Beginning with tonight’s concert of Beethoven’s First Symphony and Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (a re-transmission of last Saturday’s performance) , The Boston Symphony will begin hosting web streaming of its concerts on its BSO Media Center. These web broadcasts will continue to be produced by 99.5 Classical New England, and continue to be offered on the latter’s website as well. CNE will also continue its live Saturday-night BSO and weekend Tanglewood concert broadcasts on its network of radio stations.
Are the two outlets’ respective webcasts “duplicative services” similar to ones that audiences bemoaned after WGBH went all-talk at the end of 2009 and began to offer many of the same programs as WBUR? (See BMInt article here.) From the BSO press release, one might conclude that their announced one-year streaming protocol is a significant contrast with Classical New England’s single week offering for each event, yet CNE will also be moving to year-long availability for the streams, since both institutions are working under new rights agreements with the performers. The BSO has also disclosed its intention to stream at a fairly high bit-rate, 128 kbps, for a sound quality probably superior to current live FM broadcasts; this is something CNE already does.
“It’s incredibly thrilling to be able to share the concerts we present on a weekly basis to music lovers from across the country and around the globe through the BSO’s new concert streaming offering at bso.org,” said BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe. “We hope that the 7 million individuals who visit bso.org each year will enjoy this opportunity to listen to these free BSO and Pops concert streams, thanks to our partnership with WGBH.”
The BSO’s Director of Public Relations Bernadette Horgan had this to add, “We value our 60-year relationship with WGBH and continue to work closely with them in every way to help bring the music of the BSO and Pops to ever greater numbers of music lovers.”
We put some questions to Ben Roe, Director of Classical Services for CNE, as to the reasons for the duplicative offerings and where the collaboration might lead.
There will be no difference in content or availability; what visitors to the BSO Media Center will hear is exactly the same as what will be available on-demand on Classical New England. Both are taken from the re-broadcast of the Saturday night concerts that we now air on Sunday afternoons from 1 –3…which is also the same content that is heard on our growing network of stations around New England (including WFCR in Amherst, WAMC in Albany, Vermont Public Radio, and the Maine Public Broadcasting Network).
I think it’s a terrific move for both the BSO and for WGBH. Visitors to www.bso.org will now be able to access fresh content of the BSO doing what it does best – performing live in concert at Symphony Hall. And for WGBH, we will effectively be able to broaden the reach of our BSO concert productions to an audience that may well be unfamiliar with our station, its services, and its broadcast schedule.
I agree wholeheartedly with Mark Volpe’s assessment that this move to one-year on-demand access of BSO concerts sets an industry standard; it’s my goal that we may increase the technical quality of the online broadcasts that they similarly mark a new standard in the orchestral world.
Even after reading the comments of Messers Volpe and Roe, one is left wondering about the longer-terms plans of the two institutions. How central are the BSO broadcasts and streams to Classical New England? Will the BSO want to take charge of producing and distributing its own performances? Methinks there will be more on these topics in the next few months. Yet the stakes are also rather low, since neither institution will be seeing any significant revenue from streaming of BSO concerts.
The BSO is justifiably quite proud of its broadcasting history. BMInt is pleased to publish a section from yesterday’s BSO announcement:
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA BROADCASTS
The BSO’s first live concert broadcast took place on January 23, 1926, initiating a series of Boston Symphony broadcasts, privately-funded by Winfield S. Quinby, a “well-known Boston coffee merchant,” that continued through the 1927-28 season. Winfield also sponsored nine Saturday-night Boston Pops concerts in the spring of 1926, marking the first Boston Pops broadcasts. From late 1932 until 1938, BSO concerts were carried—though not always on a regular basis—by NBC. Following the Tanglewood Music Shed inaugural broadcast on August 4, 1938, the BSO, as a non-union orchestra, was barred from the air by the American Federation of Musicians. Broadcasts were resumed soon after the ratification of a union contract in December 1942, and national broadcasts of the Boston Pops began in the spring of 1943. The BSO broadcasts continued, first on NBC, then on ABC, through the 1947-48 season. No BSO concerts were broadcast from Symphony Hall during the 1948-49 season, though portions of BSO rehearsals were aired for three seasons starting in the fall of 1948 as part of the half-hour NBC series “The Boston Symphony Orchestra in Rehearsal,” bringing the first stage in the orchestra’s broadcasting history to a close.
On October 6, 1951, WGBH signed on the air for the first time with a live Boston Symphony broadcast, making it the longest continuous relationship between a broadcaster and symphony orchestra in the nation. From the mid- to late 1950s, NBC also carried portions of the BSO concerts, either live or on a tape-delayed basis. In the late 1950s, the Boston-area station WCRB began to carry the orchestra’s Saturday-night concerts, as did a number of other stations, including New York’s WQXR and the QXR network along the eastern seaboard. In October 1957, the Boston Symphony Transcription Trust—ultimately to become a joint venture of WGBH and WCRB—was created to produce BSO broadcast tapes for syndication throughout the country. Though syndication was discontinued for lack of funds in the early ’90s, tapes are still made for the orchestra’s archive, and live concerts from Symphony Hall and from Tanglewood, the orchestra’s summer home in western Massachusetts, continue to be aired on WGBH’s Classical New England.