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January 28, 2016; The Telegraph

In what’s been described by the Guardian as a “digital takeover,” visitors to the UK’s Royal Festival’s Hall’s public spaces in September 2016 will be able to experience a virtual reality trip to the middle of the Philharmonia Orchestra.

The Telegraph reports that, “Rather than seeing it on a computer screen, like previous initiatives elsewhere, users will have their own individual headsets to allow them to move their head to look around each scene as they would in real life.”

The experience, brought through a collaboration between the Philharmonia Orchestra and technology company Inition, will accompany a virtual walkthrough installation based on Holst’s The Planets entitled “Universe of Sound.” Viewers will be able to experience a 360° 3D video & audio performance via VR headsets, available for free over the season’s opening weekend.

Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre, explained to the Telegraph that the classical world “must draw on everything that is happening in new technology” to entice the new, digitally-focused generation in.

NPQ has covered the initiatives of other symphonies seeking new ways to engage contemporary audiences, including Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Van Beethoven,” a customized van in which users were given a virtual reality experience of the orchestra. Jesse Rosen, CEO of the League of American Orchestras, speaking on these new developments, said:

It’s about enhancing the visual experience of listening to a symphony orchestra. It’s also about making the experience more intimate and creating a more visible contact between the performer and the audience, which is something younger audiences really seem to value.

This new wave of technology-enabled initiatives may indicate a resurgence in orchestras, as NPQ reported in November 2015. In that article, Bruce Ridge, chair of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, reflected on the funding challenges faced by orchestras after the 2007 recession, and the importance of new investment to revitalise engagement with new audiences: “Cutting back is a disincentive for people who are looking for new organizations to give to, to invest in. […] The greater the investment for these orchestras and for these musicians, the greater the return for the community.”

In a May 2014 article on the Minnesota Orchestra, NPQ spoke of the needs of orchestras to deliver artistic excellence, hire the finest musicians, be fiscally sound, keep long-term supporters happy, and engage new audience members. But is this the way forward? We’ll continue to report new efforts by orchestras to remain relevant to their communities in the twenty-first century.—James Araci