A Digital Era

Gareth Davies

The classical music world is constantly accused of being elitist, unwelcoming, of building walls to keep out all but the privileged few. It’s a view which is unfair and outdated and yet gets repeated time and again. 

And yet if we’re talking of building walls, the brutalist examples of the Barbican concert hall only allow around 1900 people to experience a performance at any one time. We already perform up to 70 concerts a year at our home so how are we extending our reach outside these walls? Right now, for the first time since the days of André Previn, the typical London taxi driver knows who our Music Director is. I no longer need to explain that we played on Star Wars or Harry Potter; the new magic words are 'Simon Rattle'. It’s the perfect time to engage with a whole new audience beyond the concert hall.

Broadcasts of live concerts aren't new, but have become almost non-existent on mainstream television. However, recent upgrades to the Barbican cameras have allowed us to broadcast live on YouTube and Facebook. The 2016/17 season launched with the live streaming of Verdi Requiem conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. As well as a sold out hall, 4,000 people watched it live and since being available on demand online, in excess of 12,000 people have watched it in 139 countries. We plan to broadcast two concerts a season as well as live streaming interactive Friday lunchtime concerts from LSO St Luke’s.

As well as the standard filmed concert format, we also have LSO Play. It was launched in 2013 and has just expanded to include its fourth performance. LSO Play is an interactive, immersive and award-winning web app allowing you to experience the LSO on stage. Each performance is filmed to give you a close up view that you couldn't experience in the auditorium. You can watch four different camera angles where you can focus on the fingers of the violinists to the tips of the drumsticks, or if you choose, look the conductor in the eyes! You’ll also find masterclasses with LSO players, contextual information and history of the repertoire. If you’re a teacher, you can download the resource packs for use in the classroom.

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The LSO was the first orchestra to start its own record label LSO Live in 2000, however the landscape for recordings is changing all the time and sales of physical CDs are in decline. By developing new partnerships with Apple Music, Spotify and Deezer, the LSO continues to make high quality music affordable and accessible around the world through streaming. Last year alone we had 2 million streams. On Spotify, LSO Live receives over 1 million listeners a month which means that we can claim the title as ‘the world’s most streamed orchestra’. But, what makes this development even more exciting is that as well as the traditional audience we have in the UK, US and beyond we have also engaged with a loyal audience in emerging territories such as Brazil and Mexico. Streaming has also reinvigorated our presence where sales of CDs had virtually disappeared.

Another very successful partnership is with the cable and internet pay TV channels Mezzo and Mezzo Live HD. We've been recording and broadcasting live LSO concerts from the Barbican for the last two years. The potential audience is vast. Mezzo is available in 60 countries to an audience of 28 million subscribers. Haydn’s The Seasons with Rattle was the first LSO broadcast in the UK outside of the BBC Proms for nine years. An LSO Live co production with Illuminations for Sky Arts, it was screened in the key concert slot and reached an audience of 100,000 viewers. A new partnership with Medici.tv, starting in January 2017, will bring another 300,000 potential subscribers. When you know that Mezzo, Sky Arts, Arte and Medici.tv will be broadcasting three concerts in the 2016/17 season and several more in the 2017/18 season, the audience numbers become mind boggling and those walls that surround us begin to crumble.

Yet another partnership that’s relatively new for us is Digital Theatre. A leading video-on-demand platform in which the LSO is the only orchestral partner already has six of our concerts available, with four more going live in the next six months across 195 countries. It gives access to not only concerts but also educational work, and now that the initial set up costs have been covered, it generates income for LSO Live.

So what about the future? For the ultimate LSO experience, you can practice an instrument for about 20 years, get through the gruelling audition process and finally if you’re very lucky, take to the stage as a member of the LSO – maybe you could learn something along the way from the LSO iTunes U education portal or pick up some tips from one of our LSO players online distance learning masterclasses…but if that sounds like too much work, we’ve recently partnered with Melody VR, a newly launched platform which creates an intimate experience through virtual reality. Using VR headsets and binaural audio, you can experience a place in the hall which is off limits to even the most expensive seats – the stage. We’ve already filmed the 2016 BMW LSO Open Air Classics concert in Trafalgar Square and a recent concert at the Barbican, with more planned. The audience beyond the concert hall is vast and expanding. Streaming, VR or a whole lot of practice...how will you experience the LSO in the future?

Gareth Davies, Principal Flute and LSO Chairman
January 2017