In a story in the Sunday Arts section of the Washington Post, I check in on the ongoing phenomenon of HD movie-theater screenings: first the Met, now the National Theatre, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Bolshoi Ballet, and Yo-Yo Ma. Story here: HD screenings can revitalize performing arts.
It seems like an embarrassment of riches. The underlying message, though, appears to be that those who are in a position to think like big businesses, approach HD cinecasts realistically, and figure out other ways to market their “content” are the ones who will survive. This is why the Met remains the leader in the field. Those institutions that simply see this as a great way to spread the word about the arts and get more viewers for their performances: not so much.
I have to give a tip of the hat to Deborah Borda, the president and CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In 2007, when I interviewed her for another article, she told me, “If you had the New York or Los Angeles Philharmonic doing symphonic concerts in movie theaters across the country, it would not sell.” Today, the LA Phil Live series screens three times a year in some 400-500 screens around the United States, and Borda good-humoredly laughed at herself when reminded of the quote in a phone interview last week.
Borda wasn’t wrong, though. For one thing, the jury is still out on how well the LA Phil Live cinecasts are actually doing with the public. (The next one is on February 18: Mahler’s 8th Symphony, led by Gustavo Dudamel, with 1,027 performers on stage.) For another, Borda was quite right to observe that orchestral performance is less inherently visual than opera or ballet. “How many shots do you need of an oboe putting a reed in?” she asked.
And finally, she was prescient after all. Having qualified the reasons , in 2007, for thinking orchestras are a harder sell in movie theaters, she concluded, “If somebody’s going to dream it up, it will probably be us.” Indeed, the Los Angeles Philharmonic is the first major orchestra to try national HD cinecasts on this scale (though the Philadelphia Orchestra dabbled in live broadcasts to universities and performing arts centers a few years back).
What are your thoughts on movie-theater broadcasts of orchestra concerts? Do you go to them? And if you don’t, what, if anything, would make you want to?
Above: a trailer for the second season of LA Phil Live broadcasts, now in progress. “It is much more than a concert,” says Deborah Borda, the orchestra’s president, of the additional interviews, backstage footage, introductory material, and other extras included in the broadcasts.