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Producing Televised Classical Concerts

How Can Orchestras Look and Sound Their Best? By Sebastian Thaler
Over the last two decades, advances in audio and video technology have revolutionized the quality of televised musical performances. One fortunate outcome of this is a significant improvement in how symphony orchestras present themselves to the public. Classical music lovers are now able to experience the excitement of a master performance more vividly than ever before, even if the concert hall is located halfway around the world.

Music Director Gerard Schwarz leads the All-Star Orchestra
Photo courtesy The All-Star Orchestra

A recent example of success in this realm arrived on March 30, when All-Star Orchestra took home two Emmy(r) Awards at the 57th Annual New York Emmy(r) Awards. "Music for the Theatre," the first program in the eight-episode classical music concert series, won in both categories for which it was nominated: Special Event Coverage (Other than News and Sports) and Audio: Post Production. The series features top musicians from across the country performing major symphonic masterpieces and works from leading contemporary American composers and premiered nationwide on public television in September 2013.

Each of the All-Star Orchestra's eight one-hour programs, recorded over four days, was taped at New York's historic Grand Ballroom at the Manhattan Center where conductors including Leonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez, Zubin Mehta, and Arturo Toscanini made their classical music recordings. Nineteen high-definition cameras were allowed to roam freely during the All-Star Orchestra's recordings, creating an unprecedented "up close and personal" experience.

"We were pleased when All-Star Orchestra chose to perform and film at our venue," said OBie O'Brien, Director of Audio & Video Production at Manhattan Center Productions. "We share their commitment to preserving the art of classical music and we were able to capture the essence of blending classical pieces with contemporary masters."

The video studio in New York City's Manhattan Center during The All-Star Orchestra recording sessions
Photo courtesy The All-Star Orchestra

O'Brien goes on to note that there is no excuse for bad quality in a televised orchestral performance. Done right, a televised performance can work wonders in taking things to the next level for an orchestra, by featuring it effectively and entertainingly. Having a powerful telecast that conveys the orchestra's virtuosity to classical audiences has never been more crucial for an orchestra's reputation.

Of course, there are many questions an orchestra's musical director needs to answer before starting on the process of having a televised performance produced. For example: How should the specific music to be performed best be presented on a small screen? What camera and microphone configurations will show off the orchestra to optimal effect? A longer performance will obviously necessitate a longer televised performance, which means it must be sufficiently creative in its production to hold the audience's interest from start to finish. Regardless of the musical director's goals for the performance, professional guidance should always be sought to get the best result, whether the orchestra is to perform live or recorded.

What does an orchestra's musical director need to do to answer these questions and ensure that his or her orchestra's performance stands out? This is key: the more professional the end product, meaning the higher its production values, the more well-received the performance-and the orchestra responsible for it-will be. To that end, the orchestra and its management should always leave the heavy lifting to the professionals. 

In the Grand Ballroom of Manhattan Center
Photo courtesy The All-Star Orchestra

This is precisely where an accomplished facility with a long track record of state-of-the-art video and audio production enters the mix. Have they been the facility of choice for classical artists in the past, and were those artists satisfied with the end result? Does the studio team at the facility have substantial experience in working with classical music to make sure that the production values are appealing and television-worthy? If the answers are yes, the musical director can be reasonably confident that his or her orchestra has landed in the right facility.

One more consideration: orchestras should look at the equipment at the disposal of the production facility they are considering. If the facility hosts state-of-the-art video recording technology, and multiple audio and video editing suites-all with tools and staffing to satisfy the most demanding clientele-then they are better equipped to assist orchestras with their televised performances. A facility such as those described above is genuinely in the business of turning an orchestra's vision for its performance into reality.

To create a great musical performance, orchestras have to know what they're doing, not only creatively but also technically. Some don't fully realize this until it's too late. That's why the proper facilities, services and experienced personnel are needed to make sure an orchestral performance is exactly right. Nothing draws classical music aficionados in more effectively than a televised performance that conveys an orchestra's specific talents well.

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Sebastian Thaler is a freelance science and

technology writer based in New York City

Related Keywords:Manhattan Center Productions, All-Star Orchestra, live music production, Emmys

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