Scoreboard and Photos, New Music, Oh My!

December 14, 2010 by Paul Gambill
Wizard of Oz photo

Greg Sandow recently wrote on his blog about an idea presented by Michael Lam to improve the orchestra concert experience by projecting a “scoreboard” of information for the audience to follow along. The naysayers were put off by this idea, saying “audiences would hate the distraction” and that such an approach would result in “didactic suffocation.” You can read Greg’s “Orchestra Scoreboards” post and the interesting comments here.

That discussion started me thinking about a program that could succeed with the scoreboard concept and I came up with a remix of old, new and hybrid classical, plus photo-choreography.

The program I’m going to describe is not for most orchestra’s traditional classical concert series. I think that’s good. Orchestras need a new product line. This program, while still purely classical, is an example of how that new product line could be developed as an outreach to the iPod generation that is currently not interested in our traditional programming.

First, some background and description of the program, then I’ll lay out how the scoreboard could fit in.

I designed and conducted this program (without the scoreboard) for Orchestra Nashville. We billed it as Musical Portraits, an exploration of how we see music. I wanted to take classical music’s most famous work, Beethoven’s Fifth, and see if we could inspire our audience to hear it in a new way, to look at the music from a different perspective and, hopefully, discover something about that work that we hadn’t heard before.

To challenge the audience to hear the Beethoven with fresh ears, I spread the movements throughout the program, with 1 & 2 on the first half, interspersed with other works, and then finishing the program with the last two movements. The other works were chosen to support the theme of seeing the orchestra’s music in a new way, and I provided commentary between the selections to lead the audience to reconsider how they listen.

You can view the program listing here.

We also wanted to engage the community outside of the concert hall, and for that we called upon photo-choreographer Jim Westwater and his Community, Cameras and Classics program. Jim would take photos submitted by the community that celebrated why Nashville was a great place to live, work and raise a family, and then use his considerable artistry to create a new work of photo-choreography, set to music of our choice. For that music, I selected Concertino, by Don Hart, for two mandolins, guitar and strings. I had previously commissioned this work to feature the two styles of mandolin: round body (classical) and flat body (folk/pop). Concertino, one of my favorite hybrid works, celebrates Nashville’s famously diverse music culture and was a good companion to Jim’s Nashville photo-choreography.

Concertino excerpt [00:50] by Don Hart. Carlo Aonzo and Matt Flinner, mandolins; Pete Huttlinger, guitar; Orchestra Nashville, Paul Gambill

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Over 2,000 photos were submitted to us from all corners of Nashville. The resulting photo-choreography was stunning and the audience loved seeing the images, both personal and iconic, of life in Nashville played out to music created in Nashville.

Also on the program was Arvo Pärt’s Orient & Occident. Since this was a new work to most, if not all of the audience, I decided to perform it twice, back-to-back. First without any introduction, then I provided some commentary before the second performance.

The concert began with the first movement of the Beethoven, but before that, I invited members of the orchestra to step to a microphone and say a short, one or two sentence statement of how performing the Beethoven made them feel. With the stage empty, the musicians started slowly walking on from both sides without eliciting applause. Taking turns from one side of the stage and then the other, a handful of musicians (those who volunteered) stepped up to the microphone and spoke to the audience with personal statements about how the Beethoven affected them or their experience of performing it. I was one of those that stepped to the microphone, mixed in among the flow of musicians onto the stage. When the last musician had spoken and taken their seat, we started. This Walk & Talk, as I call it (for lack of a better name or catchy three letter acronym), quickly centers the audience’s attention, provides compelling commentary on the music to be played next and helps everyone in the room feel a little more connected to each other.

The scoreboard idea would have fit beautifully into this multi-media production. For example, the screens could have been used to indicate when the forth movement of the Beethoven begins since the music doesn’t stop between the third and forth movements. The screens (scoreboard) could simply inform the audience: 4th Movement. And why not include some signposts during one of the performances of the Pärt, then have the other performance without them? I’m sure there are many other compelling elements of the music and the orchestra that could be displayed to help listeners become more deeply engaged in the performance.

As I said in the beginning, this is not a program to place on most orchestras main classical series. Those traditional concerts are destined to be our mainstay as we continue to present programs that serve our core, sustaining audience. But we must also, simultaneously, find a way to fearlessly experiment with new kinds of concert experiences that remix what and how orchestras perform so we can begin nurturing the next generation of audiences that don’t care about classical traditions.

What they do care about, very deeply, is engaging with exciting, challenging, one-of-a-kind, next-generation (4G!) concert experiences that they can’t get streamed onto their widescreen at home.

Even the Mighty Oz, a traditionalist at heart, wasn’t beyond using a few bells and whistles to lead his followers to discover new things about themselves. Surely orchestras could benefit from a bit of wizardry every now and then.

Thanks to Michael Lam and Greg Sandow for the Orchestra Scoreboard inspiration – I’m sure I’ll be using that concept in the future.

For more information and audio on Don Hart’s Concertino, the family concert that we developed as a companion to this program, and Jim Westwater’ Symphonic Photochoreography, visit the Musical Portraits Programs page here.

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1 Response to Scoreboard and Photos, New Music, Oh My!

  1. Nadia

    Thanks for putting into words your own raosens for the relevance of classical music concerts. As a classical musician this question looms heavy in my mind often. I was listening to Q with Jian Ghomeshi last tuesday and he was interviewing UK writer Nick Hornby on what makes art and are we qualified to judge what is art. I was struck dumb by his flat out dismissal of classical music. Why I felt so personally insulted is for another discussion but it definitely had a slap-in-the-face quality to it. The excitement of 70 or so musicians coming together to breathe life into a work by Brahms or Rachmaninov in front of 2000 or so people is still and unqualified thrill for me after 33 years in the Toronto Symphony. Love the website and blog keep up the good work.Love,Kent TeepleViola

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