Do London orchestras work their musicians too hard?

Posted on: March 1, 2011

In Sunday’s (2/27) Guardian (London), Charlotte Higgins writes, “With five concerts in London last week, the Berlin Philharmonic has spent the longest period in the city since the arrival of its British chief conductor, Sir Simon Rattle, in 2002. For those lucky enough to hear any of these concerts, it has been a thrilling musical experience. … This visit has asked of audiences: what would it take for London to field an orchestra as great as this? … The answer partly lies in its musicians. London’s symphony orchestras—the London Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonia—are, like the Berlin Phil, composed of virtuosi. But they work under entirely different conditions. The Berlin Phil players are treated like the elite that they are. London players, frankly, work like drudges. One of the Berlin Phil players told me of their shock when she undertook freelance work with a major London orchestra. An intensive rehearsal in the morning was followed by a recording session for a film score in the afternoon, then a concert in the evening. … All eight of England’s symphony orchestras cost the public purse less than the Berlin Phil. Is our model lean, mean, and brilliant value? Or are we squeezing musicians so hard that we are cheating them—and audiences—of the chance to shine as bright as the Berlin Philharmonic?”

Posted March 1, 2011