Music and images are going to be more frequent dance partners at Tucson Symphony Orchestra concerts.
The orchestra is investing the $100,000 it recently received from the Phoenix-based Flinn Foundation into a state-of-the-art digital projection system for its multimedia concerts, events like the recent “The Planets On the Big Screen” that incorporate video with live music.
The investment will allow the orchestra to increase the number of multimedia events it presents, from two this season to at least three in 2017-18, said TSO President and CEO Mark A. Blakeman.
Having its own equipment allows the TSO “to spread our wings and experiment with accompanying still images or video images with concerts,” Blakeman said.
In years past, including for the Oct. 21 and 23 “Planets” concerts, the orchestra rented the projectors at a cost of $6,000 and $10,000 per weekend, Blakeman said. It’s a price tag that’s often cost-prohibitive for orchestras of Tucson’s size, but Blakeman said the benefits make it worth the expense.
“The addition of projection to enhance and add another dimension to our concert experience gives us the opportunity to reach audience members that don’t fit into the core profile of typical symphony-goers,” he said.
In other words, people who might never had pictured themselves attending a symphony concert show up for a concert that incorporates a movie or video element.
That’s what happened at the “Planets”: Nearly a quarter of the people at the hall for the two concerts Oct. 21 and 23 were new to the symphony, Blakeman said. That’s up from about 4 to 6 percent of new audience members on average at the orchestra’s classics series concerts.
“It’s really significant. ‘Fantasia’ a few years ago, we had more than 30 percent new ticket buyers, and ‘Pixar’ last year was about the same, too,” he said.
“I think whenever you’re offering something new it can open the door to a new segment of the community,” said longtime TSO horn player Shawn Campbell, the orchestra’s vice president of artistic engagement and education. “People may come for the first time because of the film and then become excited by the orchestra.”
The TSO will be the only orchestra in Arizona to own its own digital projection system. Phoenix Symphony officials said they rent equipment for their multimedia events.
The TSO announced the Flinn Foundation’s Initiative for Financial and Creative Health grant earlier this week. Blakeman said the orchestra applied more than a year ago.
The orchestra will spend $93,000 on two projectors, which Blakeman said he hopes arrive in time for “‘Home Alone’ In Concert” over Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 26 and 27. The orchestra will perform the John Williams’ soundtrack as the popular 1990 holiday comedy plays on a big screen.
The remaining grant funds will be set aside to maintain the equipment, he said.
Campbell, who has played in the orchestra since 1985, said the orchestra’s multimedia concerts create something of an ah-ha moment for audiences, especially children. When they see musicians playing the soundtrack of their favorite movie, the kids seem surprised that the music is actually played by real people.
“That’s such a discovery, and why not for adults as well as kids?” Campbell said. “We have dozens of projects for orchestra and film that we just can’t wait to dig into and present to Tucson. This equipment is going to allow us to do that.”
Blakeman said one of the three multimedia events next season will be a family film over Thanksgiving weekend. This year’s “Home Alone” event launches what Blakeman said will become a TSO holiday tradition.