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By Seb Joseph, News editor

February 22, 2016 | 3 min read

Virtual reality technology will make what were once the exclusive performances of the Philharmonia Orchestra available to everyone as the collective attempts to win over a new generation of fans.

Imagine sitting in a packed, opulent concert hall on London’s Southbank. An orchestra is playing; the audience are listening to a grandiose composition, the couple next to you attentively following the conductor’s every move. It all feels and sounds so real. But it’s not. You aren’t really inside the Royal Festival Hall. You aren’t in London. In fact you never left you’re house. You’re sitting instead on your sofa, in the comfort of your own living room, watching the show on a VR headset.

While it might sound like a scene cut from a science fiction blockbuster, it’s actually happening. The Philharmonia is in discussions with the Southbank Centre and production agency Inition to pioneer virtual performances as a new way for classical fans all over the world to watch their concerts.

Its one of the fruits to bloom from a collaboration between the event space and the acclaimed orchestra that’s already captured the latter’s performance of the closing minutes of Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony at the Royal Festival Hall. Footage of the musicians warming up just minutes before they take the stage, combined with a view between the conductor and the orchestra, put viewers in vantage points that they would never normally be able to view from in person. Guests are able to experience the production for free in special booths in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall.

“We tried to focus on the narrative and filmed in 360 video and recorded in 360 sound to create an experience where you could almost hear and feel when the conductor’s turning the pages,” said Adrian Leu, managing director at Inition.

“It’s not only the concert we wanted to capture in the experience. It’s about how the orchestra prepared for it; the nerves they go through and conveying the skill it takes to be part of the collective. It’s all part of conveying that understanding of how an orchestra works.”

Principal conductor for the Philharmonia Esa-Pekka Salonen has been a driving force behind the partnership, spurred by his ambition to use technology to pull younger listeners toward the classical music genre. His orchestra have been one of the forerunners in the digital space and moving forward are set to work closely with Inition to cut production times down in the hope of being able to produce a broader range of performances, faster. The first performance took seven months to recreate virtually, partly because of the periods of time between rehearsals.

“At the end of the day the technology is not the most important point,” said Leu. “The most important part is the content that you promote the technology because the whole chain is only as good as the weakest link. That’s the problem at the moment where the technology is undermining the content.”

Virtual concerts and gigs are tipped to be one of the more exciting uses of VR technology. Paul McCartney performed ‘Live and Let Die’ in 360 degrees, with stero 3D and immersive audio for Android and iOs devices, while music venues and even museums are exploring how they can make what is a visceral and tactile experience virtual.

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