Defying Geography

Last week I attended the premiere of my good friend Ramon Humet’s orchestra work Música del no ser (Music of non-being) by the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra. Okay that’s not really true—I didn’t actually travel to Spain; rather, I watched it broadcast live on TV3, the major television network of Catalunya. Luckily I was free on the afternoon of the concert (actually 9 p.m. in Spain), so I settled in, and from thousands of miles away I was able to watch a fantastic orchestra performance, and even got a little choked up seeing my friend walk out on stage to take his bows.

My initial question during this event, “Why on earth does this sort of thing not happen more?” changed quickly after a little research into “Why on earth do I not take advantage of these opportunities to watch performances more often?!” Concert simulcasting is taking place more and more throughout the country, making performances available to a significantly broader audience. For instance, in my hometown of Washington, D.C., the Washington National Opera simulcasts the company’s opening-night performance—most recently it was Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera—in Nationals Park (free of charge!), and The San Francisco Opera does the same with their Opera in the Ballpark series. These events draw thousands of people, many of whom might never otherwise attend an opera. Talk about building audiences!

Opera companies are not the only ones taking advantage of live broadcast situations—concerts by the Minnesota Orchestra can be heard live on Minnesota Public Radio, and performances by many other orchestras are available on SymphonyCast and Performance Today. Potential audiences who may not live close to a major city or have the resources to purchase concert tickets have numerous options when it comes to hearing live classical music, not to mention live performance broadcasts in smaller cities and towns that have local public access stations.

So what about the music being created and performed right now? Q2 radio, a subsection of WQXR, is doing a fantastic job in the NYC area of focusing on new music, as is WNYC’s Soundcheck. Occasionally NPR Music will give a nod to contemporary sounds as well. Educational institutions can be a great resource for performance simulcasts as well—the Yale School of Music presents a mixture of live streaming concert events as well as on-demand lectures and presentations.

Given the potential for audience development, it seems that television and radio could be even more effectively leveraged within the world of contemporary music. Clearly there are economic challenges, which hopefully can be addressed with some creative thinking. Although I would love to see a lot more concert presentations available on an on-demand basis, there is something to be said for the excitement of attending—in person or virtually—an event taking place in the moment. The day I can go to the “Nats Stadium” in D.C. and watch an entire Bang On A Can Marathon, a performance that includes the music of Xenakis or Ligeti, or a concert from the Other Minds Festival, I will be there cheering louder than anyone. Who’s coming to the tailgate party?!

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