Project 11

Before I dive in, I wanted to toss out some brief thoughts about possible projects. They’re just brain spurts because I’m thinking maybe the group could flesh them out:

1. Finding a better way to cover music festivals:
Chicago is home to two of the nation’s biggest rock extravaganzas, Lollapalooza and Pitchfork, which are so immense, it’s impossible to do them justice. We send off our pop music critic, a few freelancers, a videographer and a photographer or two into the midday sun, have them furiously tweet and blog and shoot, etc., but our efforts ultimately seem, well, almost futile. What can we do we improve our coverage of these perennial events (which of course have parallels nationwide, e.g., Coachella, Bonnaroo, Bumbershoot, etc.)?

2. Paying respects:
It has been a year since the death of longtime Getty chief James N. Wood; perhaps the group could write a series of features outlining his legacy? (This of course might seem self-serving, but it would seem to accomplish several objectives.)

3. Improving political discourse:
With the presidential campaign heating up, perhaps the group could draft a white paper on how the media might improve its coverage so that the focus remains more on the issues and less on the personalities and partisan puffery? HBO pundit Bill Maher shoots “Real Time” over at CBS Studios in Culver City, and maybe he’d be willing to invite some of the Getty fellows on to his show to discuss these issues (which he’s always railing about on “Real Time”)? A stretch, but nothing ventured…

4. Encouraging diversity:
Los Angeles is the most predominantly Latino city in the nation but the Los Angeles Times has not had a Latin arts/culture writer on staff since it laid off Agustin Garza a few years ago. Which means the L.A. Times routinely ignores events important to the Latin community; for instance, the Mexican rock group Mana performed four sold-out concerts in June at the Staples Center (which tied a previous record for the most sellouts). This staffing situation seems almost criminal; how can the Times be guilted into hiring someone or at least doing a better job at covering the Latin arts scene?

OK, now for the actual proposal:
The Met’s “Live in HD” simulcasts have transformed the classical music and arts world in general. Much has been written about how the simulcasts have affected the field, but these articles have tended to be mainly commentary or largely anecdotal. For instance, former Opera News editor-in-chief Patrick J. Smith wrote a widely circulated piece in March for Musical America in which he claimed that the Met simulcasts are negatively impacting opera performance because “the aesthetic of the video performance has spoiled these people for the aesthetic of the live performance in the opera house.” He and others also insist that the simulcasts are not attracting new audiences (one of Met chief Peter Gelb’s stated goals) and actually might be cannibalizing audiences instead.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic has jumped on simulcast bandwagon with its “LA Phil Live” series and plans a second season this fall. When I interviewed L.A. Phil president Deborah Borda earlier this year for a story about this series, she emphasized that the simulcasts have been invaluable, because LA Phil music director Gustavo Dudamel is so popular, the only opportunity many have to attend his concerts is through the “LA Phil Live” screenings in area movie theaters.

I’d like to get empirical evidence of how simulcasts have affected classical music. Is attendance down in regional opera companies? And if so, is it attributable to audiences forgoing live performance for much more affordable simulcasts? Are certain voices and singers being cast for photogenic reasons? (That’s what Smith and others have claimed.) Are originating institutions such as the Met and the L.A. Phil gaining subscribers through the movie-theater experience? And most important, are video simulcasts dumbing down classical music?

Full disclosure: I LOVE the Met simulcasts and attend as many as possible. I don’t think the “LA Phil Live” simulcasts have reached the same artistic level, but then, it’s sort of an apples/oranges comparison, and the L.A. Phil series is in its infancy. In any case, I am fascinated by the simulcast phenomenon but I believe it needs to be better studied to determine its long-term impact.