Saturday, April 10 marked the ten-year anniversary of the first concert webcast by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Throughout the past year, livestreamed music has become a critical point of connection for audiences unable to attend concerts in person. While COVID-19 rapidly brought the phrase "unprecedented times” into our everyday vocabulary, the DSO’s history of being eager to reach into the future to meet audiences where they live laid the groundwork for that first foray into livestreaming 10 years ago, preparing us for this virtual-only moment. We embrace what brought us here, as we constantly evolve to keep the music playing.
On the eve of the first Live from Orchestra Hall webcast, the DSO was coming out of a six-month work stoppage and leaning into new ways of relating internally. Within a week the contract was ratified, the remainder of the season was announced—including plans for a new neighborhood concert series—the orchestra returned to the stage, patrons returned to Orchestra Hall, and the weekend’s second performance was shared with nearly 4,000 additional viewers: joining via webcast for the first time. It was a return and pivot to an innovative future kicked off by the baton of then Music Director Leonard Slatkin, as he led the orchestra in Bernstein’s Overture to Candide and closed the program with a triumphant rendition of Dvořák’s New World Symphony. The stage lights lowered to the cheers and applause of a full house on their feet.
Webcast production looked a lot different in those days and was made possible by a key foundational partnership with Detroit Public Television (DPTV) who brought in camera operators, production crew, and equipment. Cameras were manned in the boxes right next to patrons, headsets occasionally malfunctioned, and flexibility was embraced by all as experience was gained through trial and error.
Just ten months later Live from Orchestra Hall achieved record viewership of an American orchestra webcast with 15,000 people tuning in to watch Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, surpassing the former record by 5,000 views. With the most widely watched American symphony webcast in history attributed to the DSO, the Live From Orchestra Hall brand was firmly established.
2014: Camera Upgrades, Classroom Edition Expansion, and DSO Replay
By 2014 we had built a more independent operating infrastructure, production moved to a control room in the hall’s basement, and—through support from the Al Glancy Fund for Technology, Knight Foundation, and Ford Motor Company Fund—six new High-Definition robotic cameras were purchased, installed in Orchestra Hall, and guided by joystick from the basement. With the new technology in place, the DSO became the first U.S. orchestra to utilize robotic cameras.
“ …the cutting edge for the phenomenon in this country lies here, where the Detroit Symphony Orchestra has the most ambitious free web-streaming program of any major American orchestra… ”- New York Times
The 2014-2015 season brought a critical expansion to webcast offerings with the launch of Classroom Edition webcasts. Classroom Edition broadcast the DSO’s long-standing Educational Concert Series free to classrooms and home educators around the world. Partnerships with local arts and cultural institutions injected dance, theatre, opera, and science into educational programs that taught students the breadth of what an orchestra does and demonstrated the ways music and musical principals are all around them in life. Nearly 400 classrooms viewed the first Classroom Edition webcast which have now been viewed by hundreds of thousands of Detroit-area students and classrooms as far away as Japan. When the DSO percussion section visited Nicaragua in 2016 they discovered the students there had been viewing the webcasts.
‘“We are not expending additional efforts to reach an international audience, but I can tell you that we have people in Norway, Japan, Kenya, Cameroon, Australia, all over the world watching these webcasts,” said DSO Senior Director of Community and Learning Caen Thomason-Redus to the Knight Foundation.
2014 also saw the creation of DSO Replay, the on-demand streaming library of archived Classical series concerts going back three seasons. Initially a benefit for donors, the DSO made the Replay archive free for all to use at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. View our DSO Replay playlist, 10 Years of Live From Orchestra Hall here.
Ultra High-Definition: 4K Camera System
Installed over summer 2019, the current webcasting system includes fiber-optic wiring throughout The Max, new studio equipment for the control room, and eight state-of-the-art Panasonic AW-UE150 4K robotic cameras. The DSO has also created nine new camera positions in Orchestra Hall, meaning that camera positions can be reconfigured and customized for each individual webcast. The 4K cameras perform better in low light and offer a clearer, more colorful image, allowing the DSO to webcast at the same high caliber at which the musicians perform. As has happened many times in the DSO’s past, we have utilized contemporary technology to present exceptional artistry – in a way that does the artistry justice while building new pathways for audience accessibility.
Read about the current system in our Sight and Sound series story.
Pandemic Era and DSO Digital Concerts
The DSO’s early adoption of digital technology, plus its emphasis on webcasting every Classical Series subscription concert—leading to a robust archive—allowed the orchestra to pivot successfully and quickly to virtual programming during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s allowed us to stay connected to our community when we weren’t able to have audiences in Orchestra Hall or The Cube. From spring through summer 2020, we webcast archived concerts as Facebook Watch Parties. Watch Parties were hosted by DSO musicians and guest artists who joined viewers in the chat, creating connection in a new, uncertain, stay-at-home reality. Educational programming was also offered as the production and education teams dove into the classical archives to create new classroom concerts for remote learning.
DSO Replay was opened from a donation-based subscription service to a free service for all. When summer 2020 arrived, we were able to begin webcasting from the DSO’s outdoor greenspace, Sosnick Courtyard, nearly five months after our last live offering.
In preparation for fall, new Covid testing and safety guidelines were implemented to bring the musicians back to the hall for our new socially distanced DSO Digital Concerts—now not only for our Classical Series audiences. To maintain connection with our PNC Pops fans and Paradise Jazz subscribers, Cube patrons, and family audiences, programs from each DSO series at The Max have now been webcast as part of the new series. We have proudly webcast as many as 11 new programs per month at a time when many venues have remained shuttered.
In 2011, we began as the first American orchestra to stream all its classical concerts and, today—two million views later—we still experience the hustle and bustle and the seemingly breakneck speeds required to bring webcast programs to you; our intentionality is fueled by the desire to bring you carefully directed and curated artistry at the highest production quality possible. Thank you for watching.
DSO Digital Concerts are presented by the Ford Motor Company Fund and made possible by the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
The Music Continues
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