Classical music and virtual reality: Come on, we’ll fly through the hall – culture

Evening at the Berlin Philharmonic. Piercing, partially atonal sounds piercing the room, a woman in a fiery red bird costume dances between the rows of the audience, cool blue LED spots show her way ahead. And above the heads of the enchanted young audience, line by line, the arrival of the evil magician ends like a live painting.

This is Igor Stravinsky’s ballet music “Firebird”, which Kirill Petrenko and the Berlin Philharmonic inspire at a family concert. The Principal Conductor records the strikingly concentrated calmness in the room, as he notes while moderating. The combination of music, dance, light installation and a live projection of a drawing by artist Reinhard Kleist enchants those present. “I hope we managed to charm you today,” says Petrenko at the end, before specifically addressing the parents in the audience: “Please take your children to a classical music concert as soon as possible.”

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What an evening that ends with applause shows: Reaching the next generation can be especially successful when classical music becomes an adventurous evening that affects all the senses and ignites the passions. Incidentally, an idea that Richard Wagner already realized in his total work of art.

The New York-based 8-Bit Big Band proves that sometimes a different concert format is enough. The band achieved in jazz what is still sought in classical music: they were able to conquer the Spotify generation by interpreting music from video games. With versions of the title tracks from “Super Mario 64” and “Tetris” for example, which are largely arranged and presented in classic big-band jazz style, the band hits the digital nerve of over 130,000 Spotify listeners a month. In addition, there are millions of other views on YouTube and its company.

A YouTube video by WDR Funkhausorchester shows that a different selection of songs can also promise digital success in classical music. Under the title “Final Fantasy X in concert”, the orchestra performed works by Masashi Hamauzu, Junya Nakano and Nobuo Uematsu at the Cologne Philharmonic, which were created for the world’s best seller of video games. About a million views of the concert evening, which apart from the compositions is quite traditional, proves the interest in such projects. Perhaps this way, barriers can be lowered so that young adults in particular can access classical music.

Already in 2017, the Dutch design team showed how the digital and analog world can be successfully combined in the concert hall of the future with the “360 Cinema Concert”, which it claims is “the first music concert with Microsoft Hololens”. At the request of the conductor and entrepreneur Marcel Thomas Geraeds, a holographic concert was created that matched the “Mars making war” from Gustav Holst’s Suite Planet.

Augmented reality glasses open up an extra dimension: anyone sitting in such a concert hall can experience glowing asteroids strike the holographic Mars hovering above the orchestra, while the musicians recreate Holst’s “soundtrack”.

It’s just a small step from augmented reality to full virtual reality. For example, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra are increasingly trying to record their concerts in such a way that you can experience a new classic on better and better virtual reality glasses, completely without a concert hall.

The VR Komische Oper and Berliner Ensemble project should bring results next year

Assumption: if in the future more and more people will have relatively inexpensive VR glasses at home and thus be able to immerse themselves in a universe of new media content, why not use these glasses to immerse yourself in classical music, opera or drama?

“In the meantime, I had VR glasses, watched virtual reality online and experienced hybrid VR presentations live,” Berliner Ensemble director Oliver Reese commented last year on the digital project Spielräume! The project, initiated jointly by BE and Komische Oper, is funded by a digital fund of the Federal Cultural Foundation. In the “search for digital worlds of experience” various fields such as game design, dramaturgy and composition are combined. Art projects that “create a new scope in a sustainable and innovative way thanks to digital technologies” were sought in an open call. The winning project has a budget of € 120,000 and the results should be visible in 2023.

Many homes use the Twitch live streaming portal

The pioneer of virtual reality in the German cultural landscape is probably the Staatstheater Augsburg, which in the 2020/2021 season became a virtue of necessity and created its own digital branch. Under the title “vr-theater @ home” the website of the theater presents not only numerous original VR productions from ballet, drama or concerts, but you can also rent VR glasses. Then the box, for example with Mussorgsky’s “Pictures from an Exhibition”, is delivered by bicycle courier directly to your home – and picked up again after a virtual cultural evening.

Augsburg also discovered broadcasts on Twitch’s live streaming portal, as did other houses during the pandemic, when the entire cultural world was forced to switch to digital technology. The future is a hybrid? In any case, the Berlin Konzerthaus offers a mix of live music and “nerdy talk” on Twitch. In fact, in the “season”, where every two weeks in the season everything that moves the orchestra is presented live.

This is well received by the community, as evidenced by about one million video views; and comments like “I have nothing to do with classical music and I’m stuck here!” When asked, Konzerthaus director Sebastian Nordmann explains: “In order to reach different groups, we must continue to develop exciting analogue and digital formats and dare to experiment based on the experiences of younger generations.”

The Berlin Philharmonic, which boasts a 20-year tradition of educational programs founded by Simon Rattle, continues to be concerned about the reception habits of young audiences. Program manager Katja Frei believes that “external changes today are calling us even more to reposition” 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 as a motivation”. Large institutions should transform a little faster in terms of participation and accessibility.

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