Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news: They’re doing classical music concerts these days with visual technology.
At least they are in Rochester, where the Rochester Symphony Orchestra and music professor Kevin Dobbe will present “Symphonic Vision,” combining music with visual technology, March 28 and 29.
“It’s a big experiment,” said Jere Lantz, conductor of the orchestra. “We’re the laboratory.”
The concert features five pieces of music, along with dancers, visual artists, ASL interpreters and an art exhibit. But the big attraction is Dobbe’s Symphonic Vision technology, which visualizes music through use of 14 video cameras, five projection spaces and automated lights, all programmed to cues on stage. The idea is to provide a visual interpretation of music elements.
Dobbe, a musician and composer who teaches at Rochester Community & Technical College, developed the process in large part to help his students.
“I’m primarily a music person, so through years of playing and just osmosis, I can hear sound and understand patterns,” he said. “But I have as a teacher come to realize those patterns are sometimes very hidden. As an educator, I’m interested in having visuals be a cue as to what’s happening in the music.”
Through experimenting with the combination of sound and images, Dobbe said he has discovered that “If you want to describe sound, visuals are a way to make that happen.”
So here’s what you’ll see and hear at the upcoming concert:
— “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” by Benjamin Britten. This one seems like a natural for Dobbe’s technology, no matter what your age. In fact, Dobbe said that in selecting pieces for the concert, one of his priorities was education.
— “Black Swan,” an orchestration by Bright Sheng of Brahms’ Intermezzo for piano. The presentation will include dance choreography by Joanie Mix-Lande and live dance performance by Jessica O’Reilly, synchronized with music, lights and video projection.
— “Crown Imperial March” by William Walton. To contrast with the quiet beauty of “Black Swan,” Lantz said, “I wanted to do one of the noisiest pieces I know. It has more pomp and circumstance than ‘Pomp and Circumstance,'” he said of the march.
— Anton Webern’s Symphony No. 21. This experimental piece, as Lantz said, “Didn’t catch on.” “The audience often says, ‘What’s this?’ ‘I don’t get it,'” he said. “I thought it would be really helpful for an audience to hear this and see it,” through Dobbe’s visual projections.
— “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky, a well-known piece that will be accompanied by fine art works created by local artists. “I think this is a wonderful opportunity to expand the music, especially for a piece we’ve heard many times,” Lantz said. The art works will be on display before and after the concert, and at intermission.
So, what would Beethoven, who eventually became totally deaf, say about a technique that makes his music visual?
“If the technology had been around in his day, I think he would have liked to have it,” Dobbe said.