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The New Orchestra Tour

This season, simulcasting is the new black (as they say in fashion circles) for orchestras. Opera was the first classical music genre to take on the live-in-HD broadcast arena; but orchestras have been quick to follow suit. Opera, of course, can attract big movie audiences with its splashy stories and colorful productions; orchestra concerts are never going to draw the same kind of Saturday afternoon crowd to the multiplex. I am actually paraphrasing something that Deborah Borda, the president and chief executive officer of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, said to me in an interview a couple of years ago. “What opera is doing is brilliant,” she said. “I’m completely supportive. If you had the New York or Los Angeles Philharmonic doing symphonic concerts in movie theaters across the country, it would not sell.”

Therefore, instead of targeting movie theaters, orchestras are finding different routes. There are two broadcasts this weekend that are worth noting. The Washington Conservatory, at its new branch in Glen Echo Park, is showing a taped Philadelphia Orchestra concert on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.; it's the kick-off to a season in which they will also air five live simulcasts of the orchestra, thanks to the company SpectiCast, launched in June, which is making these and other events available to institutions around the country (for a price). And on Saturday, on your home computer, you can watch Gustavo Dudamel leading the Berlin Philharmonic, live (8 p.m. Berlin time; 2 p.m. in DC).
(read more after the jump)

SpectiCast is offering a twist on the HD simulcast/broadcast formula that several companies have been trying out in movie theaters, with varying degrees of success. It is taking a fairly wide range of content – in addition to the Philadelphia Orchestra and events from the Curtis Institute, it will be showing author talks from the Free Library of Philadelphia – and makes it available, either on a subscription or per-event basis, to institutions or individuals with a space to screen them in: community centers, assisted living facilities, conference centers, etc.

The Washington Conservatory has subscribed to the whole thing. The package starts with Sunday’s recorded broadcast of a June concert with Charles Dutoit and Jean-Yves Thibaudet playing the program they offered at the Kennedy Center: Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, Liszt’s “Totentanz,” Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand and “La Valse.” It continues on October 2nd, a Friday, with a live performance at 8 p.m. of Dutoit and Yefim Bronfman in the Brahms 2nd piano concerto, and Bartok’s The Miraculous Mandarin. Single tickets are $10; a subscription offers 6 concerts for $50.

In theory – for I haven’t seen any of the broadcasts in practice yet – I like the middle ground that this model represents: less formal than the concert hall, but more communal than sitting at home and watching on your computer. In the HD opera broadcasts, it seems that sitting in the crowded movie theater is part of the fun; and certainly watching with others helps reproduce the ritual, shared aspect of classical music that’s indubitably a part of the experience.

By contrast, you can watch the Berlin Philharmonic at home in your pyjamas, for slightly more money. A single ticket to the Digital Concert Hall on the Web, which started its second season in August, is almost 10 Euros (about $15), and a year’s subscription is 149 Euros (about $235) for 33 concerts (3 of which have already taken place). What you get, on Saturday, is Dudamel leading the first-ever Berlin Philharmonic performance of Shostakovich's 12th Symphony, plus Sofia Gubaidulina's "Glorious Percussion" -- a wonderfully unexpected program coming from the Venezuelan Wunderkind, just before his incredibly-hyped accession to the Los Angeles Philharmonic throne in October. I for one, will make an effort to watch.

By Anne Midgette  |  September 18, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Washington , music on the Web , news  
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