Do you really want to watch a concert in the cinema?

Do you really want to watch a concert in the cinema?


norman lebrecht

April 05, 2011

I’m going on Radio 4’s PM programme in a couple of hours to discuss the Berlin Philharmonic scheme of releasing some of its concerts in movie houses, in 3-D.

The story, from the morning’s Guardian, strikes me as an initiative that is behind time, rather than ahead of it. I can understand people taking up the Berlin offer to watch them live on the internet – not that many subscribers have done so – but why watch them in a cinema, with people popping corn and whispering around you?
Am I missing something?
Your thoughts, please, before I go on air….
The first release, by the way, is Mahler’s first symphony and Rachmaninov’s symphonic dances.


  • Odin Rathnam says:

    This is a new market, in my opinion. As such, nobody knows if it will catch on to the degree achieved by the Met Opera’s productions, which also offer a plot, supertitles etc. But I think anything that broadens the availability of the arts to people is worth a try! ( not that the notion of popcorn crunching obscuring a special pianissimo conjures the best picture of the future of humans’ attention spans)

  • Doug says:

    Ah, the smell of money is just too overpowering sometimes. Makes it hard to see reality.

  • If it gets people interested in classical music, I’m all for it. Maybe those who are not so “in the know” would find the setting less intimidating than, say, the hallowed Wigmore. However, I do thinks it’s also cashing in on the popularity of opera (and ballet) in the cinema. Not sure I’d want to sit through a whole Mahler symphony wearing those daft 3-D specs!

  • Chi-chi Nwanoku says:

    A taste of back to the future maybe… so many of our great 18th century composers… Mozart for example, only ever heard some of their works performed with a backdrop, or even frontdrop of much socialising, munching, crunching, farting, burping going on all around it. Not that I condone that, but at least it was being listened to in something of a relaxed environment. These days there is a choice, so if the music performed is being viewed in a cinema environment and succeeds to capture more strays and unconverted, that sounds good to me. With luck the next time they go to hear the music will be in a concert hall or on the radio. It’s win-win surely?

  • Ron Nadel says:

    I’m in the middle of the US (Boulder, Colorado), so my opinion is probably too late to help you on your interview, but I can’t let an opinion go to waste just because of international time zones, now can I.
    The Metropolitan Opera live HD theater broadcasts have been a huge success. The Dude has taken a page from this book in Los Angeles, too. The LA Phil broadcast 3 concerts to theaters around the US.
    The attraction of opera in a theater is understandable, it’s like a movie anyway, but it remains to be seen if a more “static” concert is a consistent draw.
    I would definitely go to a theater to see some landmark concerts of certain composers/compositions/artists. Mahler is definitely in the category.

  • Marie Lamb says:

    Out of curiosity, I checked your link to the Financial Times article to see why not many people have taken advantage of the Internet subscriptions to the Berlin Philharmonic. A season subscription is 150 Euros; at today’s exchange rate, that is about $213.41 in U.S. dollars. That is too rich for my blood in today’s economy, and I suspect it’s too much for most people. If I had that disposable income, I’d rather use it to support live music in my own community; it needs the help, and it sounds better in person, too. BTW, just got to hear you on “PM”–thanks and bravo for what you had to say!

  • Michael P. Scott says:

    I LOVE the Metropolitan Opera’s theatrical presentations. Great sound; details in the videography that would be impossible to see “in person” or on a television set; interesting commentary.
    I’ve liked many of the other televised performances of classical music and really have enjoyed the webcasts from the Cliburns and the Chopin Competition.
    BUT: I see absolutely NO need for 3D. Who needs a violin or cello bow popping out of the screen apparently headed straight for my eye.
    KISS (Keep it simple, stupid) ought to be applied here!

  • Tom Whittaker says:

    Frankly, I would prefer to watch a concert on my TV or just listen to it on my stereo.
    There are several reasons for this:
    Concert halls in the U.S. are built for revenue maximization. They are therefore mostly 2000+ seat halls (regional orchestras often have to use multi-purpose halls), which, frankly, produce a musical experience acoustically inferior to that of my stereo. Unless, that is, one sits in the “golden triangle” where the acoustics actually are good (most halls have 200-300 seats in that category). Sadly, these seats often start at $150 per condert, and with the horrible programming skills of most conductors and management, I ain’t paying for a subscription.
    Poor programming would have been item no. 2., but reading the above, I think I’ve about covered it all. No way I’m going to a cinema to watch a concert. I usually listen with my eyes closed anyway, because the antics of the conductor and/or soloist distract from the listening enjoyment.
    Long live digital recording technology!

  • Alan Ryder says:

    Many reasons to attend a cinema performance including screening time. Not many live concerts on a Saturday morning – the Met shows are on at that time as are the San Francisco S.O. presentations. Live music is usually in the evening demanding an overnight stay, making the whole proposition wildly expensive.
    I presume the same would apply to the Berlin concerts. Screens much too busy doing other things in the evening!
    Withal, forget the 3D, per Michael Scott

  • Kathrine Nixon says:

    I think this is a great idea, similar to the Met productions, which are highly successful on the screen. It is worth a try if only to reach a wider audience.

  • Joe McKaughan says:

    “Carmen in 3-D” added nothing to that opera experience. Filmed at the Royal Opera House, surely that theater could have come up with a better cast and a much better production. After two minutes, the 3-D effect was lost on many in our audience and the powerlessness of the four hour production took over. Live from The Met HD has nothing to worry about.

  • Why does everyone assume this reaches a new audience (i.e. the coveted young demographic)?
    The Met Live in HD productions are a great success, but here in Pittsburgh, at least, the audience is overwhelmingly senior citizen opera buffs. (And more power to them!)
    There are more younger folks at the live Pgh Opera performances because it’s more of a night on the town, it’s more of a hot date.
    Contrary to assumptions, young people aren’t intimidated by dressing up and going to events that feel classy. They like it! And that’s even if they’re not that familiar with the music.