In 2006, in our second NSO @ Wolf Trap collaboration with NASA, we followed our imagination by introducing the first live podcast with symphony orchestra. It seems quaint now, but at the time it was rather innovative. In 2009, we combined Twitter with symphony orchestra, accompanying the bird calls of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony ("Pastorale") with a few tweets of our own.
While these mergers of technology and symphony were wildly successful with Wolf Trap audiences, who found them engaging and fun, they were not without their critics. Some thought that the added elements were unnecessary and distracting, a "dumbing down" of the art form that would only accelerate the decline of the live orchestra concert experience and, with it, all of Western civilization. I am happy to report that Beethoven remains to this day as safe in his grave as he was back in 2008 and that the death of civilization has been greatly exaggerated.
There was a time way back when (in the time of Beethoven, come to think of it), when symphonic performances were not the formal concerts we know today. They were events. Food and drinks were served, programs were announced from the stage, actors or comedy routines were inserted to keep the audience entertained between more serious offerings. Like the trajectory of our religious heritage, which began with ecstatic shouting around magic stones and fires, our concert format has over time become more and more ritualized and performance spaces more glamorous. To clap or not to clap? Do I need to wear a jacket and tie? Is it okay to bring the kids? None of these issues come up at Wolf Trap, which is why I love conducting here so much and why the musicians of the NSO share my joy.
Fresh ideas are as important to "classical music" as the thunderstorms of spring are to the lawn on which we sit and the trees that provide our shade on long summer days. Indeed, one could argue that our technology fusions at Wolf Trap are already classics. After all, isn't a classic just something you grow to love and expect?
Tonight's PLAY! A Video Game Symphony is one of the freshest innovations in symphony concerts in a long time. If you are not a video game enthusiast and are afraid you won't "get it," don't worry, you will. The score of World of Warcraft, HALO, Legend of Zelda and Guild Wars, have introduced the sound and emotional power of an orchestra, chorus and singers to as many young people in the 21st century as John Williams did with his symphonic scores to Star Wars and the Indiana Jones series in the 20th century.
Gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry with a global audience hungry for sensory experiences. That the scoring is led by a conductor with a symphony orchestra, and not by a computer and a mixing board, is heartening. That we can teleport that music back into the live concert experience is a wonder.
I understand that there are limits to the appeal of interactive video technology and being more from the Pong-Pac Man-Microsoft Solitaire-Donkey Kong generation, I can validate the emotions of any luddites in the audience. But recently I came across an inspirational article in an old-fashioned media technology known as a magazine about a man named Robert Panetta, 65, from Rio Vista, California, who had been trying for years to get his children to go with him to a symphony concert with no luck. Some years later he was thrilled when he was able to get his grandchildren to go to a video game concert with live orchestra. Robert says that they experience "drew him into the games and closer to his grandkids."
So Grandpa, it's time to boldly go where no orchestra has gone before! Throw out your Game Boy, whip our your Dingoo, and come with the NSO @ Wolf Trap for an evening of PLAY!
NSO @ Wolf Trap presents PLAY! A Video Game Symphony with conductor Andy Brick Friday night at 8:30 pm.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
NSO @ Wolf Trap: Symphony Meets Technology
Today's post is from NSO @ Wolf Trap Festival Conductor Emil de Cou.