Breaking: An orchestra is declared unsafe

Breaking: An orchestra is declared unsafe


norman lebrecht

June 08, 2023

The Work Environment Authority has notified the DR Symphony Orchestra in Copenhagen that its practices ‘constitute a violation of working environment legislation’ and that it is not ‘fully safe in terms of health due to the large workload and time pressure.’

Apparently, several musicians are on long-term sick leave brought on by stress.

A DR official said: ‘There is no doubt that we are an orchestra at a high international level. This naturally places high demands on performance, both physically and mentally, and can also contribute to some employees experiencing greater pressure.’

So that’s all right, then.

Read more here (in Danish).


  • Save the MET says:

    There are always more fish in the sea that can play well and under stress.

  • Qwerty says:

    “Working in the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and in Denmark

    The working schedule is based on 24 hours a week plus 15 hours individual preparation based on 42 weeks per year. Normally rehearsals are held Monday to Friday with concerts twice a week.”

  • Tamino says:

    There have been other orchestras with such symptoms. Usually it is due to bad management, not a question of workload. It’s a question of sense of ownership of one’s creative work.
    Orchestras with very high workloads, but also high degrees of self organisation and sense of ownership over one’s work – like Vienna Phil or Berlin Phil – have usually also much better mental and psychosomatic health environments. Radio orchestras on the other hand can be infamous for bad and nepotistic management, causing a lot of mental and physical health problems.

    • IC225 says:

      It’s certainly true that radio orchestras can have problematic management – too often they’re simply treated as a big train-set by radio producers whose priorities are elsewhere and see no need to talk or listen to orchestral musicians. I’ve certainly seen this in the UK (though it’s also true that these orchestras are some of the best-paid and least over-worked in the country, with generous benefits packages – so it might be argued that it’s a trade-off).

      Equally, player-run freelance orchestras (even ones that trade heavily on their progressive, egalitarian credentials) can become nightmares of cliques, infighting and exclusionary practices.

      There’s no one magic solution. It seems that it isn’t the structure of the organisation, so much as the organisational philosophy and sense of collective responsibility, that makes an orchestra a happy and healthy place to work. Some of the best, in my experience, have not been player-run at all – but have allowed the musicians large amounts of autonomy in non-contract work, and a meaningful (if not decisive) voice in artistic decision-making.

    • Novagerio says:

      Tamino, just remember that the Vienna Phil’s main activity happens at the Staatsoper. And that’s a true workload.

      • Tamino says:

        I know, but still that orchestra has a very high sense of ownership and self organization, even when their Staatsoper foundation is not exactly self managed.

  • Marie says:

    Many orchestras in Denmark have management by fear and toxic environment caused by passive aggressive behavior of not addressing problems straight on.
    The fact that the work environment Authorities is sounding alarm bells is concerning to say the least.

  • DR Insider says:

    The only stress here is the stress of being unable to reconcile loss of ability with ego. It’s not long term stress leave, it’s a pre-retirement vacation. Very fitting that “Karen” is a Danish name.

  • Eroicamaximus says:

    Goodness, and there’s Yuja playing solo through multiple sonatas recently, over 6hrs was it (?), in one day. Sight readers in the wind section playing a few staves are stressed out. What on earth.

    • Takemitsu says:

      It sounds like you have not experienced the daily pressure that comes with performing at a world class level – under a microscope – with the constant expectation of perfection. I have. It is a grind for even the most accomplished players.
      Using Yuja as an example without putting it in context is not helpful. She herself has acknowledged the tremendous stress she has experienced. And she is the most stupendously talented outlier anyone can imagine.

    • Tamino says:

      Yuja is in complete control and ownership of her business and artistic life, and reaps the full financial and sociological gratification benefits of it. That is the crucial difference. If she had to do the same workload dancing to the pipe of upper management, without having anything substantial to decide herself, for a mediocre fee, she would get sick very quickly.

  • Gerry Ansel says:

    Too bad. The musicians are no doubt aware that life in a major orchestra can be a grind, but that is the price they have to pay as world-class musicians.

  • Guest says:

    Performing professionally can be, and usually is, a VERY stressful environment. However, a great deal of that stress is because you’re usually made to work with a Conductor/Director who is not, to put it mildly, User Friendly. Most Directors are narcissistic abusers because “they” are THE authority on EVERY subject-they are the last word! It’s amazing that they are almost all affected by this disorder! The only Director/Conductor that I have worked with who was an absolute joy, was John Williams. He was just wonderful to work with and we had a great time. He had written a beautiful Clarinet Concerto for the Principal Clarinetist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and we were privileged to premier that work.

  • MMcGrath says:

    Entitled snowflakes everywhere.

    Playing under Toscanini or Böhm today would probably result in “PTSD.” The national tour of the Metropolitan Opera – if it were carried out as in the 50s-60s today -would undoubtedly cause trauma to participants.
    Gosh, what must active Ukrainian ensembles feel relative to the cossetted Danes as they perform under wartime conditions??

  • Peter Cressall says:

    Too stressful for you? Work somewhere else.

    • Another Orchestral Musician says:

      Right, like that would solve the problem, come on.

    • Tamino says:

      And where does a tenured orchestra musician go, who already works in the top orchestra of her small country?

      The solution to bad management is not improving management, but making musicians quit?

      Given there are always a few people who are never happy. But if it reaches the level of goverment officials being alarmed?