Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Well, I mean, it is the 21st century!

The Cincinnati Enquirer's Janelle Gelfand has a piece in today's paper titled iTune into the symphony; Cincinnati's venerable orchestra bows to modern technology. I found it to be a positive development, following in the steps of other American and British orchestras which have been experimenting with new ways to develop alternative (read - always: younger) audiences.

But, there is one point in the article in which I must take issue with Paavo's point of view. "Still, entering a multimedia world for an orchestra steeped in old-world tradition is tricky, Järvi says.

" 'Music often does not benefit from being seen. It's one of those things that needs to be heard. We are not theater - the drama happens in the music.' "


In the old world, where people could only here the music by radio or on recordings, that was certainly true. And there are those special recordings which will always bring a thrill or a tear or other dramatic emotion to a listener. But there is nothing, absolutely nothing like being present in the hall and experiencing that music live - as the magic happens - and being able as well to see that grimace or surreptitious wipe of sweat on a forehead or the look of sheer delight in musicmaking that the conductor emanates to his players, as they reach for those indefinable moments of veritable communion. And what would be wrong with having some subtle colorful lighting behind the orchestra, enhancing the mood of a piece? We're not talking psychedelic light show here, but the type of lighting for television which was used on the very concert that the CSO will be releasing soon on DVD. It was soft and unobtrusive and lovely, yet the next time I can remember the CSO using something similar was fully five years later, last season during the performance of Rhapsody in Blue (and guess what color it was then? ;-)) I mean I ain't no teenybopper, but there's something so old thinking in maintaining that boring white wall!

I'll get really excited when I finally read about the CSO following in the footsteps of the London Symphony Orchestra's text messaging offerings!
The 112-year-old Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is updating its old-world image and going high-tech.

This season, which opens Friday, you can:

+ Download Cincinnati Symphony and Pops CDs from iTunes
Subscribe to a free series of podcasts featuring music director Paavo Järvi
+ Own the orchestra's first DVD of a live performance of the orchestra (Järvi's inaugural concert as music director)
+ Watch Järvi reveal his personal feelings about the music he's about to lead on huge, 65-inch plasma screens flanking Music Hall's stage.

"What we want to do is to constantly stay in the media and forefront of people's minds," says Järvi. "Very often, the image of the symphony anywhere in the United States is a kind of old, tired entertainment that doesn't really connect with young people. That is not really the case."

As Järvi, 43, prepares to lead the downbeat of his sixth season, the orchestra is launching several new technologies that he hopes - along with an eventual renovation of Music Hall - will create "a modern, more up-to-date, more audience-friendly environment."

On opening night, concert goers will get a first look at a new experiment in the concert format, with a video projection of Järvi delivering comments about the music before he conducts it. The idea is to illuminate his personal thoughts on the music - whether it's a symphony by Brahms or dances by Duruflé.

"It's to share my personal point of view about the piece, or the composer, or my experience with those composers. It's not something they can read in the program notes. It is very personal, and not academic," he says. "Sometimes, it's why I put those works together, or why I like this piece. In all cases, the music I perform is somehow connected to me. It's a personal choice, and there's a reason to do it."

Why not just talk directly to the audience?

"Personally, I love one-on-one conversation. But before I conduct Mahler's Ninth, it takes me hours and hours to concentrate and get into the Mahler world. I can't turn around and tell a funny story. The quality of the performance will suffer," he says.

The orchestra will test-run the experiment for three weeks and wants feedback from the public. Directions Research Inc., a downtown firm, will conduct market research to determine audience opinion of the "video program notes."

Symphony and Pops recordings are already available for purchase on iTunes, where subscribers can listen to 30-second previews.

And the orchestra is moving into podcasting - audio and video content on the Internet. Alvatech, a podcast agency based in Blue Ash, will create a podcast series that fans can subscribe to for free, featuring the conductor, symphony musicians and guest artists throughout the year. They will be available later this fall on iTunes, as well as the orchestra's Web site, www.cincinnatisymphony.org.

"The podcasts will provide an inside look into the heart of the CSO," says Jay Hopper, president of Alvatech. "(Symphony fans) will go behind the scenes to explore all the moving parts that make the symphony work - in a very real, raw and candid way."

Also coming this season, the orchestra's first DVD of a live performance of Järvi's inaugural concert. Recorded live in Music Hall in Sept. 2001 - three days after 9/11 - the concert includes Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" substituted in memory of those who died in the terrorist attacks, as well as the world premiere of Charles Coleman's "Streetscapes." The DVD, originally a PBS telecast, is produced by WCET, with Brandenburg Productions Inc., and the Cincinnati Symphony.

Järvi and the orchestra will continue their rare relationship with Telarc, recording Russian masterpieces: An all-Tchaikovsky album and a Prokofiev album.

It's a chemistry that works. In May, a disc featuring Bartok and Lutoslawski debuted on Billboard's Classical Chart at No. 9.

Behind the scenes, the orchestra will be using new arts enterprise software called "Tessitura," that will allow enhanced Web offerings, promotions and eventually allow patrons to print out tickets at home.

With the giant video board atop Macy's overlooking Fountain Square opening next month, there could be other high-tech options on the horizon. Would Järvi like to do a live simulcast?

"I would love nothing more, and that's something that is exactly what we should be doing," he says.

Still, entering a multimedia world for an orchestra steeped in old-world tradition is tricky, Järvi says.

"Music often does not benefit from being seen. It's one of those things that needs to be heard.

"We are not theater - the drama happens in the music."

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