Monday, September 12, 2011

Lahti Sibelius Festival 2011 -- Music and Technology

How to sum up two days of glorious music? That’s one of the challenges of being at the Lahti Sibelius Festival, absorbing it all, beingready for more the next day, and then communicating what you have experienced. The festival ended on Sunday and I’ll have more to say about the inspired performances as well as providing a preview of next season’s festival in my next post. For now I want to share a few thoughts about the miracle that's taking place in this quiet Finnish city.

On the second day of the festival I sat down to lunch with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra’s General Manager, Tuomas Kinberg, and Deputy General Manager, Teemu Kirjonen. They shared some of the history of the festival and gave me a behind the scenes look at a technological innovation that orchestras with far larger budgets have not been able to replicate.

Lahti is a town with a population of about 100,000 people,but once a year music lovers from all over the globe flock to the city for the festival. As might be expected (considering the great tradition of Sibelius interpretation by Finnish and British musicians) most of the visitors are from Finland and England. Kinberg pointed out that the current festival was sold outand that attendance has been steady for years. Why? He gave a one-word answer,“Sibelius.” Enough said.

The composer of the hour, Sibelius as painted by Eero Jarnefelt in 1890
Perhaps France, the Mediterranean countries and the U.S.will join the Sibelius love fest when they have the opportunity to watch the 2011 festival online. That’s correct, full length concerts streamed online at The first day of the festival will be streamed on September 15thand will be available free of charge for three weeks. Yes, I wrote “free.” The Lahti Symphony spearheaded these broadcasts and the project gained momentum when ClassicLive Oy, a Finnish company, was formed by a group of arts lovers. The company is governed by a board of investors with connections to music anddance. In addition to Lahti concerts, streams performances by other Nordic orchestras, the Netherlands National Opera, the Royal Ballet, theImperial Russian Ballet and other ensembles.

The Lahti Symphony films their concerts using multiple cameras and state-of-the-art sound engineering. Rather than populating the concert hall with cameramen operating noisy cameras on dollies, the entire production is controlled by a producer and an assistant reading a score giving musical cues. A computer with a joystick is at the heart of the filming.

The control room at Sibelius Hall
Maestro Okko Kamu conducts the orchestra with a baton and the control room directs filming with a joystick, you have to love the symmetry.

Okko Kamu, photo by Markus Henttonen
--Craig Zeichner

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