Saturday, July 14, 2012

75 years of Tanglewood online

This has actually been going on for a while, but in keeping with the usual Field Notes standard of cutting-edge reportage I only just now noticed that the Boston Symphony Orchestra, as part of its celebration of the 75th anniversary of its Tanglewood concert series, is bringing out 75 concerts from its vaults throughout the summer.  Many of the concerts had not been previously available and as I understand it some are of programs that were only performed at Tanglewood.

The BSO is making one new concert available each day as a free stream.  After the first day the concert is available for sale, whole or in parts.  You can also subscribe to the whole series at a substantial discount off the cost of buying the concerts individually.

Imagine what a promotion like this would have looked like before the web.  The symphony would have worked out a deal with one or more radio stations to get a regular block of time for broadcasting the day's selection.  Assuming it could swing the deal, you the listener would have to set aside that same block of time to listen to the concert, or at least record it off the air for later listening.

The symphony could make the entire series available for mail order as a set of CDs (or vinyl, if we want to go back in time).  If you didn't want the full set, you might be able to order individual CDs, but you wouldn't get to pick what was on them.  If you liked one piece from each of five concerts, you could end up buying five CDs to get them all.  And then you'd wait for them to show up in the mail.  If you lived outside the listening area of the radio stations involved, you'd have to buy the concerts on spec without a chance to listen, and you'd be more likely not to have heard about them at all.

Put together all the conveniences of the web, I wouldn't quite say you've got a revolution.  The dedicated classical music fan has had access to top-quality performances for quite some time.  Nonetheless, it's enough to make a difference.  Whether it's also enough to keep the symphonies in business in this age of digital entertainment remains to be seen, but it certainly seems like a good approach to try.

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