Friday, March 27, 2020

A Videoconferencing Orchestra Plays Mahler

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, I have seen several examples of “remote education” enabled through multi-window video conferencing software. However, it never occurred to me that the technology would be powerful enough to provide individual windows for the members of a full orchestra or that they would all be able to coordinate in following a window for the conductor. However, the New York Youth Symphony (NYYS) seems to have taken to heart one of the fundamental precepts of invention: If you can imagine it and if you have the right tools, you can build it!

The result is a YouTube video that has to be seen to be believed. The project was launched when COVID-19 forced the cancellation of NYYS presenting its spring concert in Carnegie Hall. Through videoconferencing technology,  Music Director Michael Repper was able to conduct the members of NYYS in a highly abridged (about 90 seconds in duration) account of the second movement of Gustav Mahler’s first symphony in D major. As can be seen in this clip from the video:

courtesy of Jensen Artists

every player has his/her own window. The layout basically reflects how thy players would be seated during a concert performance; and the “front and center” window for the conductor is a bit larger, since all the performers are expected to direct their attention to that locus.

Now, for the sake of “getting real,” it is worth noting that this is an excerpt that can be realized with little more than a basic sense of beating time. To some extent Repper tips his hand at the very beginning by setting the pulse through clapping his hands. Nevertheless, the fact that all of the players could come together and sound like an integrated ensemble is impressive, almost as impressive as the post-editing executed by NYYS violinist Raina Tung to prepare the “final cut” display. (I was also informed by my source for this content that today is Tung’s eighteenth birthday. She definitely needs to be acknowledged for providing a “present” to the global listening community, rather than dwelling on what she might be receiving!)

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