Often in the vanguard of evolving developments in recording, the Philadelphia Orchestra was part of the Google Cultural Institute's performing-arts rollout Tuesday, which involved a 60-institution partnership representing more than 20 countries and also including one of Philadelphia's Renaissance bands, Piffaro.
The orchestra is represented by a short 360-degree video of Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from Peer Gynt before a live audience at Carnegie Hall. The viewer can chose a vantage point on the stage and see most of what can be seen from that spot, then move to another.
Though the orchestra itself was not among the partners in the announcement, Carnegie Hall was, and it chose the orchestra for the pilot spot because of their long-standing association.
"We thought it would be an good fit for experimenting with 360 video ... with the combination of scheduling availability, artistic partnership, and openness to explore new technology," said Carnegie Hall chief digital officer Chris Amos.
"We've performed there for over a century," said Ryan Fleur, executive vice president of orchestra advancement, "but have actually captured very little of our history there. And we have a worldwide audience eager to stay in touch with Yannick and the orchestra musicians.
"So we are quite curious," he said, "to experience the public's reaction to this chance to see inside the orchestra as it plays and to hear the Philadelphia Sound in a totally new way."
The Google Cultural Institute - https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/home - has a four-year history of showcasing the visual arts, often showing masterpiece paintings with the option of examining them at a closer proximity than permitted in many museums. "And as soon as we launched the visual arts," said Piotr Adamczyk, Google Cultural Institute program manager, "people began coming to us from the performing arts and asking, 'What about us?' "
One of those organizations was Piffaro, whose funding for its October 2016 "Musical World of Don Quixote" festival came with a provision to document the many activities around the multidisciplinary event, which also includes the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rosenbach Museum and Library, and others. Current plans are for a two-stage Piffaro contribution: first with the posting of preexisting videos explaining the group's many instruments from distant centuries, and a second wave of video next year associated with the events exploring Don Quixote.
"The music world is changing dramatically right now, and this is a promising way for anybody who doesn't live in a city like Philadelphia, New York, or Boston to hear what a krummhorn sounds like," said executive director Shannon Cline.
The impetus for Google's involvement in the performing arts - which can be found at g.co/performingarts or https://performingarts.withgoogle.com - comes from 360 video technology, which initially simply seemed to be a better form of video documentation. But its proponents believe it is a significant step toward virtual reality, in part because, when used on a mobile phone, perspectives change as the device itself moves. "Instead of being a passive viewer with a static video that you can find on YouTube or a performing-arts institution website, you can pull it up on your phone and use it as a magic window," said Adamczyk. (Several prelaunch attempts to view the performances produced occasionally fitful sound and visuals.)
The technology might seem prohibitively complicated for a live performance; in fact, the apparatus for Carnegie Hall - three onstage rigs, each with six GoPro cameras - was easily set up and taken down. And as it happens, the Philadelphia Orchestra had, in 2012, an Integrated Media Agreement that allowed for the making of promotional videos less than five minutes at no charge. That syncs with Google's model, which is open to providing the technology, but does not pay for content.
Carnegie Hall would like to go further with the 360 technology, offering entire concerts. And Adamczyk seems open to what he calls "a critical mass" of content that's not necessarily 360. "The 360 component is a good hook for finding something interesting and novel as part of the launch," he said, but Google's entry into the performing arts, he said, is also about expanding the exposure of nonprofit institutions.