Introducing the Virtual Reality Orchestra

Classical music in 360°

To celebrate the incredibly exciting virtual reality orchestra events happening at the Southbank Centre, our app The Orchestra will be 50% off for 2 weeks (23 September – 7 October)!

You can get The Orchestra app here.

VR is so hot right now. And it’s not just for gamers: the past 18 months have seen an explosion in the numbers of film-makers using 360° camera technology to transport music fans to the same virtual spaces as their favourite artists (check out YouTube’s VR playlist for a list).

It’s safe to say that VR is big business – seriously big business. Investment in VR/AR (Augmented Reality) technologies is thought to have capped $1.1bn in the first two months of 2016 alone. The tech advisers Digi-Capital, who published those figures in March, say they expect it to develop into a $30 billion industry by 2020. That confidence is reflected in the increasingly diverse range of affordable VR kit aimed at home viewers. Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard are already out; among the products coming soon are the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Sony Playstation VR.

Small wonder, then, that the classical music industry has spotted an opportunity. Faced with dwindling audience numbers and a need to demonstrate ever-more inventive engagement strategies, a growing number of high-profile ensembles are using VR to win new fans in the digital age. Here are five.

Philharmonia Orchestra/Esa-Pekka Salonen

Sibelius: Symphony No. 5
Royal Festival Hall, London
Production by Inition

The Philharmonia Orchestra and its conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, are enthusiastic advocates of digital technology – familiar to many as the stars of The Orchestra app and a 2014 iPad Air ad, among other projects. Viewers are transported backstage at Royal Festival Hall, then on to the platform in the centre of the orchestra, as Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts a performance of Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony. The binaural recording technology (read: ear-shaped microphones) used by the Philharmonia means that you feel right in the thick of the action.

This  360-degree virtual reality experience with be open to everyone at London’s Southbank Centre from 23 September – 2 October.

LSO String Orchestra/Roman Simovic

Shostakovich: Chamber Symphony in C
Barbican Hall, London
Production by

The LSO String Orchestra’s brief VR experience reveals a variety of concert hall perspectives: the orchestra warming up in civvies in an empty auditorium, chatting before they go on stage and performing in front of a packed audience. You even get a glimpse of what the performance looks like from the restricted view seats in a sequence shot from the circle (deserted but for one – presumably quite lonely – man).

Los Angeles Philharmonic/Gustavo Dudamel

Beethoven: Symphony No. 5
Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Production by Secret Location

To capture the LA Phil (and its energetic conductor Gustavo Dudamel) in full-on Beethoven 5 mode, film-makers from Secret Location used a spherical camera constructed from eight modified GoPros. The resulting footage was stitched together to create a stereoscopic 360° image; it was later enhanced with the addition of colourful animated ‘spirits’, each supposedly representing a different element of the music.

Created for the orchestra’s Immortal Beethoven season, Orchestra VR toured LA last autumn in a specially-outfitted truck called Van Beethoven (geddit?!), reaching people who might not otherwise have attended a classical concert.

Berlin Philharmonic/Iván Fischer

Mahler: Symphony No. 3
Philharmonie, Berlin
Production by the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute

The Berlin Philharmonic have long been streaming live concerts via their Digital Concert Hall portal (some 40 gigs per season), but this is the first time they’ve used VR technology to put viewers in the thick of the action. Their performance of Mahler’s third symphony was filmed by producers at the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute in January using an OmniCam-360. Full footage will be made available to subscribers via the pay-walled DCH archive (date TBC), but non-subscribers will have to content themselves with this 360° YouTube video of the horn section posted by orchestra member Sarah Willis on the day of the concert.

The producers behind this Berlin Phil project have another classical VR experience planned. From 13 March, you’ll be able to watch Berlin’s Konzerthausorchester perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 under Iván Fischer via ARTE CONCERT for free. You can pick your favourite angle, too; getting right in amongst the first violins or snuggling up to the clarinets.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Peter Oundjan

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6
Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto
Production by VRCinematic

Unlike VR projects that aim to recreate the concert experience, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s version shows the orchestra in rehearsal – something that few non-musicians ever get to witness. The TSO showcased the full-length film last month at their season launch, where attendees could view it with VR goggles. The orchestra’s management are now looking into bringing the equipment into schools and nursing homes to give access to people who are unable to make it to the concert hall.

Future of the music industry  or just another gimmick? Let us know what you think of the VR revolution in the comments below, or via Facebook and Twitter.
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    • MK Solomon
    • 16 April, 2016

    Though visually striking, I found these formats much less informative than traditional filming, high allows one to watch the technique behind the music. While watching the Toronto cellist’s bow bend in a graceful curve was fun, I would really have preferred to see her hands more clearly.

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