Musique classique et nouvelles technologies
Musique classique et nouvelles technologies

How to connect classical musique with new technologies?

The fervent protectors of a classical music “à l’ancienne” tremble with rage at such a thought, but with the rise of a new generation and the financial difficulties faced by great institutions, the question needs to be asked: how can the new technologies and classical music be best connected?

Live-tweet an opera, put screens on stage, and develop apps to check before, during and after a concert… The ideas flourish, sometimes come to life, but often divide the public.

On one hand there are those who would prefer to enjoy classical music as an art spared by the new technologies. On the other, those who would rather see the concerts evolve and classical music adapted to our time. 

30,000 CDs gathered in one medium

“I’ve always said that music is a human fundamental right and using technology helps us to fulfil our mission with more strength”. These words were uttered by one of the most prominent orchestra conductors of our time, the Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel.

Le chef vénézuélien Gustavo Dudamel ©MiguelGutierrez/Maxppp
Le chef vénézuélien Gustavo Dudamel ©MiguelGutierrez/Maxppp

The mission therefore consists in making classical music accessible to all with the help of new technologies. Several theaters, venues and opera houses have already done so. In the United States, a country already much ahead in the matter, many innovative projects have been developed in that past few years, and many of these ideas have even cme to life.

The former director of the San Diego Opera, William Stensrud, wants a profound revolution of the classical music world for, in his opinion, it is ensuring its own demise by refusing to evolve with its time. In despair over the pessimism in his opera house regarding the future of classical music, he left the opera house in 2009 and started his own project: InstantEncore

InstantEncore is an online classical music app offering a variety of services. William Stensrud decided to try his hand at entrepreneurship when he realised he wanted to gather his 30 000 CDs onto one single platform. Besides the streaming service, the app allows its users to buy tickets, to look up detailed programs, and find information on performers and musicians… 

But William Stensrud wants to go further: “We are going to add subtitles to the musical score, bar by bar”. This last option is the most difficult to accept for the anti-technology partisans as it requires the audience to use their smartphone during the concert.

Seats booked for the Twitters

The idea that the audience could check their phones in a room dedicated to classical musical is one of the most sensitive points of the debate. Yet, this last idea, established in several high-brow institutions functions upon that very principle: seats are reserved solely for Twitters.

In exchange for a free seat at a play, a concert or an opera, the spectators must live-tweet their night. A concert promotion on a large scale. Furthermore, since these Twitters are placed in special seats, they do not bother the rest of the audience. In France, the Théâtre national de Strasbourg has shown interest in such an initiative and the Opéra Comique organised its first live-tweet night on the 13th of November 2014 for the opening of the season.

One of the various initiatives recently launched (in Santa Fe notably) includes the writing  of subtitles on the back of the seats. It allows the audience not to have to twist their necks during the concert or to even have access to the subtitles should they so choose, as some members of the audience do not always see the screens situated above or besides the stage, depending on their seat’s place.

The Van Beethoven

Another initiative that comes from the United States: the Van Beethoven, a truck in charge of bringing classical music to all the people of Los Angeles for whom it is usually inacessible. One simply needs to climb into the van, sit comfortably and place over one's eyes an Oculus Rift (a device that creates a virtual reality).

The device is connected to an app created by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and gives the opportunity for the visitor to attend a concert, but also see from behind the musicians and have a closer look at the conductor’s gestures. The sound changes with the image, therefore if the tester in the van decides to go behind the drums, he or she will probably not hear anything else…

In a similar fashion, you can enjoy many concerts (including in France), from various different points of view thanks to a multi-camera system. One need simply register in order to be able to change angles and fully enjoy the image (and the sound!). The Insula Orchestra and Accentus choir, under the baton of Laurence Equilbey,were fortunate enough to try this new technology in 2014 during a show at the Philharmonie de Paris. The evening was broadcast on Medici.Tv but those who were curious could also enjoy the concert online and live the experience differently thanks to the multiple angles. 

And finally, one last point divides the digital scepticals: the amplification of concert halls. The 71-year-old English composer Jonathan Harvey states “Young people are not fond of classical music venues. They won’t come until the sound is amplified”. He calls for greater modernity in the venues, whatever their acoustics may be. 

Installing a sound system for orchestras may be acceptable , but not anyhow nor anywhere, and more importantly not with any music. The young conductor Maxime Pascal (winner of the Salzburg Prize in 2013) likes to add a sound system for his ensemble Le Balcon and has good reasons to do so: “Some scores may include interpretation gestures that suited still unknown techniques when they were written. It is the case for the Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino whose music sounds much better if it is played with a sound system”.

The initiators of these ideas and projects seem not only to play with gadgets and new technologies, they also have a goal: to “save” classical music, which means catching the interest of an audience that is usually not interested by classical music, breaking the codes, and make more accessible the universe they so admire and respect.