Philly connections for new Google arts rollout

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Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra, performing at Carnegie Hall, are among the initial offerings in the Google Cultural Institute performing arts rollout.

Often in the vanguard of evolving developments in recording, the Philadelphia Orchestra is now part of the Google Cultural Institute performing arts rollout on Tuesday, which involves a 60-institution partnership representing more than 20 countries and also includes one of Philadelphia's Renaissance band, Piffaro.

The orchestra is represented by a short 360-degree video of Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from Peer Gynt, before a live audience at Carnegie Hall. The viewer can chose a vantage point on the stage and see most of what can be seen from that spot, then move to another one.

Though the orchestra itself isn't among the partnerships in the announcement, Carnegie Hall is, and specifically chose the Philadelphia Orchestra for this pilot spot because of the long-standing association between the two institutions.

"We thought it would be an good fit for experimenting with 360 video ... with the combination of scheduling availability, artistic partnership and openness to explore new technology," said Carnegie Hall chief digital officer Chris Amos.

"We've performed there for over a century but have actually captured very little of our history there. And we have a worldwide audience eager to stay in touch with Yannick and the orchestra musicians," Ryan Fleur, executive vice president of orchestra advancement. "So we are quite curious to experience the public's reaction to this chance to see inside the orchestra as it plays, and to hear the Philadelphia sound in a totally new way."

The Google Cultural Institute - https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/home - has a four-year history of showcasing the visual arts, often showing masterpiece paintings with the option of examining them at a closer proximity than what is permitted in many museums. "And as soon as we launched the visual arts, people began coming to us from the performing arts," said Piotr Adamczyk, Google Cultural Institute program manager, "and asking, 'What about us?'"

One of those organizations was Piffaro, whose funding for its October 2016 Musical World of Don Quixote festival came with a provision to document the many activities around the multidisciplinary event, which also includes the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rosenbach Museum and Library and others. Current plans are for a two-stage Piffaro contribution: first with the posting of pre-existing videos explaining the group's many instruments from distant centuries, and a second wave of video next year associated with the Don Quixote events.

"The music world is changing dramaticaly right now and this is a promising way to for anybody who doesn't live in a city like Philadelphia, New York or Boston to hear what a krumhorn sounds like," said executive director Shannon Cline.

The impetus for Google's involvement in the performing arts - which can be found at g.co/performingarts or https://performingarts.withgoogle.com - comes from 360 video technology, which initially simply seemed to be a better form of video documentation. But its proponents believe it is a significant step toward virtual reality, in part because, when used on a mobile phone, perspectives change as the device itself moves. "Instead of being a passive viewer with a static video that you can find on YouTube or a performing arts institution website, you can pull it up on your phone and use it as a magic window," said Adamczyk. (Several pre-launch attempts to view the performances produced occasionally fitfull sound and visuals.)

The technology might seem prohibitively complicated for a live performance; in fact, the apparatus for Carnegie Hall - three onstage rigs, each with six GoPro cameras - was easily set up and taken down. And as it happens, the Philadelphia Orchestra had, in 2012, an Integrated Media Agreement that allows for the making of promotional videos under five minutes at no charge. That syncs with Google's model, which is open to providing the technology but does not pay for content.

Carnegie Hall would like to go further with the 360 technology, offering entire concerts. And Adamczyk seems open to what he calls "a critical mass" of content that's not necessarily 360. "The 360 component is a good hook for finding something interesting and novel as part of the launch," he said, but Google's entry into the performing arts, he says, is also about expanding the exposure of non-profit institutions.

dstearns@phillynews.com