Early last month I bookmarked an article by Jeremy Reynolds in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette intending to come back to address it in a blog post in some manner. In the article, Reynolds was arguing for shorter classical music concerts. At the time, I figured it would never happen broadly due to the inertia of tradition.
Now with public events shutdown and artists and organizations streaming their performances, I strongly suspect a lot more people are going to be open to exploring the basic concepts Reynolds espouses.
If concerts were shorter, the quality of musicianship could increase significantly. I often chastise classical groups for bloated, unnecessarily long recitals. An hour of tight, balanced, in-tune playing is vastly preferable to a two- or three-hour slog of mediocrity.
While some organizations say a program should fill an evening, offering quantity over quality is a poor strategy even if funders tend to favor inventive and diverse programming.
He also accuses ever lengthening intermissions of impeding the momentum of the experience. Since his article opens with him advising friends to go home at intermission, I imagine he would be all for a short, intermissionless performance which would solve two problems at once.
He addresses the idea that you have to give people their money’s worth:
I realize that the cost of ticket prices (which I recently argued are too expensive given how little revenue tickets generate) causes some groups to feel they need to hit a minimum threshold of time, but this is arbitrary. Maybe it’s not about the length of the program, but what an organization does with it that matters most.
The New World Symphony, a forward-thinking training ensemble in Miami, rolled out a series of concerts years ago that ran for 30 minutes and 60-75 minutes.
“The trick is not to think you have to fill an evening,” orchestra President Howard Herring said. “The question isn’t just: What music do I want to bring forth? but What is the uncompromised artistic experience that only we can provide?”
Now that groups and individuals are streaming their performances, they are almost certainly getting a lot of exercise evaluating and providing a highly focused uncompromised artistic experience. If things ever move back to the former semblance of normal, I think it would be a safe bet that those who continued to employ the “muscles” they developed while focusing on delivering an uncompromised experience will be on a firmer path to success.