Classical music enthusiasts are making significant contributions to keeping the genre relevant and appealing to society. One way they are doing this is by taking full advantage of the technological innovations that exist today to exploit new growth opportunities.

In particular, there have been a number of efforts to bring technology to the opera concert hall’s audience, and sometimes to take the concert hall to a public audience.

Google Glass
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

The Sardinia-based opera company Teatro Lirico di Cagliari recently tried to incorporate Google Glass into a production of Puccini’s Turandot. Singer, musicians and stagehands wearing the device sent videos and pictures in real time to the company’s social media accounts during the show in an effort organizers hoped would draw new and young audiences. Via BSO Music

We cannot say for sure that the use of technology in the classical music world can have a long term effect on the industry’s survival. Even so, it is quite intriguing to explore the different ways that technology is being implemented in an effort to transform classical music performance. Here are some of them:

1. Train station opera

‘Invisible Cities’ involved embedding opera into the LA Union Station’s everyday life. The instrumentalists were in one building while performers, including singers and dancers, were scattered around the station. The audience wore wireless headphones that delivered the full soundscape of the performance.

The Industry, a Los Angeles-based experimental opera company, produced Invisible Cities in 2013. Based on the book by Italo Calvino of the same name, the opera scattered musicians, singers and dancers around the public spaces in Los Angeles’ Union Station, which remained in operation during performances. Audience members received a pair of headphones that allowed them to hear the complete music while freely walking around the station to find performers, dancers and confused travelers waiting on their train. Via BSO Music

Intro to INVISIBLE CITIES: An opera for Union Station

2. Hologram performances

Yoshiki Hayashi is a classically trained Japanese pianist with a visual aesthetic somewhere between Liberace and KISS. While once a heavy metal musician, Hayashi has turned to classical compositions in recent years and performed a duet with himself (or a hologram of himself) at the 2014 South by Southwest festival in Austin. Via BSO Music

Yoshiki Classical SXSW 2014 Hologram Piano Battle (Trailer)

3. Using Google Glass

Google aims at ultimately making use of its new technology, Google Glass, to make driverless cars a reality. However, classical music performers and innovators have already found new uses for them.

The virtual performance of Turnadot was one of many classical projects that try to make use Google Glass. Several efforts are underway to bring translations of foreign language operas to concertgoers’ Google Glass or smartphones. Wolf Trap Opera Company announced it would make use of software from Figaro Systems — a company that got its start in the ’90s installing screens in opera houses that displayed translations — to allow audiences to view translations on multiple platforms while watching Carmen.

Cynthia Johnston Turner was one of the first to test Google Glass and has experimented with displaying sheet music on the technology or displaying a conductor’s view for audiences to see. Turner’s hope is that musicians who are no longer tethered to their music stands might better interact with each other, the conductor and the audience. Via BSO Music

The following video shows a conductor’s view taken through Google Glass:

Cynthia Johnston Turner

4. Robots for the opera

Operabots act as the opera chorus and are designed to be semi-autonomous so that they freely roam around the stage in the course of an opera. Their creator, Tod Machover, aims to shape the future of music and produce musical works that not only allow audiences to see and touch sound but also to have sound touch them so deeply that it changes their mind.

Operabots probably won’t become a regular staple in opera houses any time soon, but Tod Machover’s 2010 Death and Powers did show that robotics have a place in modern opera. Death and Powers was a collaboration between the composer and the MIT Media Lab that used large electronic display panels and semi-autonomous operabots that act as Greek chorus. Via BSO Music

Tod Machover - 'Death and the Powers;' a robotic opera

5. The second screen concert experience

The second screen experience is important for television executives in encouraging viewers to watch shows live. Viewers that watch live also watch the lucrative advertisements that they usually skip when they save the shows to watch later, with the incentive of getting access to added content when they simultaneously log into a show’s app.

Time-shifting isn’t a concern for classical concerts, but composer Stephen Goss saw the second screen experience and its added content as an opportunity to enhance the audience experience for the premiere of his piano concerto in 2013. The videos offer images of city and natural landscapes to set an emotional tone for each movement. Via BSO Music

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