Kaptainis continued, asking a very pertinent question: “But what will be gained? An opinion on the dye job of a second violin? The addition of big screens leads me to recast the question posed by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 U.S. presidential debates: ‘Are you better off than you were a year ago?’ Maybe by next year I will have an answer.”
First, when a soloist is presented with an orchestra – a pianist, a violinist, whatever – there’s often a contingent of fans in the audience who have come specifically to hear and see that particular artist. Surely they would be delighted by close-up shots of their idol, bravely essaying the evening’s concerto. Big screens can be particularly helpful for pianists, whose hands cannot readily be viewed by half the audience. Seeing what a soloist is doing, close up, adds to the excitement.
Second, conductors are sometimes fascinating people to watch. But in an orchestral concert, they stand with their backs to the hall, and much of their art of communication is invisible to the audience. A camera at the back of the orchestra, pointing straight at the conductor, can change all that, offering the audience direct frontal contact with the maestro’s interpretation.
Third, big screens could bring the audience closer to the orchestra itself. Orchestral musicians toil away in an anonymity that does not do their talents justice. I’ve been attending Toronto Symphony concerts for years, but I must confess that there aren’t more than a dozen TSO players I would recognize if I passed them walking down Yonge Street. These artists deserve to be better known – and big-screen projections could help make that happen.
Big screens at orchestral concerts haven’t caught on like wildfire, the way surtitles did in opera, a generation ago. In part, this is because the technology is much more expensive than projected opera titles. Also, the placement of the screens remains a problem. On one occasion when I saw the technology tried out Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall, the best that could be managed was a pair of modest-looking screens, far to the left and right of the stage.
So what would it cost to install a gigantic screen, suspended directly above the orchestra, in RTH? A million dollars? Perhaps it would be worth it.
© Colin Eatock 20011