How do you listen to the orchestra?
Until recently, you might’ve have answered with one of two options: “In the concert hall” or “recordings”. And when COVID struck, you’d have defaulted to the latter.
But one of the most surprising outcomes of the pandemic has been an increased flexibility in the ways you can consume orchestral music. Now, there are more answers to “how” than ever before.
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Director Marketing and Communications Samuel Cairnduff says COVID has sparked in audiences “a whole range of behaviours and responses, and these attitudes shift over time”. Listeners are becoming more adventurous, choosing for themselves whether they’d like to attend live music or tune in digitally.
“I love to hear people planning how they’ll enjoy one of our quarterly seasons,” Samuel says.
“They’ll choose what they want to watch at home, what they want to see in the concert hall, what they’ll watch with friends, what they’ll watch alone.
“The model is suited to today’s digital world where we all can curate and manage our cultural consumption.”
Having returned to the Federation Concert Hall, the orchestra now performs along the structure of quarterly seasons, rather than annual seasons. Each live program is shorter – and performed twice in a single night.
“I really enjoy it when people come to the 5.30pm concert then rush home to watch it online at 8.30pm!” Samuel says.
“The important thing is we are providing every opportunity for audiences to engage, experience, and enjoy the transformational experience of a TSO performance.”
In 2021, another audience opportunity was launched – and it extends to the island’s most remote communities.
On 26 March, the TSO started pairing live and live streamed music in a unique way – starting with a new style of event in Ulverstone’s Leven Theatre.
Collaborating with local business Art Screen Events, the orchestra is using technology to share music with rural Tasmanians. Listeners can enjoy a live chamber music event, then watch a TSO concert played from Hobart and projected onto the big screen in their local hall.
“Coming back to the idea of curating your own experience: whilst we have subscribers across Tasmania who watch at home, the option of attending some concerts with a group of people from your own community is hugely appealing,” Samuel says.
The idea of streaming TSO concerts into venues, rather than streaming exclusively to home viewers, initially came from CEO Caroline Sharpen. She understood digital concerts could “reach areas where we can’t always be present”. To the orchestra, this has meant rural Tasmania as well as the aged care sector.
“At an affordable ticket price, and held in a venue in your own community, hopefully some of the obvious barriers to coming to a concert are removed and people will dive in and see what it’s all about.”
This performance option may be new to the TSO, but project partner Katrine Elliott of Art Screen Events has built her entire business around her love of the big screen. She launched Art Screen Events in November 2020 with a sold-out screening of Kinky Boots The Musical from London.
Her mission is to share exciting cinematic events with remote communities.
“As a cinema lover, I think that everything should be witnessed on the big screen,” Katrine smiles. It’s no wonder the TSO’s initial streaming options to home viewers – delivering concerts digitally through Friday Night Live – brought joy to Katrine herself in the earlier days of the pandemic.
“I looked forward to my Friday nights in front of my computer, glass of bubbles in hand and watching the TSO perform in my lounge room,” she reflects. Inviting others to enjoy this experience – collectively – seems a natural progression.
“I was incredibly excited to bring the TSO performances to regional Tasmania; to give these audiences an opportunity to see this world-class orchestra from the comfort of their cinema seat.”
So what happens at an Art Screen Events occasion?
When audience members arrive at their community venue, they check in with the COVID Safe app before purchasing a glass of wine and a cheese box from the Tasmanian Food and Wine Conservatory. (Yum!)
Then, in the foyer, fellow concertgoers can catch up over a specially curated playlist of recorded music. And finally, it’s into the theatre “where the magic starts to happen”.
“We have some extraordinarily talented musicians who live locally, and we have been able to engage them to perform live on stage prior to the performance of the TSO on the big screen,” Katrine says.
After these live chamber music performances, the lights are dimmed. The conductor raises his baton, and the TSO performs from the Federation Concert Hall, simultaneously reaching live audiences in their home venue and live streamed audiences at an Art Screen Events venue.
“You may start out surrounded by strangers. However, for the next hour, you are surrounded by friends as you are all witnessing something incredibly special on the same screen,” Katrine says.
“It’s such a joy to see the audience engage with each other at the end of the performance and walk out chatting about what they loved.
The partnership between the TSO and Art Screen Events has united audiences during a pandemic. However, there is a wider benefit to sharing music with communities that would not ordinarily have the opportunity to listen – COVID or not.
“For many years, regional audiences did not have a lot of access to the arts, or would need to travel for considerable distances to experience them,” Samuel says.
“Now, with different technologies, and the TSO passionate about reaching regional audiences, we can now join the two together.”
Undoubtedly, the orchestra has shifted from reacting to the pandemic to developing its output – and outreach. The TSO has adapted its operations to give listeners as many options as possible, wherever they may be located.
It’s safe to say these options are here for the long run.
“What started as a crisis response has completely transformed the way we think about delivering our performances, but also forced us to really focus on our audiences and their preferences for experiencing TSO concerts,” Samuel says.
“When we started Daily Dose, we simply wanted the best and fastest solution for connecting with our community. What we didn’t bank on was the phenomenal body of talent within the organisation that made Daily Dose exponentially better and more dynamic than what we’d set out to do.
“We had our Friday Night Live series late last year, and at the same time restructured our entire subscription model to factor in digital presentations of around 90 per cent of our performances.
“I’d say that’s here to stay – long after the pandemic is behind us!”