2020/2021 is a digital season. Fact. An orchestral bigwig contact of mine said so today. There was a begrudging tone to the individual’s voice. Almost as though the penny had finally dropped: artistic planning for actual mass live audiences was now officially on-hold.
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra”s first of 11 digital concerts this evening signals the first step in a new direction: orchestras stepping up to do one of only a handful of things they can practically do right now. The choice (as far as I can make out) is either closed rehearsals, concerts to a handful of real-life audience members, pre-recorded performances to reduce numbers of audience members or, as in the case of Bournemouth tonight, an actual live stream.
There was something of the pioneering days of TV (or at least how I perceive them reading histories of the early days of television) when I was setting up my laptop via HDMI to The Big TV in the Lounge. The management welcome from Dougie Scarfe was run as a visual test; the pre-concert talk was a much-needed 25-minute audio pre-concert-wrestle-with-the-sound-system. Come 7.25pm when I finally got things working, it was a pleasure to hear presenter Martin Handley converse with an orchestra-bod about the importance of this moment for the orchestra and the BSO audience.
That’s when the (relatively straightforward) opportunity orchestras now need to grasp really dawned on me. Orchestras dont’ need to recreate a concert experience;. The fact is that they really can’t. All they need to do is to create a sense of occasion. Appointment-to-view moments. That’s not about relaying live necessarily. It’s about amplifying those elements of the live concert experience that creates a sense of ‘liveness’.
Short heartfelt introductions from the management either pre-recorded or on stage go a long way to contributing to that sense of occasion. These vignettes create a sense of ‘special-ness’. They are the event-based equivalent of beautifully spoken broadcaster compensating for being unable to speak off the cuff or ask insightful questions of his or her interviewee. You orchestral administrators and artistic programmers are now, necessarily, in the business of creating occasion. You’re adept at that. Only now you’ve got to think beyond the actual music.
Bournemouth pulled it off OK. They have a cracking venue that looks good on camera. The direction could have made more use of sharp cuts (cross-fades should in my book be used only when the pace of the music permits). But once I got used to the shift in visual language, something unexpected happened: watch an orchestra play on their home turf miles away from where you’re sat watching them aad the experience will make you feel closer to them and to their brand. Boom.
This was self-determining content production. Content that reminded us of the impact state-funded arts activity has cultivated and served local communities.
Only now they’re reaching out further. Nearly 800 subscribers viewed the live feed this evening, Martin Handley told us in the post-concert sign-off. (I observed a total of 710. Either way, at £6 a ticket, that’s a pretty good return. I think.
The performance wasn’t perfect. Though really an truly, I’m not interested in perfection. I can find that (probably) on the likes of Spotify. What I want is what I imagine my sport-loving pals seek in a football match. We don’t want a win. We just want to see people doing live music-making. And maybe what us audiences need to do is adjust our expectations in the short-term. Live will return. Whilst we wait we need to look for the joy in live relay or deferred relay.