International Rules of Concert Planning

I was trying to explain the international rules of concert duration succinctly today. Here’s what I came up with.

1- American audiences generally come to concerts for the social occasion, and often dread the music that comes with it, so they prefer we keep the musical portion of concerts short. Rule of thumb for the performer: No matter how beautifully you play, you mustn’t play to long or the audience will not have time for a good gossip at the reception.

2- British audiences generally come to the concerts for the music and often dread the socializing that comes with it, so they prefer we keep the musical portion of concerts as long as possible, regardless of whether everything is adequately rehearsed. Rule of thumb for the performer: Keep going until everyone has a good reason to skip the reception, no matter how badly you play.


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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

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10 comments on “International Rules of Concert Planning”

  1. Kenneth Woods

    Well, there’s always an audience for gigantism! Wagner ticks everyone’s boxes because the intermissions seem to be incredibly long- lots of time for socializing if that’s what you like, but you can also scuttle off and have a meal between acts and avoid the chit chat.

    Anyway- although this is a primarily humorous post, many years of working in both countries has taught me the perils of playing too long in the US or too little in the UK, and in both cases, obeying those rules is generally more important than keeping the program interesting or well played….

  2. Daniel

    Addendum to IRCP: It follows therefore that the longer you play, the less you get you paid, and vice versa!

    But in all seriousness, my experience in the UK supports your theory.

  3. Elaine Fine

    I guess that would explain the length of those generous British early 20th century sonatas (Bantok, in particular).

  4. @Stephen_P_Brown

    Having spent 40% of my life in the US and 50% in the UK, I concur this is probably the wisest and most accurate assessment of “audience diversity,” all jesting aside. Heaven forbid a concert goer in the US be required to sit still for more than 45 (or 3, to be more accurate) minutes, and suggesting that Brits talk to others THEY didn’t invite to a concert is pure antagonism.

  5. Sally

    I’d like to add an addendum to (2). Programme shouldn’t be so long that the timpanist and percussionists can’t clear the stage and get to the pub … which is where the real socialising happens!

  6. Kenneth Woods


    You’re right- I’ve also found that the more technically challenged the orchestra, the keener they are to make sure the audience gets “value for money.” They’re always the ones who want to add another 10 minute piece to the programme that they can’t really play…

  7. Kenneth Woods

    @Elaine Well, it would seem like the salon concert cried out for longer and longer programs so that the attendees could be seen without having to make conversation all night…

  8. Kenneth Woods


    It always seems to be the piccolo player who complains to the timpanist about the concert running long even though the timpanist is the one who will still be there breaking down 30 minutes after the end of the applause….

  9. Kenneth Woods


    Glad you agree. The pressure in the US to put on shorter and shorter concerts gets very frustrating! Do people really dislike music so much?

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