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Beethoven Tweets

In today's Washington Post: The NSO Twitters Beethoven's "Pastoral" at Wolf Trap, by Anne Midgette.

My basic argument in this piece is that the classical music field tends to fear so-called "new technology" even as it attempts to embrace it, because the field's general idea about "new technology" isn't actually very sophisticated: it usually equates it with video projections during concerts and/or anything related to the Internet. Whereas there are so many things that could be done with technology to enhance the concert experience in various ways; and some groups really are exploring that. (I've just given away the gist of the thing, but go ahead and read it anyway.)

So here's the question: what is your view of the use of new media and new technologies in concert? Are you concerned that this kind of thing leads us down the slippery slope toward the pablum of the Classical Brits or "lite" classic radio? Or do you see a place for video projections, streamed concerts, or various initiatives -- like this Twitter foray -- intended to furnish audiences with more information about what they're hearing, and possibly help guide them in? This tends to be a pretty divisive question for music lovers; I'd be interested to hear what you think.

By Anne Midgette  |  July 30, 2009; 6:35 AM ET
Categories:  Washington , news , random musings  
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Comments

I have this fantasy of supertitles in the concert hall saying things like "recapitulation," "trio section," "cadenza," to clue the audience to the anatomy of the music. You could use them to count the variations when there are variations to be counted. It may sound patronizing, but it would help a lot of people. Oh, sure, you don't need it for, say, Schubert's Fifth, but in less familiar music it could be useful. I'd also like to see supertitles used to clarify orchestration; what's wrong with a discreet "flute and clarinet" when it fits? Maybe also tempo shifts. There are lots of possibilities.

Oh sure, lots of people will object that it interferes with their enjoyment of the purity of the music. Make the supertitles visible only with special glasses handed out free like the ones at 3-D movies. Or tell the objectors that if they're really serious, they can close their eyes.

Posted by: BobL | July 30, 2009 7:52 AM | Report abuse

I don't understand how the "tweeting" will work. he can't be sending one while he's actually conducting. He's going to do it between movements? Or did he write them ahead of time, and someone else will send them?
If it's that, I don't know, a little too much multitasking for me. I come to concerts to get into another world, not do more of what I do throughout the day.

The best use of Twitter I've come across is the operaplot contest. That was a lot of fun, and made one want to look up all kinds of operas afterwards.

My favorite newish technology is podcasts. Talks the conductor and interviews with star performers and regular orchestral musicians are a great thing for a symphony orchestra to do. Those who like to do homework before a concert, can listen to them ahead of time. And I like to get more info after the concert, so I'd listen to it later.

Thanks for the info on the WPAS podcasts. I'm on it!
If Leonard Bernstein were still alive, I'm sure he'd be podcasting and twittering all over the place.

Posted by: c-clef | July 30, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

I'd love to hear more readers' opinions on the value of all these bells and whistles....from tweets and FB pages to podcasts to in-house feature articles for websites and magazines, it seems like arts orgs are investing a lot of energy (and $$$?) into self-producing content. As I see it, these companies are exploring alternative means of communicating with audiences. For patrons, is it worth it? Necessary or icing on the cake? Does it please core audiences, or does this sort of behind-the-scenes, accessible content help build audiences?

Either implicitly or by design, I think this trend tangentially relates to the demise of news coverage and the tendency of local classical stations not to integrate their programming with that of their local companies. With fewer and fewer traditional media outlets able to provide this sort of behind-the-scenes content, companies are forced to do it themselves. Bravo to the NSO for trying something new. Hope it goes well for them.

Posted by: OperaLove | July 30, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

OperaLove, hi! I know this comment doesn’t relate directly to tweeters and FB pages (?) and the hip and beautiful (HB); but speaking of bells and whistles (and woofers), I took a very alert senior citizen in her 80s (with quite good hearing) to the pre-performance lecture to the WNO Wagner “Siegfried” in May at the Kennedy Center Opera House, given by the superb music lecturer Saul Lilienstein, and never before have I seen such a large gathering of unhappy (mainly) senior citizens!

The super-rich Kennedy Center Opera House and super-rich Washington National Opera had Mr Lilientstein attempting to play excerpts from Wagner’s “Siegfried” on a “boom-box” (do you know what one is?) that could easily have cost $69 dollars at Circuit City (if still manufactured at all). When senior citizens and even some young patrons complained, Mr Litienstein (a senior citizen himself) proceeded to hoist the boom-box on his shoulders in an attempt to improve the projection and fidelity.

Mr Lilienstein later apologized profusely for the Kennedy Center’s and the Washington National Opera’s carelessness and thoughtlessness to the needs of patrons -- especially senior citizen patrons, as well as younger patrons with some hearing loss.

I was tempted then and there to promise to donate a decent, five hundred dollar sound system to the WNO for use in pre-performance lectures, until I realized that the renovated Kennedy Center Opera House had just advertised the installation of an expensive sound system donated by Jane and Sidney Harman, long-time arts and music patrons in the District of Columbia and the nation. I quickly figured that Jane and Sidney Harman, and their Foundation, could use the tax deduction more than could I (even though I had just paid $200 for a pair of rear orchestra seats to “Siegfried”).

The Kennedy Center Opera House and the Washington National Opera should be ashamed of themselves!

Posted by: snaketime1 | July 30, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

An overdose of technology, bling, or edgy effects risks becoming a distraction from the goal of the concert and the enjoyment of the intended audience. I believe there is significant room for real innovation without converting a concert venue into a disco.

For instance, I love the flourishes Disney has added in their Broadway versions of their classic movie themes, from "Lion King", "Beauty and the Beast" to "Aida" in lighting, color and some pyrotechnics. But I think the performers themselves can look at simpler, far less expensive ways to add more enjoyment to both watching and hearing their music.

We were priviliged to be able to attend several of the performances at the recent MTNA competition in Atlanta last April and were very impressed by how some of the chamber music groups reached out to a highly variated audience from all walks and educational venues. Specifically, the Red Line Sax Quartet from Eastman added a distinct choreographic element to their distinctive style, which includes playing without music and relating far more directly to the audience. I was very pleased to see what some would have considered 'stodgy' stuff years ago result in standing ovations and a sense that this is the way young people will be drawn back into an appreciation of classical music.

Posted by: topaz4 | July 30, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

At 41 years old, I'm not part of the "born-digital" generation, but I certainly do appreciate orchestras and opera companies reaching out via Facebook and Twitter. I do follow their presence online for news, announcements, and background information on performed works. I rarely read the local paper (San Francisco) because it is so poorly written and I rarely listen to commercial radio. (Again, the local classical music station is very, very bad.) I prefer to connect online with other music lovers and arts organizations when I can't do so in person.

I can't see how tweeting during a performance won't distract from the experience of listening, however. Maybe there's a way, and I'm just not imaginative enough. But when I'm listening in an opera house or symphony hall, I don't want to read my iPhone.

Posted by: CruzerSF | July 30, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse

The one thing I am sure of is that, when a pianist is playing in a big concert hall, there should be a video screen above the stage showing images of his/her hands tinkling the ivories, so that everyone can see. I can't imagine how it could be distracting to have video of the music-making that is occurring, and it gives a lot better concert experience for two-thirds of the concertgoers (i.e., the center and right thirds of the hall).

The Twitter idea the NSO had sounded like a good one to me, although I cannot get tweets on my mobile device so it wouldn't have helped me. (I am a devoted Luddite in terms of mobile communications, at least for now.) In general, I am in favor of arts organizations trying things and seeing if they work. I don't necessarily think it'll build a bigger audience, but maybe it would induce people who currently attend to buy more tickets.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | July 31, 2009 8:30 AM | Report abuse

My wife and I went to the concert last night and didn't much notice the "tweeting" people on the left side of the lawn. If we had a mobile device capable of tweeting, we would have participated. A bigger problem were the people around us who talked through the entire symphony, and the guy next to us who was more interested in looking at the stars than the concert. He even asked us in the middle of the piece in a loud voice, "Is that a star or a satellite? I think it is moving." I shushed him and asked to please stop talking. It really hindered our enjoyment of the performance.

Posted by: hafback698 | July 31, 2009 9:38 AM | Report abuse

There is a wonderful way in which the technology can help the music lover, and I already wrote about it. It's the searchable databases such as those of the Met or, recently, the New York Philharmonic. There is no reason why other orchestras and opera companies shouldn't follow. My dream would be that one from Carnegie Hall. And I don't believe the cost is bank-breaking, even in these days.

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | July 31, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Technology is a means to an end. If the end is to provide listeners with an important part of the whole experience that many can't get by ear alone - descriptive titles, vocal texts (in the original and translation), literary programs, scenarios/stage directions, fine. Though some of these can be provided using very old technology - hand out librettos, keep the house lights up.

But I'm against trying to convert a public concert into a music appreciation class, for which it is not suited. Those who want this, should be given access to it before the concert. BBC Radio 3's "Discovering Music," extensively archived on the Web, is a model of how this can be done, mainly with orchestral music; so is Rob Kapilow's live series, "What Makes It Great?" mainly about chamber and solo music. Both allow for repeating examples, taking them apart (the violas only, etc.), making cross-references, etc.

Feeding people analytical information which they must somehow absorb and apply instantly, while trying to listen to a one-time only performance of the music, is a distraction from both experiences and diminishes both.

Posted by: JohnFrancis2 | July 31, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

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