Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Gürzenich-Orchester Köln livestream Saint-Saëns

Adventurous livestream from the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln with conductor François-Xavier Roth, screened last night on the orchestra's own website. The orchestra's roots go back to the 15th century; it developed in its present form in the mid-19th century.  Mahler's Symphony no 5 premiered with the Gürzenich-Orchester, conducted by the composer himself.  (see my article here). Now it's reaching out to audiences that wouldn't otherwise be able to attend its concerts live. The livestream yesterday focused on Saint-Saëns  with the Dance macabre, the Concerto for piano and orchestra no 5  (The "Eygptian"),  and Symphony no 3 (The "Organ"). A very enjoyable concert, thoughtfully planned, and well executed. 

Technology has changed business economics. The age of youtube takes things still further. Of course there are many positives to youtube but it distorts the reality of performance,  narrowing horizons, creating self-selecting limitations and promoting the idea that musicians don't deserve to be paid for what they do.  Somehow, though, musicians have to adapt. The Berliner-Philharmoniker, among the first to embrace recording technology, pioneered digital streaming. Anyone, anywhere in the world can access Berlin.  While there are other platforms, orchestra-led broadcasting gives musicians control, and is far more representative of what orchestras actually do than depending on the rather artificial medium of of recording.  Many orchestras and opera houses livestream, some more successfully than others.   Perhaps the secret is to have something worth streaming on an international level.

The Gürzenich-Orchester Köln has something special to offer, if this initial livestream is evidence.    It's an extremely good orchestra, with distinctive character and an auditorium with a warm acoustic.  Another asset the Gürzenich also have is  François-Xavier Roth, who communiates his deep enthusiasm for repertoire with intelligence and panache.  He's done this programme before, elsewhere: finesse shows   Technically, the broadcast was understated, almost exactly like a normal performance, where the players file in unannounced and get on with what they do best - making music.  This is a tacit assumption that the audience is sharp enough to listen without having the blather that accompanies MET screenings and  the BBC Proms. Perhaps mass audiences need hype to get them wound up, but personally I like the intimate character of the Gürzenich and its emphasis on its musicians.  Broadcasts aren't cheap but they can be cheaper than cinema distribution, the curse of HD, and the caprices of big recording companies more into profit than art.  Gürzenich-Orchester marketing is good, and they know how to use social media to generate publicity  On the other hand,  strength lies in numbers, and most individual orchestras don't have the muscle to break into the world market - not everyone is the Berliner Phil !  Not every concert needs to be streamed, and publicity should be done more in advance.  But orchestra-led streaming might be the way ahead.

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