"Program directors can create meaningful experiences in the digital post-COVID age by not ignoring the complexity of what this period feels like on a personal and political level and by understanding how the medium itself is best used."
On August, 21 2020, the Los Angeles Philharmonic announced their compendium of online concerts in a project, streaming free, called, SOUND/STAGE. The series released a weekly film of concerts featuring artists like, Andra Day, Kamasi Washington, and Chicano Batman over the course of nine weeks. The L.A Phil compiled their filmed concerts alongside editorial content, essays, artist interviews, playlists, and exclusive access to performances in order to bring the concert experience to a whole new level. While concerts have been hit hard during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the L.A Philharmonic is delving into the depths of what it means to put on a performance, making their concerts more accessible than ever, and providing further context for each film. Despite the physical impossibility of concert performing, the SOUND/STAGE series redefines the audience and artist relationship, offering a more full-bodied approach to the music.
The decision to bring their concerts online came from a necessity to find hope through music during uncertain times. The L.A Phil Music and Artistic Director, Gustavo Dudamel, said, “Since the start of the pandemic, it’s been important for us to both keep music at the center of what we do and reach the largest possible audience – people need music right now.” Going virtual, while lacking the beauty that can only come from in-person concerts, enabled new forms of intimacy to emerge. Dudamel continues, “The SOUND/STAGE concerts were our first chance to play new, fully realized programs since the start of the pandemic. It was an absolute joy to be back on the Hollywood Bowl stage with the orchestra, and the pieces we chose to play were especially meaningful. Many of the program themes, from solitude to the political power of artists to our need for the sheer joy and beauty of Beethoven, are tied to our experiences as individuals and as members of a larger society over these past five months.” With so much of the world sharing these difficult experiences, artists have been able to hone their music to touch on these topics for the community. Certain sets performed are filmed with the Black Lives Matter Movement in mind, like Andra Day’s “Rise Up,” or Kamasi Washington’s rendition of “Power To The People.”
The Director of Humanities, Julia Ward, noted the importance of using music to center social issues, saying “Program directors can create meaningful experiences in the digital post-COVID age by not ignoring the complexity of what this period feels like on a personal and political level and by understanding how the medium itself is best used. We can’t replace real life experiences, but we do gain access to new forms of intimacy, communication, and access online. We can also make sure these are diverse experiences by having the wisdom to know what we don’t know and getting out of the way so new curatorial and artistic voices can be heard.”
There’s no doubt that there is great loss in the inability to perform in-person, but the L.A Phil has used their extenuating circumstances to push the envelope when it comes to how we experience music. David C. Bohnett Chair and Chief Executive Officer Chair, Chad Smith said, “This is ultimately an experiment in digital concert presentation – you can’t replace the live experience, so what can the camera and online environment allow us to experience that being seated in a theater cannot?” More than ever, audiences and directors alike are able to take a different approach to concerts. Directors of the film series, James Lees and Charlie Buhler, will have more creative control in playing with how the audience can experience music. And the result? The online concerts form new pathways between the political and the personal that have been, for so long, denied.
Currently, all nine films of the SOUND/STAGE series are available for free online with donations encouraged.