The two huge screens that greeted concertgoers as they took their seats last week for an Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performance, conducted by Zubin Mehta and featuring pianist Lang Lang, aroused curiosity and skepticism. Screens at the Mann Auditorium - was this a rock concert in the park? It was definitely an interesting step, which at its base indicates a recognition of the visual element of a classical concert: We don't expect you to close your eyes and give yourself up to the sounds, the orchestra seemed to be saying to the audience, but rather to open your eyes wide and take in the full experience.
Before the first notes were played, the question arose as to what would be worthy of being shown on such screens to a concert audience, some of whose members were sitting just tens of meters away from the stage. The first and most obvious answer, what no audience member ever sees at a concert: the conductor's face, his expressions, what really impels the orchestra to action.
Truth be told, though, anyone who's ever watched a concert on television is familiar with such sights - including the conductor, the instrumentalists and the soloists - whom the camera follows, broadcasting their portraits at exactly the right moment: the sweep of an arm, the puffing of cheeks, the forest of bows rising and falling in unison, the conductor's finger placed on his lips asking for pianissimo.
This is where the doubt began to gnaw: A live concert and a recorded concert are at opposite ends of the spectrum, so perhaps there wasn't any need for all this? At a concert, after all, everything we see is what we're supposed to - even those in the last row to whom the stage looks like "a handkerchief with flies on it," as was once said of a boxing match from the heights of New York's Madison Square Garden; even those who sit in the front row, with the piano a meter away; and of course everyone sitting in between. They are all there, present at a one-time live event, experiencing the sounds right then and there. It's doubtful that additional dimensions are needed or that it's necessary to break the artistic reality into some kind of cubism which simultaneously reflects different spaces and perspectives, or different times and sound processes.
Turning theory into a bad joke
And then came the film crew and reshuffled all the cards, turning theory about the nature of art into a bad joke. It was hard to believe that in an age when we have Mezzo and Arte television, a history of 30 years of video cassettes and DVDs on which thousands of concerts and opera performances have been recorded - this is what we were treated to on the screen: a camera zigzagging and looking for something to film, only to miss every single instrument's solo. Here's a chimes player lifting his mallet and preparing, preparing, preparing - and then the camera leaves him in despair, only to hear him playing his solo after something else is already on the screen. And vice versa, too: Suddenly a French horn solo is heard and you can imagine the panic among the film crew trying to figure out what sort of instrument this is and where it's located in the orchestra, while in the meantime they film the conductor's forehead. When they finally locate the musician, his solo has just finished and we watch him bring the instrument down from his lips. The images on screen were made up of jarring leaps, shaky focus, dissolves appearing and disappearing at random, instrumentalists sitting there doing nothing - a shabby endeavor that was very embarrassing.
What suffered most from this failure was composer Oded Zahavi's work "Sela (Rock)," a short, dense piece which makes use of a wealth of nuances of orchestration, rhythmical complexity and emotional abundance; however, it was difficult to actually concentrate on it. The screens dominated the space, while also damaging the coordination between the music coming from the stage and the movements broadcast due to a lack of synchronization. Thus a specially commissioned work, well worth listening to, was ruined in its premiere performance.
In the Beethoven concerto with Lang Lang, the film crew had already abandoned its pretension of shooting the orchestra and concentrated on the soloist's face (which was filmed from too far away and in bad light) and his fingers - which on the screen struck the keys a fraction of a second before the sound from the piano was heard. The damage here wasn't quite as bad, but on this evening it would have been preferable to have just closed ones eyes.
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