The point is simply to get people to hear the music. Technology is just a way to make that happen. “People expect it,” Ford points out. “We expect organizations to have their stories together, provide information, actively try to engage with us as consumers. There’s no not doing it anymore.” The issue, he says, is “how to do it smartly and intelligently and be innovative about how you do it.”
Other cutting-edge orchestras concur. “Informed audiences can be more easily transformed,” says Howard Herring, president of the New World Symphony, the training orchestra for young professionals in Miami Beach. In 2011, the orchestra inaugurated a brand-new hall designed (by Frank Gehry) to maximize technological effect. Practice and concert rooms are hooked up to Internet 2 connections so musicians can take long-distance coachings from orchestra players and composers around the world (the organization hopes to archive these sesssions for future artists). Videos accompany many performances, and concerts are projected on the building’s curving exterior. “About half of that audience is new to our database,” Herring says.
“Of course,” he says, “the next challenge is, once you’ve brought them in for the first time, can you bring them back?”
As symphonies try to harness social media, social media has also made forays into the symphonic realm. In 2008, the YouTube Symphony started taking audition videos from around the world to assemble an actual, physical orchestra, first at Carnegie Hall in 2009, then in Sydney in 2011.
Even more DIY is the Twitter Symphony (@twtrsymphony), formed last year by the composer Chip Michael, who sent out a Twitter call first for performers, then for scores. The “orchestra” has compiled several tracks (composed by Michael) by having individual players, mainly professional musicians, record the parts at home and submit them for a recording engineer to collate. (You can hear Michael’s four-movement second symphony at twtrsymphony.instantencore.com.)
It might seem that Michael is trying to create an alternative to the traditional orchestra — as many composers who don’t have access to one have to do. (In 2007, the composer Kyle Gann told me, “I find myself increasingly dependent on digital realizations of my music,” and added, “many composers don’t give a damn whether the orchestra is going to die as an institution or not, because we never had access to it anyway, and we’re learning to do without it.”) But what Michael is doing is using technology to get the attention of traditional orchestras.