Preferred concert length? And program notes...

Edited: August 16, 2023, 7:58 PM · Hi everyone,

I'm very curious as to your preferred concert length these days - particularly as an audience member.

Over the last few years, my wife and I have much preferred going to shorter recitals, about an hour or a little more, with no interval. That allows us to get a 'beautiful taste' of the music - but enough to satiate - and then go out for dinner/drinks or catch up with friends etc.

A traditional longer program - say, 2 hours or more with interval, seems too much. I have the same feeling with other genres of music.

I'm putting together a French/Belgian program (vln/pno) and we're aiming for around 60 mins of music, with some decent banter/talking in-between. The venue owner wants an interval to sell drinks (perfectly understandable), so we'll do two halves of 40/35. This feels right to me and leaves the audience wanting more (in a good way).

Everyone is different, of course. I'd be fascinated to hear what your preference is...and has it changed over time?

Replies (25)

August 6, 2023, 7:40 PM · These days jazz "concerts" tend to be 90 minutes in a single set. I'd say 90 minutes is a pretty good concert length. My own feeling is that intermission doesn't make the concert feel shorter -- just the opposite for me. Also if there's a one-hour drive on both ends, that doesn't justify a too-long concert for me. Of course I realize that if 90 minutes becomes the standard performance length, then that's pretty much the end of opera as we know it.
August 6, 2023, 8:42 PM · For me, it depends on what the genre is. I'm more likely to want to hear more if there is some variation in timbres. For orchestral music, or for chamber music concerts with more than one group performing, I like the traditional length of about 2 hours including intermission. For solo recitals or a single chamber ensemble, I prefer a shorter concert of an hour or a little more without intermission.
August 7, 2023, 2:47 AM · I agree with both of the comments above. With recitals, though I grew up with the two-hour kind, I eventually settled on about an hour (no intermission) as the ideal length.
August 7, 2023, 2:57 AM · Personally, I'd say a maximum of two hours, or else there's a chance that I'd get quite bored, but the sweet spot would be 1-1.5 hours. In terms of intermissions, it would depend on the repertoire being played. If there's some physically demanding repertoire being played by all means take an intermission, but otherwise, I'd rather just enjoy the program sans intermission so that I can go enjoy dinner/drinks with friends while the night is still young and places are still open.
August 7, 2023, 4:45 AM · I'd say no longer than 90 mins, no shorter than 70. Plenty of time for thirsty players to get a drink afterwards. Short interval for the players to fidget with their equipment.
August 7, 2023, 7:58 AM · I prefer the hour long recitals with no intermission. Hard on the player though!
August 7, 2023, 8:16 AM · If you're going to set a timer, be sure it's a timer that has the same tempo as the music you're playing.
August 7, 2023, 7:34 PM · Thanks all, that's interesting.

Seems we're mostly on the same page re: between 60-75 mins, with no interval. But I agree re: the different timbres enabling a longer concert.

I guess this preference is part of that broader picture of change re: our attention spans, our entertainment options, and the demands of our working and family lives...

Back in the day, 'going out' to a concert was a thing in and of itself, so 2 hours or more was expected.

But yes, a musical or an opera, or a well-programmed orchestral concert still has that cache that makes it a standalone event for an evening.

August 9, 2023, 11:10 PM · 90 minutes, in two 40-minute halves with a 10-minute intermission.

That's mostly driven by the fact that I have a wiggly child and he can cope with that kind of length.

August 10, 2023, 12:14 AM · Andras Schiff can play as long as he wants, as far as I'm concerned.

Given the kind of venue you're playing at, I think your plan is a solid one. Knowing your audience is also key; even if people on this website are more likely to dig a longer program, less 'rarified' audiences might lose interest with a longer program, but I think 60 minutes is a pretty good sweet spot for everyone.

August 10, 2023, 6:57 AM · Probably the greatest concert ever played was four hours long (not sure about intermissions but I suspect there were some). On Dec. 22, 1808, Beethoven gave a concert where he premiered the 5th and 6th symphonies, the 4th piano concerto, the Choral Fantasy and some other pieces. The venue was quite cold, the audience just about froze, and some of the playing was not that good, but, my G-d, to have attended that concert would have been something.

That said, I am with those who favor 60-90 minutes for most concerts, perhaps a bit longer with intermission. And, Christian, I have been to at least two concerts of Andras Schiff's that were too long.

August 10, 2023, 10:24 AM · Fair enough, Tom. Maybe the novelty will wear off, or he'll have a bad day, but I eagerly await his next tour, based on last year's 3 hour concert.
August 10, 2023, 11:16 AM · The long-term historical trend is for shorter concerts. A complete Messiah performance is uncommon. the longest opera might be Wagner's Parsifal ~ 6 hours.
A long time ago I attended a LA Phil-Hollywood Bowl Beethoven concert that featured both the S. #3-Eroica and the Violin concerto. The tempos in the last half of the symphony were fast. The rumor was that the conductor wanted to avoid going into union overtime pay.
Shorter concerts fits in with our ever decreasing and scattered attention span, from electronic media (?).
August 11, 2023, 5:32 AM · Oh dear. I just calculated that my next concert consisting of the Egmont overture, Finzi cello concerto and Rach 2 comes in at about 103 min of music. Including interval, applause and faffing about, I mean tuning-up time, I don't expect we'll get to leave the building in much less than 2 hours and 30.
August 11, 2023, 3:04 PM · @Joel - I read that once Puccini attended a performance of Parsifal. His comment was something to the effect that the performance started at 5:30, and when he looked at his watch three hours later, it was 5:45.
Edited: August 11, 2023, 9:39 PM · @Tom H. --I have (fortunately) never played a Wagner opera, but one of my superior colleagues said something like that; that after about a 1/2 hour he was exhausted, looked at his watch and realized that he had another 3 hours to go.
I like Puccini. I remember doing Madame Butterfly. I played that solo near the end, before she commits hari-kari. When I arrived home each night my wife would ask how it went. I would say "not very well, I killed her again."
August 12, 2023, 1:10 AM · Steve & Joel: the programmes you outlined (Hollywood Bowl/Beethoven and Beethoven/Finzi/Rachmaninov) are wonderful. If I were in the area I would happily have given the time.
August 12, 2023, 12:49 PM · I think an hour is a minimum length (otherwise it feels a bit like a waste to spend the time to travel for very little performance). From there up to two hours I think most audiences are engaged. Beyond that, it depends a lot on the nature of the program; a group of pieces that form a cohesive whole or a long major work with a strong arc can be worth putting together in a longer form for a dedicated audience. Sometimes it depends on the audience as well. If the listeners are less likely to be familiar with the repertoire, a shorter program is generally preferable.

Although an intermission isn’t something that feels necessary in all cases, it can be a bit of mercy for the audience, especially if the program is divided into old and new repertoire. The intermission gives those who don’t want to sit through one part the opportunity to enter or exit without drawing attention.

Edited: August 13, 2023, 8:01 PM · My preferred concert length is 45 minutes per half, that is, excluding the imterval, but not usually more than two hours of music. A complete performance of Messiah is in my view best done with two intervals - not for nothing does it have three parts.
August 16, 2023, 8:04 PM · Great insights as always, thanks everyone.

Nicky, for a few years back there, I played Messiah every year - it was quite the marathon; and aside from those occasions when it was 40 degrees celsius in a stuffy hall, they were very enjoyable!

I also wanted to ask you about your preference for program notes.

Sometimes I enjoy some details on the program, but for this French/Belgian vln/pno concert I'm actually contemplating just listing the program and performer bios, and no additional details on the pieces and composers. That way I can really engage with the audience with anecdotes, background, and trivia and humour.

Anyway, I think I'll try that this time and see how it goes.

I feel like any further info the audience needs after the event (e.g. any particular piece they connected with), they can look up online. Info is so accessible these days...(I realise there's a lot of poor/wrong info too).

August 20, 2023, 9:10 AM · My experience with programme notes is not without interest. In Manchester UK I went as a teenager to the Halle's concerts where the programme notes were, it seems, the last in England to have musical quotations printed in their texts. Between 1968 and 1970 I put on a baroque chamber concert and started doing a bit of conducting with a small orchestra. For all these concerts I wrote the programme notes myself and so gained that experience.
One thing I considerably dislike. IMO, one needs either programme notes or a conductor who will introduce and describe the music. One does not need both.
August 20, 2023, 10:33 AM · I have also written program for our low-budget community orchestra. I think program notes should give historical and social context. They should enhance the audience's enjoyment of the concert. What they do not want is a technical analysis or a musicology lecture; they don't want a discussion of chords and key relationships.
Edited: August 20, 2023, 11:49 AM · Half an lifetime ago I played for an elderly conductor who couldn't resist improvising program notes from the rostrum, mid-concert. Each time he got that manic gleam in his eye and turned to face the audience my heart sank. The nadir came when he decided to illustrate the inter-relationship of themes in a 4-movement symphony by singing them.
August 20, 2023, 10:06 PM · Your format sounds great 35-40 minute halves with a good deal of break in between for food and drinks and a little fellowship.
August 20, 2023, 10:06 PM · Your format sounds great 35-40 minute halves with a good deal of break in between for food and drinks and a little fellowship.

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