Classical Music Livestreams Worth Paying For
Classical Music Livestreams Worth Paying For
When the coronavirus forced concert halls and opera houses to close in March, a flood of music came online. The livestreams proved especially gratifying, offering a jolt of you-are-there excitement. Many of these programs were offered for free.
But musicians and institutions have to make money. Will the public pay for music online?
The answer is just beginning to emerge. The artists and organizations who can draw sizable numbers of paying customers may be those who already had globally prominent brands before the pandemic. The Metropolitan Opera, for example, has recently begun a series of livestreamed recitals featuring star singers, sophisticated camerawork and vibrant audio. The tenor Jonas Kaufmann’s recital last month, tickets for which cost $20, was viewed by 44,000 people — not a bad gross.
The second program in the series took place on Aug. 1, with the soprano Renée Fleming and the pianist Robert Ainsley performing live from Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. (The film is available through Friday, and Sunday afternoon brings a new livestream featuring Roberto Alagna and Aleksandra Kurzak.)
Ms. Fleming was in splendid voice, singing with honeyed tone and elegant phrasing. She delivered some favorites, like “O mio babbino caro.” But she also included novelties, like a coquettish aria from Leoncavallo’s — not Puccini’s — “La Bohème” and lesser heard arias from operas and oratorios by Handel and Korngold. And she began with a premiere composed for her: John Corigliano’s eloquently understated “And the People Stayed Home,” a setting of a poem written by Catherine M. O’Meara that went viral at the start of the pandemic.
Prerecorded offerings might seem less fulfilling to music lovers who are longing for the live concert experience. Yet if the content is substantive and the quality of the video high, these programs can be rewarding. Caramoor, in Katonah, N.Y., is streaming the four musicians of Sandbox Percussion and the pianist Conor Hanick, through Sunday, for $10.
Caramoor, usually a summer favorite just north of New York City, has this year presented a series of livestreams, with tickets for purchase, from its intimate, elegant Music Room. The programs have been adventurous and excellent, including a recent one featuring members of the Knights, a chamber orchestra, playing a premiere by Anna Clyne and a Brahms sextet.
The Sandbox Percussion program had to be filmed in advance, since the works being performed utilized an enormous array of unusual and cumbersome percussion instruments. The concert included inventive pieces by Andy Akiko, Juri Seo, Amy Beth Kirsten and David Crowell, variously complex and demanding contemporary scores.
But the premiere of Christopher Cerrone’s “Don’t Look Down,” an 18-minute concerto for prepared piano and percussion quartet, was the highlight. As he explained in an interview before the performance, Mr. Cerrone began composing the score just as the shutdowns started in March, and finished it only recently. So it’s a piece written in lockdown. The piano is prepared similarly to John Cage’s innovative techniques, but with fewer screws and pieces of metal inserted between the piano strings, and more materials like putty — which dampens and distorts sounds — and fishing wire, which allows the strings to be bowed to create eerie, whining tones.
The first movement, “Hammerspace,” begins with the whooshing of a bike pump and droning gongs. In time, restless riffs played with mallets burst forth. Amid rushes of rhythmic, spiraling figures on the prepared piano, fragments for the percussion instruments coalesced into fleeting almost-melodies.
The second movement, “The Great Empty,” is more elemental, with music gurgling and heaving over ominous bass tones in the piano. The final movement, “Caton Flats,” is named for the mixed-use development in Brooklyn where Mr. Cerrone lives. As he said in the interview, the music recalls the metallic noise of construction crews at work in his neighborhood this summer.
Tanglewood, perhaps America’s most eminent summer music festival, has opted for offering only prerecorded online programs — some from its archives, but many filmed earlier this summer. One, recorded in June, was put online on Saturday evening: the pianist Daniil Trifonov playing Bach’s “The Art of the Fugue” in one of the studios of Tanglewood’s new Linde Center. (The program is available for $12 through Saturday, when a recital by another pianist, Conrad Tao, goes online.)
Mr. Trifonov played this work, Bach’s final piece, at a recital at Alice Tully Hall in early March, one of the final concerts in New York before the lockdown. His performance then was magnificent, combining youthful inventiveness, crisp articulations and, for a performer still in his 20s, profoundly insightful musicianship. The Tanglewood performance was even better, though the chance it offered to see Mr. Trifonov up close — to watch as a finger on his right hand gave extra pressure to a crucial note — may have made it especially absorbing.
Though he was not required to do so, Mr. Trifonov performed wearing a mask, which came across as a gesture of solidarity with those watching from home. Playing these complex and compelling fugues, Mr. Trifonov displayed an unusual kind of virtuosity — not flashy, but precise, nuanced and subtle. Rippling passagework was not like filigree but substantive: Each note mattered.
For Fugue 14, which Bach died before finishing, Mr. Trifonov, who is also a composer, dared to do the job and played his own completion. Good for him that, rather than feeling intimidated, he paid homage to Bach by adding his own personal take. The intricate contrapuntal lines unfolded effectively, the music taking a quasi-mystical turn and becoming harmonically elusive delicate and gentle, with a cushioned landing at the end instead of a full stop.
Worth paying for? Worth waiting for? I’d say yes, on both counts.