The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music poll: Should classical music concerts be shorter and have no intermission? | November 27, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

It is an interesting question to ponder at a time when most observers say that most of us today have shortened attention spans – thanks to the Internet and TV; to new media. social media and texting; and to multi-tasking.

It is especially interesting to think about at a time when so many people are looking for appealing and untraditional ways to present classical music, including the use of non-traditional venues such as night clubs and coffee houses where a long program is simply not practical or desirable.

Could it be that the concert paradigm is shifting; that maybe more is really less and less is really more?

Is it possible that today’s audiences find that a long and well-planned concert — usually lasting 1-1/2 to 2 hours these days — is not so much a great deal as an ordeal?

Maybe as lot of us might be shy to admit that, deep-down, we would prefer going to shorter concerts, maybe even concerts short enough that you don’t even need an intermissions?

I have also considered shorter but more continuous program with two very short breaks rather than one long intermission, which often interrupts the mood, stops the momentum and tries one’s patience, especially after a busy day or week or having to go to work or somewhere early in the morning.

Could that mean programming more short works and fewer long or even epic works?

And could shorter programs mean lower ticket prices? Or the chance to attend more events?

These issues are all worth thinking about and came up in a recent thought-provoking blog I read and want to share:

What do you think about shorter concerts?

And what about eliminating or curtailing intermissions?

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music


  1. […] Classical music poll: Should classical music concerts be shorter and have no intermission? […]

    Pingback by Classical Movements (a.k.a. Temmy & Venus 2010) « Stories in 5 Minutes — August 18, 2012 @ 11:48 pm

  2. Many previous commenters have already expressed this–I think it really depends on the repertoire. For an extreme example: having been to many concerts featuring contemporary music (often all premieres), short concerts of 50 minutes, or even shorter chunks with breaks in between, work well to allow the listeners to regain attention after some hard listening. Hour-long concerts during mid-day is nice too: one can tag on other activities to it.

    Concerts, like people, can be in all different shapes and sizes. What I do appreciate is that an approximate concert length be printed on the program, and the length be followed. Some concerts in Europe that I have been to even provided approximate run time of each piece. That info is especially great for people who depends on public transportation, and can avoid that horrible “I’m trapped!” feeling that a surprisingly long piece can create.

    Comment by Jerry Hui — November 28, 2011 @ 1:10 pm

    • Hi Jerry,
      Your first point is similar to Scott Gendel’s — perhaps not surprising since you are both composers and performers, and since you both have been exposed to many different kinds of concerts with different kinds of music.
      And I agree totally with your poit about printing approximate lengths.
      The Madison Symphony Orchestra programs do that, but not the programs of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the UW School of Music, the Wisconsin Union Theater and many other music groups in town.
      It would, I agree, be a service in many productive and satisfying ways.
      Disclosure, so to speak, leads to better and more realistic expectations.
      As always, thanks for reading and then replying so thoughtfully.

      Comment by welltemperedear — November 28, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

  3. Yes Fred, I agree. Recently I heard the Mariinsky Orchestra for the second time and even 2 hours was not enough. A spectacular concert that could have gone on all night. But I guess the musicians get a bit tired and poor old Valery Gergiev must have been exhausted. It was their last concert of their long N. American tour. Same goes for the Rotterdam Philharmonic, superb players made the evening spectacular.
    We pay full price for concerts and I would feel short-changed if it was only an hour long, hardly enough time to get into the mood after a good Egmont let alone a big symphony. Sibelius’ 7th would fit in tho’.

    Comment by dansk66 — November 28, 2011 @ 9:31 am

  4. I generally think we need more diversity in the kinds of concert programs presented. So, the current 2-hour long concert with intermission is a nice format for lots of reasons. So is a one-hour quickie. So are numerous tiny intermissions as you discuss earlier. So are gigantic 4-hour marathons, when the music asks for it. There are pluses and minuses to each kind of concert, so I think we should encourage them all. So yes, let’s stop shoving square pegs into round holes, but there are also a lot of round pegs out there.

    Comment by Scott — November 27, 2011 @ 6:26 pm

    • Hi Scott,
      Something for everyone and for all kinds of music seems eminently reasonable to me.
      We should always take our cues form the music.
      But I think there is more room for quickie concerts than we provide right now.
      Also for marathons, which were popular in Beethoven’s day at which movements and not entire works were premiered and played.
      Thank you for providing a composer’s point of view.

      Comment by welltemperedear — November 27, 2011 @ 8:22 pm

  5. I like it the way it is. But I am sure that there would be a general interest in shorter concerts. Many people like to combine a concert with a nice dinner out or a date. But often it is too early before the concert and too late afterwards. Shorter concerts could solve that problem.

    Comment by taktgefuehle — November 27, 2011 @ 5:54 pm

    • That is an excellent point you make about timing and other activities before or after the concert. Thank you for reading and then replying thoughtfully and sensibly. I think you are right. Let’s see what others say.

      Comment by welltemperedear — November 27, 2011 @ 8:19 pm

  6. I am not in favor of shorter concerts. I like the format of a concert that lasts 90 minutes or so, with an intermission. It allows for a nice selection of repertoire. Barbara

    Comment by Barbara Furstenberg — November 27, 2011 @ 5:09 pm

    • Hi Barbara,
      Thank you for reading and replying.
      I think 90 minutes is fine.
      But a lot that is advertised as 90 minutes seems to end up being more like 120 or more, no?
      And contrasting repertoire is indeed important.

      Comment by welltemperedear — November 27, 2011 @ 5:28 pm

  7. I would be OK with a shortened or omitted intermission, but would be even more supportive of stopping the long-winded, occasionally amateurish pre-concert lectures. If I want a lecture, I’ll take a class, attend a talk or whatever. At a concert/recital, what I prefer is good, serious music, period.

    Comment by Larry Retzack — November 27, 2011 @ 1:42 pm

    • Hi Larry,
      I think many people who know the music well would agree with you.
      But I also think that statistics show such pre-concert talks are popular with the public and help build audiences.
      I also think most are voluntary about the attendance and so don’t really count towards the concert time.
      UW pianist Christopher Taylor only presents his introduction to the music when necessary, and he keeps it precise and concise just before playing it.
      That is a good model to follow.
      But I do think the pre-concert lectures are here to stay and will probably even expand.
      So maybe a shortened intermission is indeed the best bet.

      Comment by welltemperedear — November 27, 2011 @ 5:17 pm

  8. Dear Ear,

    I think you bring up a very interesting topic. I personally enjoy what society would deem as “long” concerts. (I just turned 14.) To me, they really don’t seem long, not if I am really listening, exercising my ear and paying attention to each note’s tone, dynamic level, and the role it plays in the piece. (I am an aspiring concert pianist so I usually see just solo piano or piano and orchestra concerts which tend to include orchestral works, although I have recently been going to the opera).

    I digress. I don’t think that the traditions of classical music performance should have to cater to the needs of the populace. Instead of shortening the length of a program to suit an audience’s shorter attention span, classical music performances should train the younger generations to have a longer attention span.

    My belief is that the traditions shouldn’t have to be compromised in order to suit the dumbed-down people of today. I think that other than the music than the music, it’s the various traditions of the classical concert that makes going to them so exciting!

    Right now, our goal should not be to adjust ourselves to suit the populace but instead to train the populace to enjoy and comprehend classical music and all of its various nuances.

    Thanks for another great post!

    Comment by Emily — November 27, 2011 @ 7:34 am

    • I would like to make note that I am not some conservative concertizer who frowns upon the flamboyance, introduction of new concert atire and ideas.I think just the opposite, what the conservative concertizers deem as irreverance and deviation from tradition, I label as new and revolutionary! I embrace the dress of Yuja Wang because I embrace the right to free expression.

      It is my opinion that if the conservatives can embrace concert artists putting all of their emotions and interpretations on the table (figuratively speaking) for the audience to judge freely, than they should be able to wear what they want because I think it’s more brazen to put all of your feelings on the line than to wear a short skirt. Anyway, I embrace change and love tradition! In the end, I want more people to enjoy what classical music has to offer. If that means shortening the concert length so that classical music can survive in this world and changing other traditions, than so be it!

      Comment by Emily — November 27, 2011 @ 7:44 am

    • Hi Emily,
      Thank you for reading and then replying with your thoughtful and mature reply.
      You make many good points.
      And you give me hope about the attention span and priorities of younger people.
      Thanks also for your kind words.
      Good luck.
      My best,

      Comment by welltemperedear — November 27, 2011 @ 5:25 pm

  9. I’m not so sure this is doable for the symphony, but sometimes it’s more convenient to have a show end somewhere closer to the 10 p.m. mark rather than the 11 p.m. one. I went to the Vital Vox Festival in NY, and those concerts were presented w/o an intermission, and it seemed to work out better for me, so, perhaps it is something that could be a good thing for the classical music business.

    Comment by Chris McGovern — November 27, 2011 @ 2:31 am

    • Hi Chris,
      I agree with you, which is one reason a lot more concerts are starting at 7:30 p.m. here in Madison.
      I also love “Horowitz Time” — that is, 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.
      But even with an earlier start, many of them see night concerts seem to expand out in time until 10:30 or so.
      We’ll see what the future brings.
      Thanks for writing.

      Comment by welltemperedear — November 27, 2011 @ 9:36 am

  10. This year I had the opportunity to hear the St. Petersburg Philharmonic at the Palladium in Carmel, Indiana. It was a spectacular concert, and I would not have wanted it shortened one iota. The intermission provides a great opportunity to discuss the music and the orchestra with friends. There was even the opportunity to do this over a libation. Having a group of world-renowned musicians play for one is a special treat that enriches one’s life immeasurably. I do not need to rush home at a time like that.

    Comment by Fred Meyer — November 27, 2011 @ 2:13 am

    • Hi Fred,
      Good to hear from you again.
      You make a very good point.
      Sometimes longer is better and has advantages.
      Maybe a mix would be good,
      like reading short stories, novella,
      short novels and big Russian epic novels!
      Anyway, thanks for reading and replying.

      Comment by welltemperedear — November 27, 2011 @ 9:34 am

      • You said it well there, Jake! It depends on the program. Longer works deserve to be heard and, if they don’t seem to be a whole program by themselves, need an intermission for additional works. If programming shorter works, there may be times when a few shorter pieces can be a whole concert without need for an intermission (especially if that means packing the program just to make it long enough to call for an intermission). One concession to attention span (or need for sleep) that I admire is having the first “half” of the program longer than the second.

        Comment by Steve Rankin — November 27, 2011 @ 10:23 am

      • Hi Steve,
        Your reasoning is sound.
        I agree.
        Halves don’t have to be equal.
        And, I add, I bet they usually aren’t.

        Comment by welltemperedear — November 27, 2011 @ 5:22 pm

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