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A Digital Concert Hall

It’s been a really long time since I’ve been bowled over by technology. And I must say that this time around it’s not really the tech stuff that floored me and got me doing the OMG thing. It’s the use of existing technology that got me jumping up and down.

It’s not actually even innovative really. It’s almost a “it’s about time” kind of reaction, really speaking. “So what is it about?” you must be wondering by now. It all started with an item on Digg. It’s a rare time that I have something good to say about Digg, but this is one of them.

The Digg article heading said, “Berlin Philharmonic Offers Digital Concerts”. Did that get me to sit up and click on the link? Most definitely. It got me to a San Diego, USA site. I don’t care. It could have been in Outer Mongolia. It gave me news that I had been waiting for years to read.

My relationship with the Berlin Philharmonic has gone back years and years. After all, this was where Herbert von Karajan conducted. My mother would swoon just at the name. Anything with his name was good enough, whether orchestral music or opera. The only LPs we had in our minute collection were with him and others!

So I grew up with the Berliner, never having had the pleasure of visiting Berlin or being lucky enough to catch the orchestra on tour if it does such a thing, I have yet to have the pleasure of seeing them perform anywhere near live.

In recent years my interest in them has been re-ignited. That is ever since the inspired and controversial appointment of the dynamic Simon Rattle as principal conductor. It seems that, as with many famous artists of whatever discipline, the more colourful their personalities the more talented they are. Or vice versa. Sir Rattle is no exception.

So what is this dramatic news? Ha. For lovers of live music, of whatever type, this is great stuff. The Berlin Philharmonic has a Digital Concert Hall. That means I can go online and watch and listen to concerts, either as they are being performed or after the event. And that at a minimal fee of £4.50 per show.

And before all the nay-sayers get started, yes, the BBC and other sites have content playable via the iPlayer or equivalent tech tools. Have you seen the quality of that? I should know; I watch the Six Nations rugby live. Yikes. Only a very dedicated rugby fan sits through that.

Signing up to the Digital Concert Hall I was able to perform a sound check to determine my quality of reception. And it’s wonderful — both the picture and sound. Of course one can’t always expect heaven in everything. So the website’s rather modern design of white print on black background is really difficult to read for older eyes.

In fact I tend to see spots if I have to read a site with white type on black for any length of time eg more than thirty seconds. So filling in a whole bunch of info is really uncomfortable. And as I am one of the target audience, (have you seen the average age at concerts?), this is bad design work.

I suppose, to make the process more entertaining, the English translation is a laugh a minute. I’m sure it’s not actually meant to be that funny. A serious company such as the Berlin Philharmonic should spend that extra bit of money and get an English speaker to proofread the translation.

Clangers such as, “After the orderly registration has been completed” may conjure in ones mind an image of heel clicking uniformed officials. The equally strange “offers three different types of using the concert offer of the Berliner Philharmoniker” makes one do a double take. Surely not. Maybe they anticipate that nobody will read the conditions that we so dutifully click off.

However, none of the above little grumbles will detract from the pleasure. Plug my trusted Mac into our data-projector, and into our additional speaker system, and I have a concert in the lounge to enjoy. It’s all without leaving my home, travelling to Berlin or braving the cold. A special glass of champagne, some caviar? Ok, maybe not that outrageously decadent. Still, how good is that?

Just so you can appreciate the quality go to their site and try the stream test. OMG. I got goose bumps just watching this little sample. How does Rattle manage to get a whole bunch of old farts to play like they have just come out of the music academy? Alright, there are some musicians younger than 50, still. It’s like watching the amazing Simon Bolivar National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela perform at the BBC Proms.

One final little murmur. Gosh, are we ever happy? It seems that I can only watch the concert once for that fee. What happens if my internet goes down? After all I have just signed away the right to do anything about that. It is reasonable, after all, that the Berliner can’t be responsible for dodgy service providers. Still, I will need to try it out to see how that plays out. Have discovered in the meantime that only very few concerts will be live. What a pity. Such a good idea.