Bassist, Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Title: How Streaming Concerts Impacts the Musician
Introducer: Dennis Powers
Many orchestras have taken to using streaming platforms during COVID, both to maintain contact with patrons/audiences and in an effort to mitigate the financial fallout of being forced to cancel in-person performances for more than a year.
The gold standard in that regard is the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall. For more than a decade now, Berlin has made available a live-streamed evening and matinee performance of each subscription program; the two are then edited together over the following few days, and an archival performance thereafter is made available on demand indefinitely. You can buy a “ticket” for individual concerts or subscribe for a year’s worth.
The ensembles which have started streaming post-COVID, in contrast, using the Cleveland Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra as examples, do so by taping a performance in the hall and subsequently streaming the edited video. Access to the livestream is by buying an individual concert ticket or, in the case of Cleveland, by purchasing access on a monthly basis; both give free access to subscribers and donors above a certain level.
Critical reaction to these efforts has been mixed. Jeremy Eichler, chief music critic of the Boston Globe, has expressed the view in print that such taped performances really couldn’t be reviewed because they were in effect sterile: that is, if you will, they were “photo shopped” and produced to the point that there was no chemistry between the musicians and the conductor. Such drawbacks can be mitigated when, as in the case of the Berlin Philharmonic, the full orchestra continues to perform “live” in the empty hall. The interaction between conductor and orchestra, and between both of them and instrumental/vocal soloists, comes through intact and clear then.
This only partly answers the question of whether livestreaming a concert is an adequate substitute for performing live before an audience.
Daniel Stabrawa, the first concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, in a recent interview expressed the view that it was unsatisfying to play in the absence of an audience because such a concert lacks the intangible spark that a live audience can kindle..
An example of what he means could be the Boston Symphony Orchestra concert conducted by Leonard Bernstein in August 1990 at Tanglewood. It turned out to be his last public performance; he died of a heart attack in October.
All that summer rumors of his failing health had been published in the papers. So there was a capacity audience in the Tanglewood Shed and the lawn outside that Sunday afternoon. The first piece on the program was Britten’s Sea Interludes. Bernstein’s energy began to flag as that piece wound to its conclusion. He was replaced by the Orchestra’s assistant conductor for the next piece. Audience anticipation was high to see if Bernstein would take the podium after intermission. He did, to robust applause. But the emphysema that was killing him left him so winded that, during the third movement of Beethoven’s Symphony 7, he had to lean against the rail behind the podium and conduct using his eyebrows alone. He was able to pick up the baton again, though, to lead the fourth movement. When the last note faded away, there was a brief pause — and then the audience erupted into a rousing, prolonged ovation that went on for more than 15 minutes. No one left the Tanglewood Shed while the applause was rippling. The audience knew that it had just seen/heard the valedictory of a career.
Many people feel that the audience’s response gave Bernstein the “boost” to push on to that triumphant finish. This is what Strabrawa was getting at. Audiences are an is integral part of a fully satisfying performance. Their absence because of COVID has resulted in the loss of an intangible but real element of the classical musical experience. The band might play on, but it’s not the same.
Nick Myers, an accomplished orchestral musician, will speak about how the absence of an audience does or doesn’t impact music-making.
Nick Myers is a native of Cadillac, Michigan. Like our own Ken Fisher, he attended high school at Interlochen Music Academy, He then went on to study at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, from which he received his undergraduate degree in music performance and did graduate work at the Julliard School in New York City. He freelanced as a substitute in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra while at Julliard. Upon graduation, he auditioned for a bassist opening in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and won the appointment. He is its youngest member by far. This year, he affiliated with the Department of Music at Wayne State University as well.
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