As the Met is to opera, the Berlin Philharmonic is to orchestral music — at least when it comes to developing pioneering digital experiences. Both have worked hard in recent years to bring the experience of live performance to theaters, homes and mobile devices. (Berlin concerts stream live to cinemas in many European countries, but not yet outside Europe.)
The Berlin orchestra launched its “Digital Concert Hall” four years ago, initially as a web-based service but now also as an app for iPhone and iPad. (You can mirror your iPad on a larger screen using its HDMI output.)
A paid subscription gains access to more than 30 live concerts a year, which are then added to a library that at latest count numbers nearly 200 concerts.
The technical quality of the Berlin output is pretty astonishing, though of course it depends on the quality of your web/mobile/wifi connection. The orchestra has placed remote cameras all around the stage, and the camerawork is fluid. Sir Simon Rattle, the orchestra’s chief conductor, is very watchable. And, of course, the orchestra – you’ll soon recognize every player if you watch a few concerts – is glorious. There are extensive preview excerpts on YouTube – see the clip below for a sampler, or, better, download the app and watch the free concert.
An annual subscription is €149 (about $190). A 7-day “ticket,” $10.99 in the U.S. through your iTunes account, is the price of a U.S. movie ticket. A year’s subscription works out to about $6 for each new concert, without even factoring in access to the archives. The cheapest ticket for a single performance at the hall in Berlin? €25, or about $32.50.
Despite all this wizardry and a seemingly affordable price point, the service does not appear to be very popular. A 2011 Financial Times report put the total of paying subscribers after the first two years at 5,000. Sony, the project’s technical partner, enables direct access via late-model televisions and Blu-Ray players in Germany, but not, as far as we know, outside Germany.
The Apple apps, released in early 2013, may help more listeners discover the Berlin experience. Try it out and see what you think.