Fundamental Differences Between Theatre & Classical Music



I find it remarkable sometimes how time slips away unnoticed even though you are vaguely aware that some things have gone on far too long whereas other matters, of real importance, appear to vanish hardly before they’ve started.

I have been in NYC on this umpteenth sojourn now for over 7 weeks whilst working on The Stranger from Seville musical written with long-time collaborator, Victor Kazan. At the same time, I have been learning Kurt Atterberg’s Symphony No. 3 for an upcoming concert with the Australian Discovery Orchestra later this month.

The preparation for industry backer audition readings for new musicals in New York is a gruelling process – arduous for everyone involved – including the stupendous cast put together by Stephanie Klapper Casting.  How many actor/singers in the  photo above can you recognize and name?

Time on this project just vanished from when we started four weeks ago up to the day of presentations on Sept. 25 but it culminated in fabulous performances skillfully and sensitively directed by Martin Platt (Dir.) and Matt Castle (Mus. Dir.).

The process of ‘prepping’ readings and workshops for new musicals is so widely divergent from prepping orchestras for performance and recordings that some observations and comparisons might make interesting reading to those of you who follow this blog.  Well, that’s my hope anyway.


• Both artforms are highly collaborative and require a team of people to achieve the desired outcome.

• Both artforms require a level of performer skill that is commonly misunderstood in terms of just how difficult it is to execute the requirements of the job.  Perhaps this is less-well understood in the roles of actor/singers (at least at the purely professional level) than it is for symphonic musicians in professional ensembles.

• You need to understand the demands of what you are asking and give time for those ‘demands’ to become embedded within a performance.  Actually, this is also a major ‘difference’ and a bit of a paradox between theatre and classical music performance requirements (keep reading).


•  Collaborative rehearsal times are vastly different between theatre and classical music performance.  It is appreciably longer in theatre.

• Finely tuned performances will commonly veer away from what is on the written page in terms of book, lyrics and music in musical theatre with the actor bringing a unique perspective to the role that they inhabit within the show.  This is both preferred (if not a necessity) if only to keep writers humble in respect to what is on the page is not a performance and, even more importantly, not the definitive interpretation of what should be on the printed page.  Orchestra musicians are rarely allowed to exercise this process of interpretative discovery (sadly).

• The big difference (if one is bigger than another?) is that we ask symphonic musicians to play the music ‘NOW’, not tomorrow or even next week.  So the time difference between the often incredible demands upon these players is comparably very much shorter to that of their theatre counterparts.  The Business (Industry – whatever term you prefer) continues to ignore this reality and place the mantle of kudos onto the conductor – as do the appropriately maligned marketing departments of most orchestras (especially in the USA) .  Classical music would be in a much healthier state in terms of engagement and participation by audiences worldwide if only orchestra managements would make the musicians the ‘stars’ of the enterprise and just leave the conductor to do his/her job of managing the collaboration schedule and only then add a unique contribution to the overall performance.

More soon on the remarkable Swedish composer – Kurt Atterberg.

Take care,


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