Experiencing the joy of live classical music no longer requires making the trip to a concert hall or even leaving the house. The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a digital revolution in classical music in Australia as artists and organisations were forced to move performances online while venues and concert halls were shuttered. That digital pivot means more people than ever can access incredible classical music performances without leaving their homes.
Live from Melbourne Digital Concert Hall
When the COVID-19 lockdowns first hit Australia in March 2020, Adele Schonhardt and Chris Howlett established Melbourne Digital Concert Hall, a ticketed streaming platform to support musicians whose income had disappeared almost overnight. Offering high quality livestreams of classical music concerts in real time -– by organisations including the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra and the Flinders Quartet – the award-winning platform has since raised more than $1 million for Australian artists, streaming initially from the empty Athenaeum Theatre in Melbourne before expanding to broadcast performances from locations as far-flung as Darwin, Singapore and Berlin.
But it hasn’t just been a lifeline for artists. “We discovered that there was a significant audience out there who don’t actually go to concert venues at all,” Schonhardt told The Age. In fact, one third of the platform’s users are people who don’t attend live events as a result of geography, disability or other responsibilities. As a result, the two-person start-up has become Australia’s fastest growing national arts organisation.
Classical music live and on-demand
Melbourne Digital Concert Hall aren’t the only ones getting in on streaming. The Sydney Opera House’s new Stream platform includes free performances by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Chamber Opera, the Omega Ensemble and more, while the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s MSO.LIVE is a subscription service giving classical music enthusiasts the opportunity to watch live and on-demand performances by the orchestra.
Opera Australia’s new OA | TV offers the chance to rent streams of past performances, including the bedazzling Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour productions. While some organisations are streaming regular concerts, others are producing digital ‘concert films’ for online seasons that run parallel to their live performances. The Australian Chamber Orchestra’s ACO StudioCasts are beautifully shot and available to subscribers online, while the Australian Haydn Ensemble’s AHE Player includes both live concerts and concert films.
Virtual Reality Verdi
Opera might have a reputation as a very traditional art form, but the latest Virtual Reality technology means more people than ever can experience the thrill of hearing singers at the top of their game – and move around the stage alongside them thanks to a series of carefully placed cameras. Last year technology company Inverse teamed up with Ryman Healthcare and the Melba Opera Trust to bring a 3D virtual reality experience to residents of a retirement village, while Melbourne Opera’s recent production of Verdi’s Macbeth was, the company believes, the first VR broadcast of a live opera in the world. “It’s just a fascinating experience,” said conductor Greg Hocking. “From now on, we certainly will be broadcasting everything we do on VR as well as a livestream.”