Maybe They Stand So Much Because Their Butts Are Asleep

[Note: seeing that most people were off for Labor Day, I’ve left yesterday’s post in place for today]
The Partial Observer published an article of mine today that examines the issue of concert length. Like many things in this business, math is not an absolute and a two hour concert is rarely 120 minutes in length. But why are the majority of orchestras in this business so hell bent on the two hour concert format?…


Are patrons really going to complain that they aren’t getting their money’s worth? Or maybe a sizeable percentage of concerts should run no more than 90 minutes cost less and orchestras should give more performances? In the larger metropolitan area a 60 minute concert starting at 10:00 p.m. could draw a sizeable night owl crowd? Maybe a similar length concert series starting at 6:00 would attract the downtown after work crowd?

Of course, some orchestras are experimenting with these formats already but the key word is experiment. Other forms of live entertainment usually have a wide variety of offerings when it comes to length but orchestral classical music seems so rigid. What experiences have you had in this area? Give my article at The Partial Observer a read and weigh in with what you think.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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4 thoughts on “Maybe They Stand So Much Because Their Butts Are Asleep

  1. Eugene Ormandy once told me that he thought 72-74 minutes of actual music (not counting the time between selections) on a concert made it the perfect length! He certainly enjoyed success!

  2. On the other hand, there were those crazy four-hour concerts through much of the 19th century, when people were less decorous (i.e. talking, eating, drinking, etc.) during concerts.

  3. Are patrons really going to complain that they aren’t getting their money’s worth?

    At a summer out-door classical performance in Columbus recently, impending storms led to the decision to do away with a planned intermission, and remove one work, while continuing to include a piano soloist and most of the rest of the program. In all, the concert was shortened by about 20 minutes. All were able to enjoy the music and leave before the thunderstorms ravaged the site. Wouldn’t you know it, however. We heard from a most irrate patron who felt that he hadn’t gotten his money’s worth and(concert was only $18!).

  4. I think it has more to do with the (perceived) economics of orchestra management – most orchestras want to “get their money’s worth” from the musicians they employ, so they program music that takes advantage of the maximum number of minutes each musician can perform per series. Of course, this philosophy is partial at best, erroneous at worst. We need to be congnizant not only of our internal economic factors, but external ones such as the supply/demand balance that exists within the communities we serve.

    Shorter concerts, if more desireable than their more traditional two-hour counterparts, will sell more seats and ultimately help propel the industry forward.

    As one of my favorite BMW advertisements says, “not taking risks is risky”.

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