Symphony Orchestras Turn To Video Artists




At a recent classical-music concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra, one key performer stayed offstage. In the projection booth, Tal Rosner pecked at a keyboard that controlled the vivid images unspooling on large screens above the musicians. As the ensemble played, the Israeli video artist adjusted the pace of his visual creations—from footage of a city at sunrise to animated geometric shapes—to the music’s tempo.

Mr. Rosner’s work—in Philadelphia, performed with Benjamin Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes”—shows how symphony orchestras are collaborating with video artists to create immersive, multisensory performances that reimagine the traditional concert-hall experience.

“Increasingly, that is where this art form is going,” said Chad Smith, vice president of artistic planning at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which is also experimenting with video. “We’re creating this new genre, this visual treatment of the canon of classical music.”

Los Angeles and symphonies in San Francisco and Miami Beach, along with Philadelphia, commissioned Mr. Rosner’s work jointly. So the video artist assigned a Britten interlude to each city and sought to capture the city’s character in the accompanying video.

“Storm,” the interlude paired with Los Angeles, began brashly, while frenetic footage of congested freeways, bridges and canals streamed overhead. When the music settled, the images became more serene, such as foothills beneath a clear blue sky. Throughout the performance, Mr. Rosner focused on the conductor, responding to his movements. “It really feels like you’re a remote player of the orchestra,” he said.

Other ensembles are experimenting as well. In October, the New World Symphony in Miami Beach performed Niccolò Castiglioni’s “Inverno In-ver” together with a video installation by British director Netia Jones. As the musicians played, she filled numerous screens onstage and above with melancholy shots of wintry landscapes, ice crystals and shivering branches.

Next season, the Los Angeles Philharmonic is introducing a series, “in/SIGHT,” featuring video works set to orchestral and choral pieces. Among them will be a video commissioned from Turkish artist Refik Anadol for a performance of Hector Berlioz’s “Romeo and Juliet,” which Mr. Anadol plans to project on surfaces throughout the concert hall, including walls, balconies and the ceiling…