Just over two years ago, Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed wrote that Gustavo Dudamel’s debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic meant “an embrace of a new generation and cultural point of view.” Today, in a debut of a different kind, Dudamel helped nudge audiences across North America a bit further along his generational trajectory.
The very first presentation of LA Phil LIVE – a live, high-definition broadcast of Dudamel and his orchestra from Walt Disney Concert Hall to movie theaters across the U.S. and Canada – shared several common elements with Dudamel’s October 9, 2009 Disney Hall debut. Both began with works by renowned American composer John Adams, and both also included the first symphonies of beloved Jewish composers writing in their 20s (Mahler in 2009 and Bernstein today). Both debuts demonstrated the LA Philharmonic’s commitment to treading new paths into the future. And both were introductions of a sort. In 2009, the LA Phil was introducing its new music director to its community. Today, it was Dudamel introducing the orchestra to the rest of North America. And it was quite an introduction, as thousands witnessed together a new and unique experience in symphonic music.
LA Phil LIVE is not a replacement of the more traditional live concert. This broadcast was decidedly not the same thing as witnessing a concert in person. It was, however, proof-of-concept for an entirely new way of experiencing classical music – “live” but distant, engaging yet removed.
In the movie theater, one does not feel a part of the performance the way the audience members in Disney Hall are, and some things are lacking. The sound, for instance, suffered from a scarcity of the dynamic contrast one encounters in a finely tuned concert hall. As a result, the performance failed to pull viewers toward the screen the way concertgoers often lean in toward the stage at a soft, tense moment. But the performance did envelop its remote audience(s) in a way that mere recordings – even those made “live” – always fail to do.
The experiential effects made possible by surround sound, and multiple HD video cameras really are something to behold. The fireworks of John Adams’ Slonimsky’s Earbox were marvelously and appropriately realized through a sound system designed with Hollywood explosions in mind. In some ways, the movie theater offers the listener even more than the concert hall.
However, the complete darkness of the movie theater makes the listener feel alone and isolated. Unlike being present in the concert hall where the collective verve of the orchestra, the conductor, and each audience member is unmediated, In the blackness of the movie theater, the cameras, microphones, and distance seemed to filter out this energy and it was not replaced by the presence of other theatergoers. The result was something of an unresolved climax, a palpable tension without proper release. The raw emotions that build up in an audience when hearing the Lamentation of Bernstein’s “Jeremiah” symphony, and the energy that swells through the ending of Beethoven’s joyful seventh symphony lacked an outlet in the movie theater despite the presence of the natural and obvious method employed by the Disney Hall audience: applause.
Still, despite the isolation of the dark movie theater and the extra elements designed to entertain and educate the remote audience(s), LA Phil LIVE does offer an interesting sense of presence that hints at the traditional concert experience. The sound production was done in such a way as to make it nearly impossible to know if it’s the person two rows down who just coughed or if it was someone on the orchestra level of Disney Hall. Not only that, but the resonance of the hall was not entirely lost. Rather, the movie theater seemed sonically transformed and imbued with the acoustic of Frank Gehry’s masterpiece.
There were a few small technical issues and the host, Vanessa Williams, seemed out of her element; the offstage interviews could have brought more. But in some sense, the imperfection of these “extras” was positive as it helped focus attention on the orchestra, its conductor, and the music – right where it should be seeing as each theater seat is made to feel as if it is amid the orchestra due to the tight close-ups and multiple speakers arrayed left, right, and center.
So we are left to ponder the question of the significance of this event. Does LA Phil LIVE represent a meaningful step towards alternative outlets for classical music? Is it a worthwhile endeavor that underscores the core of the art form while allowing those who would like to ignore some of its cultural adiaphora to do so in comfort? The answer is, Yes.
In partnership with NCM Fathom Events, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has opened up a powerful new avenue of experience for audiences around the world. Just as a concert DVD offers more than a “live” recording on CD, the HD simulcast, with its multiple cameras and 5.1 surround sound, offers a new level of intimacy to classical music aficionados and novices alike. At the show, one can marvel at the technical proficiency of the production, the personal glimpses into the music director, or simply at the spectacle of one of the world’s best orchestras playing some of the world’s best music.
Let’s look forward to seeing how the LA Phil LIVE program grows and evolves. Such an undertaking is a natural fit for the effervescent character the orchestra set upon its podium a little over two years ago.blog comments powered by Disqus