Why are most concerts performed just once?

15th December 2023 | Concerts, Musings, Reviews | 1 comment

Winter in the Pentland HillsWe were discussing the fact that there are so few concert reviews in the newspaper these days. Time was when most concerts in prestigious venues were reviewed the next day. But now there are few reviews. What gets covered? – the Proms, perhaps, and some special visits of celebrity conductors, soloists or foreign orchestras.

I suppose the existence of concert reviews in newspapers has always been a slightly strange thing, because most concerts are performed only once. What’s the point of reviewing an event which is in the past? Readers can’t go and hear it – it’s over.

If a theatre play is reviewed, and you like the sound of it, you can try to book a ticket to see it during its run. If you read a tantalising opera review, you might well have a chance to catch the opera while it’s still there. Same with cinema and ballet. But with most concerts, you can only make a mental note that you’d like to hear that performer or that programme if they ever come to, or come back to, your town.

The single concert review is really a kind of cultural marker, an indication that the event is worth recording and describing because its content was significant. I used to enjoy reading concert reviews, even from a distance, because they gave me a sense of how people were playing, what they were playing and how their programmes were being received. And of course for musicians, quoting concert reviews was for a very long time a crucial part of getting future invitations.

Why are so many concerts performed only once?  As a musician, I would often love to have the chance to perform a programme several times in the same place. All the work that goes into a performance would feel so much more justified if lots of audiences would come and hear it, night after night.

During the pandemic I was several times asked to repeat a programme twice in quick succession so that two smaller, socially-distanced audiences could hear it on the same afternoon or evening. Essentially, that meant dividing the audience in half and playing to each half. That felt a bit weird because each audience was so small – sitting far apart and wearing masks.  It was difficult for any of us, I think, to feel ‘an atmosphere’.

But the reality seems to be that no community can provide an audience night after night for the same programme played by the same artists. Hence the need for touring – playing the same programme, but in a different town each time. Because that adds the strain of travel – finding your way around, looking for a piano to practise on, figuring out where to eat, sleeping badly, and all the rest of it – it feels very different from repeating the same concert in the same place. Different audiences are extremely interesting, of course, but it would be lovely just to ‘bed down’ and perform several times in the same place like actors, dancers, and singers in operas and musicals do. And if readers liked what they read in a review, they could still come and hear you.

1 Comment

  1. Alan

    Isn’t it common practice at some festivals on the continent? I seem to recall, for example , the Vienna Phil visiting a festival and playing the same Bruckner programme twice.
    I am sure it would be hugely popular at the EIF for concert performances of opera that the organisers must know will sell out.
    Sadly I think the days of the Chicago or Berlin orchestras visiting the EIF are over


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