridden city and stay under their leftwing covid rock.

  • CA says:

    It’s not like this decision should have been made before now….probably shouldn’t have programmed it in the first place given covid. (My opinion.)

    • Musician says:

      Exactly. Why plan to perform a choral symphony in the first place if you are worried about covid. The chorus has been rehearsing this work and others for many many months and the mask requirement was not raised until a few weeks ago. Totally unprofessional to leave it till the last minute to make demands on a chorus who, let’s remember, don’t get paid for any of their work.

  • George says:

    So what does this mean in concrete terms? The chorus wouldn’t wear masks as requested by the orchestra? That would seem to be the main issue. British arts orgs are generally less careful when it comes to Covid safety measures than their American counterparts.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    It’s a shame that the two performing organizations could not simply agree to adhere to the more strict of the two policies.

    • SVM says:

      That would have resulted in the absurdity of a masked chorus performing for an unmasked audience. British audiences will not tolerate mask mandates any longer. Many concertgoers in London (including me), young and old alike, stopped wearing masks as soon as they were no longer a legal requirement (in England, the mask mandate was repealed in late-January; in Scotland, in April). And even when mask mandates were in place in the UK, they did not apply to performers on stage.

  • Libby Lamb says:

    From an online browse it seems this orchestra makes a habit of cancelling Beethoven’s 9th!

  • David S says:

    Opening Concert: full Usher Hall, large BBC Scottish with extra brass in the dress circle, full EIF Chorus and NYCOS girls, 3 soloists. Philadelphia should have played as contracted, and respect the prevailing Covid protocols in the country they are visiting.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Just recently, the Minnesota Symphony and Chorus performed Mahler 8. The BIS label will be making their commercial recording of M8 from those performances (the usual three nights worth). The choirs were masked and sounded just fine. It takes to to tango.

    • Hal says:

      The Philadelphia Orchestra’s Board Chairman since 2019 was for 17 years CEO of the University of Pa Health System. He helped incubate ground breaking innovations that have reshaped 21st century healthcare delivery.Before that, President of the University of Chicago Hospitals and Health System. This may explain the cautionary Covid protocols in place for the Orchestra. This the start of their 1st European tour since the lockdown. Their request was for chorus masking. Minnesota recently had 3 performances of The Mahler 8th with the chorus masked. It was a farewell for Osmo Vanska and was recorded for CD release. Reports are the chorus sounded just fine.

  • ML says:

    It’s not a police state. If ticket holders don’t like it they are welcome to return their tickets.

    We once went a concert where the (world famous) soprano bailed out on the orchestra within less than 10 hours’ notice – leaving them no time to find a singer who had prepared the programme or rehearsed, or even to notify concert goers. In the end, the orchestra added on an orchestral piece that they rehearsed at the last minute by the same composer, and their concertmaster jumped in to play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto no 1 with no rehearsal (something the orchestra hadn’t performed for over a year).

    The audience were given 2 minutes to decide if they wanted to walk out and get a refund from the box office (but no refunds from train travel, dinner costs after a long journey or parking fees for those who drove in). We stayed. The orchestra and conductor were excellent in the whole programme. The concertmaster gave one of the best Tchaikovsky VC performances ever produced. No wrong notes, and full of power, emotion and gentleness at the appropriate places.

    I assume the singers will be paid the fees promised when contracts were signed. If performers feel that strongly about missing out Beethoven 9th this year for whatever reason, they can always organise their own concert. The chorus will still get a gig at EIF.

    Complaints about not getting “the symphony we want” are daft. There are plenty of recordings of Beethoven 9th and performances of it are given all the time. Any personal carping of the orchestra or conductor are equally ludicrous (due to jealousy?) Remember, just 2 years ago we were worrying how many orchestras would go bankrupt and how many musicians would have to give up their careers or music festivals would have to close. When did we go so quickly from grateful to petty?

    With various closures, crises and calamities going on nowadays, how about just being concerned that Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nezet- Seguin will arrive safely with no instruments broken by the airport or airline staff.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      It’s not so much about the programme, more about Americans yet again exporting their practice abroad as law. We’re sick of it.

  • ML says:

    Major snub? Don’t make me laugh. I have gotten umpteen emails like this all summer regarding eminent musicians, singers and conductors performing in London.

    I don’t keep track of which concerto or which symphony any more. I’m not bothered what reason it is – if the performer or performers are not comfortable playing or are unable to play X but feel they will give a great performance of Y, then by all means change it. As long as it’s not a last minute cancellation of the entire show.

    Any Beethoven symphony is an excellent piece and hardly an inferior substitution. If they were going to change it to John Cage’s “4’33” (4 minutes, 33 seconds) you might have cause to complain.

  • Charles says:

    The chorus are “seething” and audience has been “snubbed.” Sounds like the anti-vaccine, anti-mask
    crowd in the US. With the pandemic not over, is Edinburgh joining the Trumper anti-science movement? Or is Norman exaggerating the reaction in favor of a bit of hype?

    • SVM says:

      Hardly anyone wears masks in the UK these days. The preponderance of scientific evidence suggests that masks do *not* prevent the spread of respiratory viruses such as COVID-19.

      • Veronica says:

        Can you actually give any concrete examples of this ‘preponderance of evidence’? Though not. Instead why not actually protect your neighbours & those who’ve had their lives ruined through long Covid. Or does that not exist in the imaginary world you live in

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Quick, back behind your sofa before the covids get you. Don’t worry, an immigrant will deliver sushi to your door.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    I’m devastated. How am I ever going to get to hear Florence Price’s Symphony N°1 now?

  • Somnus says:

    The Chorus is indeed seething but many are seething as much at each other and the management of the EIF as at the Philadelphia Orchestra. A few days ago the orchestra requested the chorus wear masks due to concerns about Covid. The chorus was balloted on the issue and so many members said no that it was felt it was not feasible to continue with the concert. There is a feeling among some chorus members that the leadership of the festival put the chorus in an invidious position, passing the buck onto them rather than standing square behind the chorus and holding the Orchestra to their commitment. Instead there is now a situation where Chorus members are blaming each other, morale has nose-dived, and volunteer singers who freely give vast amounts of their time throughout the year are questioning whether they want to continue. One said to me the only reason she was staying was in the belief that Nicola Benedetti will hopefully be far more attuned to – and supportive of – the Chorus than the current administration.

  • Anniev says:

    An organization is entitled to do what it deems necessary to preserve the health of its employees. The only question I’d have involves whether there was a way to avoid making this decision with so little time before the performance.

  • Fred Franklin says:

    The orchestra that’s played through polio, small pox, the Great Depression, WWI, WWII, and a dozen deadly influenza outbreaks over the last century are now afraid to play because they may catch a virus they’ve all had despite being inoculated multiple times. These musicians are an embarrassment to their institution’s glorious history.

    Im old enough to remember when musicians were independent thinking liberals. Not cowards hiding behind big tech, big pharma, and the mainstream media.

    Unfortunately our present day orchestras will ride Covid protocols into the destruction of the art form. It’s sad and pathetic.

  • Anonymous says:

    The Philadelphia Orchestra’s C-19 protocols are the same as virtually every US orchestra. Canadian orchestras, too. It is too bad they couldn’t be persuaded to adopt local practices for the purposes of the festival. In the UK masks were dropped and jabs were recognized as other than the promised Mecca they were advertised to be quite some time ago. Our own Supreme Court ruled last fall that the jabs are not even legitimate vaccines and ought to be stopped immediately (a case won by RFK, Jr. and the Children’s Health Defense.) Do the State and Federal governments and US businesses want to pay attention to SCOTUS over the CDC? Apparently not. North American orchestras have been infiltrated and freely instituted Fascist business principles quite some time ago. Covid gave them an unusual opportunity to flout the laws, this time publicly. (Even Fauci says masks promote bacterial pneumonia and are neither necessary nor effective, if you were listening at the right moments. Other times he shamelessly promoted them.) The orchestras are clinging to old information as much as the US Military is. IMO, someone intends to kill off classical music in this country. Make no mistake, it’s another Cultural Revolution.

  • Glad the Inahler says:

    As a US-based professional classical musician (NOT in the Philly Orchestra) I am so beyond fed up with so many US orchestra’s draconian pandemic protocols that gave up even TRYING to be current with what our current understanding of how CV-19 is behaving.

    If this “industry” does not quickly become more adaptive, I believe in another year or two we will have to contend with an unfathomable level of irrelevance to our communities that will make us pine for the days of a well-attended pop music concert.

  • Anthony L says:

    Covid has exposed the foolishness of humanity as higher in level than the Flood of Noah and as ubiquitous, which is a very useful indicator of why we are all drowning in error and wrong policies of every kind.