Berlin Philharmonic begins series of online concerts

The renowned Berlin Philharmonic has become the first major orchestra to broadcast an entire season of concerts online. The main aim is to attract new audiences.


correspondent in Berlin

Founded in 1882, the renowned Berlin Philharmonic may look back on a venerable tradition, but that's not stopping it from also looking forward.

The Philharmonic has just become the first major orchestra to broadcast online an entire season of concerts dubbed the Digital Concert Hall. The debut performance was given on January 6, when Sir Simon Rattle conducted Brahms' Symphony No.1 in C Minor.

Sir Simon Rattle

"We have many friends worldwide, and we particularly wanted the audience to not only hear but also see what this orchestra does," Sir Simon explained to the audience before the concert, adding that the spread of YouTube acted as an inspiration for the project. "The world is changing very, very fast and people are going to want their culture and their entertainment in different ways. People can now reach us, in this hall, at any time they want."

Concerts can be accessed live online, or from an archive, at a cost of 9.90 euros per concert or 149 euros for all the whole season. The main aim is to attract new audiences who might find the average ticket price of 50 euros too expensive or diehard fans unable to attend a sold-out concert.

The orchestra generally plays to a packed house, so tickets are not always easy to come by.

The project took three years to complete, mainly because of the technical difficulties of maintaining sound and picture quality without disturbing the orchestra, the audience or the acoustics.

"The main challenge was the equipment. It was vital for us to film in excellent quality without extra spotlights, rigging or cranes running across the ceiling or cameramen in the room," explained Olaf Maninger, principal cellist and the project's initiator, before performing in Tuesday's debut concert. The solution was to install unobtrusive cameras, which are controlled remotely from a sound studio built into the concert hall's ceiling.

The visual result is certainly impressive: zooming cameras and shifting angles give a better view of the orchestra and conductor than the best front-row seats could ever provide. And as long as the user has decent speakers, the high-definition sound quality is flawless.

But while the broadcasts are clearly vastly superior in quality to anything that YouTube has to offer, would users really be prepared to spend money?

"I think it's a fantastic concept but I wouldn't pay for it," one young man told FRANCE24 while waiting in the foyer of the Philharmonic before Tuesday's concert. "I listen to lots of classical music online, but most of it I can get for free."

For another concertgoer, whether she used the service or not, would depend how much it costs. "If it's a reasonable price, say 5 or 10 euros, I would go online to listen to it," she said. "It'll never be the same as experiencing the atmosphere of actually being here, of course. But I think it's great for people who have never been and are not yet sure if they want to spend lots of money on a 'real' concert."

Another concertgoer said the service could be used to stage a private concert at home with friends using a beamer. "You'd certainly get a bit closer to Rattle than you do here in the concert hall," he joked.

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