It's time for the first assessments at the beginning of the post-pandemic season, a season that we hope will be complete for the first time in two years. And the first observations are a little worrying or surprising.
First of all, the public that we thought would rush to the newly reopened theatres is only gradually returning, and it seems that seats can be found just about everywhere, including for Traviata and Tosca, which we still think will automatically fill opera houses. Another example of neglect is Prokofiev's War and Peace at the Grand Théâtre de Genève, in Calixto Bieito's excellent staging. The initial observation is depressing and you have to wait for word of mouth before the hall finally fills up. In the theatres which are still allowed to sell only half their seats, being ‘50% sold out’ sounds much more reassuring in terms of communication.
Some blame the health pass, but it would be absurd to think that only the unvaccinated don't go to the theatre, while others point to residual fears, which is more likely in these times when fears are stirred up on all sides. It is to be hoped that the problem is temporary, but it is emblematic of the fragility of classical music audiences, who have steadily decreased in recent years, with rare exceptions, pandemic or not.
Even more astonishing are the vacancies at the head of symphony orchestras at the end of the pandemic tunnel : The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra has still not recovered from the crisis caused by the ignominious and ridiculous firing of Daniele Gatti, but neither has the New York Philharmonic, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, The Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, the Staatskapelle Dresden, which are or will soon be without a permanent conductor. Chicago, having failed to find a successor for Riccardo Muti, is extending his contract by a year. Not to mention the probable departure from Boston of Andris Nelsons, and Covent Garden, where music director Antonio Pappano is leaving for the LSO. Although young conductors abound at the moment, and people extol every newcomer on the podium, and even if some of them hold several posts (for example Klaus Mäkelä at the Orchestre de Paris, the Oslo Philharmonic and Swedish Radio), there are generational gaps : few conductors of stature in the 55–70 age group. "Conductor urgently needed" seems to be a mantra emphasized by the pandemic. The Brexit is probably no stranger to the departure from Birmingham of conductor Mirga Grażinyté-Tyla, who lives in Austria, or the move to the BRSO and acquisition of German nationality by Sir Simon Rattle. On the other hand, the expansion of the options for female conductors does not seem to be changing the situation in any major way, even though Joana Mallwitz has just been appointed to the Berlin Konzerthausorchester.
Audiences Wanted ! Conductors Wanted ! The future of classical music does seem a bit bleak.