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Limelight’s guide to the Virtual Concert Hall

Features - Classical Music | Opera

Limelight’s guide to the Virtual Concert Hall

by Melissa Lesnie on May 17, 2011 (May 17, 2011) filed under Classical Music | Opera | Comment Now
How to stream classical music live and on demand from the world's greatest orchestras and opera companies.

You no longer have to be an international jetsetter in order to enjoy what’s on at the most prestigious concert halls across Europe. Armed with the latest technological innovations, orchestras and opera companies around the world have joined the crusade to diversify and broaden classical music audiences, offering live and on-demand access to their concerts through online video streaming.

Paid e-ticket and subscription models exist alongside free services to allow music-loving armchair travellers to turn up to some of the world’s most anticipated classical music events - in their pyjamas if they wish - without having to squeeze past a row of seated patrons to find their place. Why not enjoy breakfast in bed or some microwave popcorn with your transcendent Mahler experience at the Berliner Philharmonie?

While today’s virtual concert halls may not quite capture the thrill of being there in person, they do dispense with barriers of distance and the expenses traditionally associated with a night at the opera. And it’s not just European finery on offer: happily, Australian arts organisations are embracing the new online possibilities and offering a range of free webcasts designed to benefit regional and remote communities.

You don’t even need to be tech-savvy to take advantage of this wealth of classical music resources: all you need to do is explore the links in our guide and click to view concerts or subscribe to your chosen series. Individual websites often feature a one-click test to establish whether your computer and Internet settings are compatible.

In the following pages, Limelight presents the best of the virtual concert movement in Australia and abroad, highlighting some of the most exciting classical events coming to the World Wide Web. These services will continue to expand and become richer in content and quality as the technology develops – just imagine how the National Broadband Network will improve our prospects!

Page 2: The Berlin Philharmonic's Digital Concert Hall

Page 3: New York Metropolitan Opera - Metplayer

Page 4: Sydney Symphony free live webcasts

Page 5: Lucerne Festival and other European venues

Page 6: The Australian Ballet - BodyTorque.Muses

Page 7: WASO free webcasts

Page 8: Naxos Video Library

Berlin Philharmonic – Digital Concert Hall

It is fitting that one of the oldest and most revered orchestras in Europe is at the forefront of these innovations with its Digital Concert Hall. It is the most significant project of its kind worldwide, winning the 2011 International Classical Music Award Best Website accolade for its technical benchmark: six remote-controlled HD cameras have been installed in the Philharmonie in Berlin which, along with superb audio technology, ensure the online concert experience is of the highest quality and as close as possible to the real thing – if you don’t believe us, try it out and note the detail on Sir Simon Rattle’s eyebrows. Free bonus content includes artist interviews and mini-documentaries.

The Digital Concert Hall provides access by computer or television – live and after the performance – to every BPO concert performed at the orchestra’s home venue along with a substantial video archive. The digital service has also been put to good use supporting humanitarian causes, with a Barenboim/Rattle showcase aired on March 29 and proceeds from the €9.90 online ticket price directed to the UNICEF Emergency Fund for the Japan relief effort. Last month, a concert featuring a Ukrainian chorus and conductor Andrey Boreyko marked the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster.

Enjoy all the Berlin Philharmonic concerts you like, in unprecedented audio-visual quality, for less than 1 euro per day (€29 per month or a yearlong subscription for €149) or purchase a 24-hour pass to a single concert for €9.99.

The one to watch: 

From May 18, 8pm (Berlin time)

Berlin Philharmonic, Claudio Abbado, soloists Anne Sofie von Otter, Jonas Kaufmann

Gustav Mahler died 100 years ago in Vienna on 18 May 1911. The Berliner Philharmoniker commemorate this anniversary with a special concert under the direction of their former chief conductor, Claudio Abbado.


New York Metropolitan Opera - Metplayer

The Met has been the major innovator in bringing live opera broadcasts to the cinema - now it also offers a high-quality online subscription service. The Metplayer presents the current season's productions as well as enabling users to delve into the Met archives and rediscover classic performances (all with subtitles).

US$149.99 for a year’s subscription, $14.99 per month and $4.99 for single opera hire in HD. A seven-day trial of the system is available. Over 300 Met productions are available on demand.

Sample a Renée Fleming aria here, or you can read more about the Metplayer in a user-friendly guide.

The one to watch

From January 16, 2010: Carmen

Richard Eyre’s stunning production of Bizet’s opera was the talk of the town when it was unveiled on New Year’s Eve 2009. Elīna Garanča leads the cast as the iconic gypsy of the title—a woman desired by every man but determined to remain true to herself. Roberto Alagna is Don José, the soldier who falls under her spell and sacrifices everything for her love, only to be cast aside when the toreador Escamillo (Teddy Tahu Rhodes) piques Carmen’s interest. With dances created by star choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and conducted by rising maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin, this Carmen brings every aspect of Bizet’s tale to thrilling life, from its lighthearted beginning to its inevitably tragic climax.

Sydney Symphony - free live webcasts

The Sydney Symphony and Telstra BigPond have launched the world’s first series of orchestral concerts to be streamed live and accessible on computer as well as through mobile applications.

Ten Sydney Symphony concerts will be presented annually in a live video stream from the Sydney Opera House. The free live and on-demand service is available via Telstra Next GTM network, through the Sydney Symphony Android and iPhone Application and on any Smartphone web browser.

The one to watch

Friday 20 May, 8pm: Ashkenazy conducts Mahler 9
Mozart Piano Concerto No.13 in C, K415
Mahler Symphony No.9 
Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor
Steven Osborne, piano

Read Limelight's interview with pianist Steven Osborne and find the full concert details here.

Lucerne Festival, Salle Pleyel, Cité de la Musique and other venues

Medici TV

In 2007, Paris-based performing arts producers Medici collaborated with Switzerland's prestigious Verbier Festival to stream 30 concerts online at Lang Lang and Joshua Bell were among the featured performers. Now Medici has broadened its European connections to offer orchestral and chamber music concerts from a wide range of venues in France and further abroad. Documentaries on Glenn Gould and other musicians are also available. Subscriptions start from €7.90 per month.


The one to watch:

From May 19, 8pm (Paris time)

Takács Quartet

If you missed the Takács Quartet at this year's Musica Viva Festival, catch them in this live performance of Haydn, Beethoven and Mendelssohn string quartets at the Auditorium du Louvre, Paris.

The Australian Ballet - Bodytorque

The Australian Ballet has teamed with BigPond to stream live the final performance of Bodytorque.Muses at Sydney Theatre on Sunday May 29, 3pm. It is fitting that the Bodytorque series, celebrating cutting-edge choreography, should be presented using the newest technology. Following the live stream the full performance will be available as video on demand. 

"BigPond’s broadcast puts The Australian Ballet on the virtual stage for the first time.  It opens the door to showcase their talents to ballet fans worldwide," says Telstra Business Group Managing Director Deena Shiff. 

"It’s so exciting that all of Australia can have the opportunity to be part of our audience," added The Australian Ballet artistic director David McAllister.

West Australian Symphony Orchestra - free webcasts

WASO's free webcasts bring popular repertoire to a broader audience in Australia and internationally, available to watch live or on demand through Internet service provider iiNet.

Launched under the direction of principal conductor Paul Daniel, the initiative was designed to reach audiences across Western Australia who may not be able to attend the Perth concerts.

“Webcasting provides an important opportunity for all Australians to experience the incredible music-making of their Orchestra, regardless of their geographical distance from the Perth Concert Hall,” he said.

WASO has been webcasting since September 2008, this year expanding the series to include five Masters and Classics concerts. Program notes are available online and footage includes backstage interviews with artists.

The one to watch

From June 12, 2010
Mozart Violin Concerto No 4
Ives Three Places in New England
Dvorák Symphony No 8 

Richard Tognetti, WASO 

Naxos Video Library

Like Medici TV, Naxos Video Library is run by a performing arts DVD distributor and presents an extensive streaming library of classical music concerts, opera, ballet and documentaries. Since it launched in February 2010 it has become popular with educational institutions. Over 1120 full-length videos are available to subscribers on demand complete with subtitles and a searchable archive. Most operas are displayed with a handy libretto highlighting where you are up to line by line, as explained in this user tutorial:

Subscription enquiries:

The one to watch:

David McVicar's 2005 Glyndebourne production of Giulio Cesare - all 4 hours and 55 minutes of it - combines serious insight with entertainment, bringing Handel's masterpiece to life in a powerful, convincing and highly intelligent way. he vivid playing of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment headed by William Christie make this a must-see production.