Music@Home: Desktops and devices are the new venues

Burgeoning availability of live streams gives Oregon contemporary and classical music lovers home access to concerts from around the world

Story and screenshots by GARY FERRINGTON

As I grow older, I find it more difficult to go out on those dark, wet and blustery Oregon evenings to enjoy a concert of classical or contemporary music. Although I’d prefer sitting in a venue enjoying a live performance, I know it won’t always be possible. So, it is with much personal pleasure that I’ve discovered Internet live-streaming and have spent the last couple of years exploring the availability of both statewide and worldwide concert performances.

Live From Beall: Otis Murphy (Saxophone) and Haruko Murphy (Piano) May 17, 2016.

Live From Beall: Otis Murphy (Saxophone) and Haruko Murphy (Piano) May 17, 2016.

With the click of a mouse or a tap on a trackpad or screen, music lovers can connect to streams of live music performances from most anywhere around the world on the internet. From major international festivals and concerts overseas to two Oregon colleges taking the lead in bringing live performances online, viewers and listeners who may seldom or never be able to experience distant concert events have the option to do so on their computers or mobile devices. The increasing availability of live streaming offers real benefits, beyond mere convenience, to composers, musicians, and music lovers in Oregon and beyond.

Live-streaming, for purposes of this article, is the televised webcast of an event that is simultaneously available across all time zones worldwide. If a New York concert begins at 8pm Eastern, Oregon viewers tune-in at 5pm Pacific.  An even earlier viewing time is required when watching live programming from European streaming venues such as  the  Bayerische Stattsoper, Vienna State Opera, or the Berlin Philharmonic. One quickly masters an understanding of the 24 hour clock, time zones, and the International date line when opting to view live concerts at home.

Desktop Venue - Live from Russia, violinist Nikolaj Znaider and the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra (medici.tv)

Desktop Venue – Live from Russia, violinist Nikolaj Znaider and the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra (medici.tv)

To my knowledge, there are no comprehensive guides to Internet concerts. This makes it bit tricky when it comes to locating programs of possible interest. I’ve identified a number of live stream sites that provide me with the type of music events I want to see and have compiled them into a publically available Classical and New Music Webcast list. This is in no way a comprehensive directory, but it serves as a good starting point for the newbie.

Finding what to view on these sites can sometimes be more challenging than finding the sites themselves; some are well organized, others not. The University of Texas’ Butler School of Music, which offers music by emerging and established living composers as well as classical programs, has a well designed performance calendar, which clearly indicates which concerts will be live streamed during the current academic semester. It also provides a link to performance information — helpful when one can’t be at the venue to get a program handout.

3 - Photo: Pianist Dmitry Masleev. XV International Tchaikovsky Competition medici.tv webcast, Moscow.

Pianist Dmitry Masleev. XV International Tchaikovsky Competition medici.tv webcast, Moscow.

Major National and International Live Performances

One of my favorite sources of beautifully produced music, opera, and ballet programming is medici.TV, which provides over 100 concerts a year from various, primarily European, orchestras and concert venues via its live stream link. It is, perhaps, the most comprehensive programming of classical and contemporary music available, providing both free webcasts and premium membership service with access to an extensive archive of past performances. I’ve found the quality of the image and sound outstanding, especially when viewed on a large screen monitor. The use of multiple hi-definition cameras provides the viewer with a sense of being there right down to seeing the sweat dripping from a pianist’s brow.

This summer’s medici.tv live webcast of the Verbier Festival from Switzerland offered an amazing array of talent and music such as a piano recital by Danil Trifonov playing Rachmaninov, Brahms and Schubert. I’ve also enjoyed earlier programming such as the 2015 world premiere of American composer Charles Wuorinen’s opera Brokeback Mountain live from Madrid’s Teatro Real, or the XV International Tchaikovsky competition from Moscow, among many other medici.tv streams.

DSO webcast of Machover’s Symphony in D.

DSO webcast of Machover’s Symphony in D.

Another example of quality production is the programming offered by Detroit Symphony Orchestra funded in part by the Ford Motor Company and Knight Foundation. The orchestra, which the New York Times notes has the most “ambitious free webcast streaming program of any major American Orchestra” offers some 20 free concerts a year. This year’s premiere of Todd Machover’s Symphony in D was a major undertaking for the DSO and streamed live. Like medici.TV, the DSO provides a wide range of classical and contemporary music plus informative intermission interviews with guest artists, conductors, and composers. Most programs are archived and accessible with a $50 contribution to the symphony.

I’ve searched for, and have yet to find, other American orchestras offering a full season of live streamed video performances for free, or by subscription. I’m always pleased when the webcast option is explored by an orchestra such as the Toledo Symphony and this past April, the San Francisco Symphony, which used Facebook’s new live service to bring its world premiere of Auditorium by Mason Bates to the orchestra’s 120,000 Facebook followers. The Metropolitan Opera offers popular live HD movie-theater broadcasts, but none are streamed for home viewing.

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center offers numerous informative live streamed Inside Chamber Music discussion sessions with Bruce Adolphe, the CMSLC resident lecturer and director of family programs. Master classes are also offered this fall with such artists as Anthony McGill and Alessio Bax. The Late Night Rose chamber music concerts from Daniel and Joanna S. Rose Studio include works by both classical and contemporary composers. The organization, which includes many Chamber Music Northwest regulars, has also experimented with streaming concerts on Facebook.

While I enjoy organizations such as the Minnesota Orchestra, Boston Symphony, Oregon Symphony and Colorado Symphony, that stream live or recorded audio of performances over the Internet, my preference is to see and hear a performance as it happens. Those opportunities are growing as this new medium becomes more affordable and popular.

Tomorrow’s Music Today: Schools of Music

Live-streaming is a medium that appeals to schools of music where young composers and musicians are in tune with today’s technology. Many of the sites listed on my Classical and New Music Website page reflect my enthusiasm for new music by living composers. Readers will recognize a number of the institutions with scheduled webcasts such as Eastman School of Music, Curtis Institute of Music, Frost School of Music, Juilliard, and Lawrence University. All these institutions provide not only performances of traditional classical music, but also webcast  of new music by visiting composers and that written by today’s emerging young artists.

American composer Aaron Jay Kernis.

American composer Aaron Jay Kernis.

So it was, in November 2015, when the UT Austin Wind Ensemble performed music by three living contemporary American composers including Mason Bates, John Williams, and visiting composer Aaron Jay Kernis who shared with audiences the background story for his A Voice, A Messenger for trumpet and wind ensemble. If it had not been for live streaming, this fine concert of American music would have not been experienced beyond the Butler School of Music concert hall.

The quality of webcasting from schools of music varies depending upon the resources each has available. Some schools, like the University of British Columbia, offer a single high resolution camera perspective from above and behind the audience. Others like Lawrence and the University of Texas in Austin use multiple high definition cameras that bring a professional look to their webcasts. The Lawrence’s streaming site features a commentator who introduces the pieces to be performed, and viewers can submit comments that are displayed on the screen —  a feature that has less appeal to me, but seems to be a feature parents viewing at home like.

Up close. UT Austin Symphony webcast February 17, 2015.

Up close. UT Austin Symphony webcast February 17, 2015.

For those who want the convenience of archived performances, some schools, like the Curtis Institute of Music and the University of British Columbia, use commercial services like Ustream to archive their programs. Other schools are at the beginning edge of streaming as tech savvy students set up a cell phone or laptop connection to the internet using Ustream, Livestream, Facebook Live or other streaming services to webcast a music recital or concert. Though these webcasts frequently offer only low visual resolution and audio quality, they do provide the opportunity to share a musical event with family, friends, and others who tune in.

Oregon Options

Some Oregon institutions may offer an occasional webcast such as the University of Portland’s live streaming of the UP Wind Ensemble/OEMA concert in 2015. However, I’ve not been able to find Oregon schools other than Lewis and Clark College and the University of Oregon that provide an on-going program of live webcast concerts.

Susan Nunes, Lewis and Clark’s music Performance Event Coordinator, told ArtsWatch that the primary goal of the school’s live streaming effort is to share concert events with friends and relatives of student performers who are not able to attend an on campus event. Approximately 25 performances, including “all genres of music,” are live streamed over the academic year. The school’s livestream page provides access to webcast performances or browsing the archive of past events.

Live streamed concerts are so marked on the program’s events page. The decision to webcast or not depends upon an event’s organizers securing needed releases from performers and to address other issues such as copyright clearance without which a concert might not be webcast.

Lewis and Clark has installed new high definition cameras in its venues over the summer, which will provide professional quality image and sound, according to Nunes. The school’s Live from Lewis & Clark channel is the source page for streaming. Viewers can click on “follow this channel” to receive notification that an event has “gone live” and to login and view. Nunes also notes that beginning this fall, a bi-monthly email notification of upcoming music department events will be sent to those who request to be added to the list at concert@lclark.edu.

Live from Beall Hall: Saxophonist Idit Shner with the Oregon Wind Ensemble, Rodney Dorsey conducting. May 9, 2016,

Live from Beall Hall: Saxophonist Idit Shner with the Oregon Wind Ensemble, Rodney Dorsey conducting. May 9, 2016,

Launched during the 2012-2013 academic year, the University of Oregon’s School of Music and Dance’s live-stream project, Live from Beall Hall, provides a viewer with excellent views of onstage performances; free of charge and accessible on computer or mobile devices. The school, with three concert halls, offers hundreds of programs each year ranging from student recitals to the UO opera performances. Only those concerts that originate in Beall Hall, such as the Oregon Wind Ensemble, Oregon Composer Forum series, and University Symphony, are webcast. On occasion, students may arrange for their own low resolution single camera streaming from other venues within the school.

The SOMD’s Events Calendar  lists all of the school’s concerts and designates those to be webcast as Live Streamed. A link from the this page allows viewers to download PDF copies of the same informative performance programs handed out to audiences attending Beall Hall concerts.

The families of the many international students attending the UO School of Music and Dance appreciate the webcasting of performances in which their children participate. Sometimes though, viewing a 7:30 pm Friday evening Beall Hall concert at 4:30 am in London or 11:30pm in Tokyo on Saturday can be a dateline and time zone puzzle to solve.

Another challenge: professional live streaming of concerts requires dedicated staff and resources. Lance Miller, the SOMD’s Senior Sound/Video Recording Engineer, tells ArtsWatch that a typical webcast from Beall Hall requires at least two staff members: one for the audio portion and the second for video operations. “There are four cameras used in Beall Hall, one from the back center, one on each side of the hall, and what we call the ‘Conductor Cam,'” Miller explains. “We also have an array of microphones permanently in place for capturing performances. Most of our concerts are acoustic in nature, but there are an increasing number of amplified performances which require additional sound reinforcement and staff.”

Like the staff at Lewis and Clark, the UO School of Music and Dance is looking forward to replacing its current camera systems with higher quality and more flexible units giving the school the ability to provide an even better image in the near future. Miller also hopes to add streaming to other venues within the school which will expand the options for webcasting the rich array of performances offered throughout the year.

The UO shares Susan Nunes’s observation: “Although the accessibility of live-streaming our events is amazing and convenient, we also love to see people here, on our beautiful campus!” It is important that musicians perform before an actual in-person audience. Some wonder whether live-streaming might affect attendance, but I’ve been unable to find research to support that notion.

When I was growing up in rural Oregon, it was rare to have the opportunity to experience classical music performances other than by radio, disc recording, or an occasional TV broadcast. It might still be the same for the aspiring young musician or composer living in the far reaches of our state if it weren’t for live streaming on the Internet.  Webcasts, especially from schools of music, offer these individuals the opportunity to hear the work of other young composers and musicians. Such richness of opportunity can only help inspire emerging artists and perhaps through the various social media options today, connect them with other artists resulting in future collaborative efforts.

ArtsWatch readers: do you know of live streams of classical and/or contemporary classical music, jazz, or other music we cover here? Please note them in the comments section below.

Gary Ferrington is a Senior Instructor Emeritus, Instructional Systems Technology, College of Education, University of Oregon. He is an advocate for new music and serves as project coordinator for Oregon ComposersWatch. Check his  Classical and New Music Webcast list for some of the sites mentioned here.

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