An evening in the Berlin Philharmonie. Biting, partly atonal sounds shrill through the hall, a woman in a fiery red bird costume dances between the audience tiers, cool blue LED spots point her way ahead. And above the heads of a spellbound young audience, line by line, the arrival of an evil magician is completed as a picture painted live.
It is Igor Stravinsky’s ballet music “The Firebird” with which Kirill Petrenko and the Berlin Philharmonic inspire at the family concert. The chief conductor registers a strikingly concentrated calm in the room, as he notes during the moderation. The combination of music, dance, light installation and projection of the live drawing by the artist Reinhard Kleist casts a spell over those present. “I hope we were able to enchant you today,” says Petrenko at the end, before turning specifically to the parents in the audience: “Please bring your children to the classical concert as early as possible”.
What the evening, which ends with much applause, shows: Reaching the next generation can be particularly successful when classical music becomes an evening of adventure that appeals to all the senses and ignites passions. An idea, by the way, that Richard Wagner already pursued with his total work of art.
The 8-Bit Big Band, a New York-based ensemble, proves that sometimes all you need is a different concert format. The band has achieved in jazz what one is still looking for in classical music: they were able to win over the Spotify generation by interpreting video game music. With their versions of the title melodies, for example from “Super Mario 64” or “Tetris”, which are largely arranged and presented in the classic big band jazz style, the band hits a digital nerve with their more than 130,000 Spotify listeners a month. In addition, there are millions of other views on YouTube and Co.
A YouTube video by the WDR Funkhausorchester shows that a different selection of pieces can also promise digital success in classical music. Under the title “Final Fantasy X in concert”, the orchestra played works by Masashi Hamauzu, Junya Nakano and Nobuo Uematsu in the Cologne Philharmonic, which were created for the worldwide video game bestseller. Around a million views of the concert evening, which is quite traditional apart from the compositions, prove that there is interest in such projects. Perhaps barriers can be lowered in this way so that young adults in particular can gain access to classical music.
As early as 2017, a Dutch project team showed how digital and analogue worlds can be successfully brought together in the concert hall of the future with “360 Cinema Concert”, which it claims is the “first music concert with the Microsoft Hololens”. Commissioned by conductor and entrepreneur Marcel Thomas Geraeds, a holographic concert experience was created to match “Mars, the Bringer of War” from Gustav Holst’s Planets Suite.
The augmented reality glasses open up an additional dimension: anyone sitting in the concert hall equipped in this way can experience how glowing asteroids hit a holographic Mars hovering above the orchestra, while the musicians play Holst’s “soundtrack”.
It’s just a small step from augmented reality to full virtual reality. The BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, for example, are increasingly trying to record their concerts in such a way that they make it possible to experience a new classic on the ever-improving virtual reality glasses, entirely without a concert hall.
The assumption: If in the future more and more people will have relatively affordable VR glasses at home and can thus immerse themselves in a universe of new media content, why not use these glasses to immersively experience classical music, opera or drama?
“By now I had VR glasses on, saw virtual reality on the internet and experienced hybrid VR live presentations,” commented the director of the Berliner Ensemble, Oliver Reese, on the digital project “Spielräume!” last year. The project, initiated jointly by BE and Komische Oper, is financed by the digital fund of the Federal Cultural Foundation. Various areas such as game design, dramaturgy or composition are brought together in the “search for digital worlds of experience”. In an open call, artistic projects were sought “that create new scope in a sustainable and innovative way with digital technologies”. The winning project has a budget of 120,000 euros, and the results should be on display in 2023.
The virtual reality pioneer in the German cultural landscape is probably the Staatstheater Augsburg, which made a virtue of necessity in the 2020/2021 Corona season and created its own digital division. Under the title “vr-theater@home”, the theater website not only presents numerous in-house VR productions from ballet, drama or concerts, but you can also rent VR glasses. Then a box, for example with Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”, is delivered directly to your home by bicycle courier – and picked up again after the virtual cultural evening.
Augsburg also discovered broadcasts on the live streaming portal Twitch, as did other houses during the pandemic, when the entire cultural world was forced to switch to digital. The future is hybrid? In any case, the Berlin Konzerthaus offers a combination of live music and “nerd talk” on Twitch. In fact, during the “season”, in which every two weeks during the season everything that moves the orchestra is presented via live stream.
This is well received by the community, as shown by around a million views of the videos; and comments like “I have nothing to do with classical music and I got stuck here!” When asked, Konzerthaus director Sebastian Nordmann explains: “In order to reach different groups, we have to keep developing exciting analogue and digital formats and dare to experiment that build on the experiences of the younger generations”.
The Berlin Philharmonic, which can look back on a 20-year tradition of education programs founded by Simon Rattle, is still concerned with the reception habits of a young audience. Program director Katja Frei believes that “external developments at the moment are calling us even more to reposition ourselves” if you want to be “a necessary part of the lives of people of all ages”. Frei believes that tradition can be used “as a foundation and drive”. The big institutions should transform themselves a little faster in terms of participation and accessibility.