When Classical Goes Digital

Digital has marked classical performances and we can see that many of the pioneers in the industry are from the classical world. For Jeffrey Kahane, conductor for many major American orchestras, it is “easy”; He has more than 100 scores on his iPad and he knows he has avoided many risks associated with using paper sheet music.

“Here I am trying to recreate the spirit of an 18th-century performance of a Mozart symphony, and I’m using an iPad.’ But why not?”

Actually, Mozart was a pioneer of his time because he didn’t conduct from the podium or use a baton. According to Kahane, he conducted from the keyboard when leading his operas or performing his piano concertos. This practice helped create “more of the atmosphere and style and sound and rhythmic character that is appropriate to the music.” So today, to achieve the same sound and style, Mozart would have used an iPad to conduct.

As much as the graphite pencil, in the second half of the 19th Century, changed how a musician interacted with the musical text, the iPad improves their performance on stage and during rehearsals. The Royal Academy of Music had an exhibition organized by Peter Sheppard-Skaerved, a violinist and a scholar. The exhibit displayed a single page of a Bach violin sonata, and you could see markings all over it: bow strokes, fingerings etc. (see below in the sources). This page shows the importance of both breakthroughs (pencil and iPad) as, according to Mr. Sheppard-Skaerved, Bach hunted for even more information writing over other markings. This hunt still exists today but new tools like the iPad and the stylus help musicians perfect this hunt. Pioneers in the musical world, be it in the 19th Century or today, are looking for the “perfection of execution”. We can understand, then, why the classical musicians are the greatest advocates of technology; they need this perfection to be as close as possible to their classical music masters.

Let’s look at the major positive changes technology has brought to classical musicians…

1) Classical musicians are closer to historical sources

That is why, Wu Han, one of the artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center says « Now everyone is a detective »; everyone looks for clues of the composer’s intentions. No need to wait for months to go to the library, the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn, Germany, for instance, has digitalized all of its library. Wu Han, an early-adopter of the iPad, carries around her entire library in her tablet and Nicolas Kitchen, founder of the Borromeo String quartet, adds that some details never made into print like crossed out or amended passages. He prefers reading digitized manuscripts from his iPad. It is a fact, thanks to advanced technology, that musicians are reading more and more from digital manuscripts. Another example: Matt Haimovitz, a cello player, reads from his iPad Schubert’s “Arpeggione” Sonata and also Anna Magdalena Bach’s manuscript copy of the suites for solo cello by her husband.

2) The technology is “changing the culture a little bit”

According to Dan Visconti, member of the Fifth House Ensemble, people no longer have to be that careful with the text. Also, the professional music editors’ role will change, and more revised editions will likely be released. The composer‘s creative process is updated every time there are new discoveries, so there are many different final versions today that you can easily compose and visualize with notation and reader softwares.

3) Education: democratization of music knowledge

There are master classes from world class professional soloists and artists online, new techniques to teach music and improved interactive music lessons.

For example, the University of Arizona, has a Digital Conducting Lab in which they invented black lycra sleeves containing electrodes to teach the new leaders of the orchestra. This technique improves the excellence in sound as the sound quality depends on a graceful dance of the hands while leading. Also, students at the Manhattan School of Music, perfect their art via the internet. In other classes, music is performed collaboratively so that students can help one another. Now, self-teaching and experimentation from amateurs and professionals is much more accessible than ever before.

All the abovementioned benefits present, mainly in the classical world, prove it has been and continues to be, an early-adopter of technology.




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