With LiveNote app, Philadelphia Orchestra widens the curtain on musical experience

The Philadelphia Orchestra

The Philadelphia Orchestra (WHYY file photo)

The Philadelphia Orchestra is inviting its audience to, please, turn on your cell phones during the performance.

A series of three concerts featuring access to the orchestra’s new custom-designed mobile phone app, LiveNote, begins Wednesday.

LiveNote can be downloaded at any time to an Android or iOS device. But only when the user is in the Kimmel Center on the night of the performance — and connected to the orchestra’s localized WiFi network — will the app access a live stream of information related to the concert.

The app debuted last fall as a beta test during a college night concert.

“We’ve consistently seen a large percentage of the audience use it, whether it’s on a college night or a subscription performance with a more mature patron base,” said Ryan Fleur, vice president of orchestra advancement. “It’s designed very specifically as an audience development tool.”

The Orchestra will perform Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, which opens with slow melody on the woodwinds. The app alerts you to certain historical and musical information – such as those horns are meant to represent Fate, a concept Tchaikovsky had wrestled with in his Fourth Symphony.

“We give you a choice of content,” said Fleur. “You can pick the storyline of what’s happening behind the piece while it’s playing, or you might pick a more deeper musical analysis of what’s going on.”

Fleur and his team at the orchestra designed the app’s look and the content, while computer engineers at Drexel University’s Music, Entertainment, and Technology Lab created the back end. The Drexel lab has created a version of the app that hears and responds to the orchestra in real time, Fleur said. But that version is not yet reliable for subscription concerts. The content stream of this version is triggered by a human behind the scene.

The point is to draw new audiences to the orchestra while not alienating regular classical music lovers – the app operates with white text on a black screen to minimize disruption. The app can download the concert’s program notes as a PDF file, and has a glossary of instruments and musical theory terms.

“We have millennials emerging, many of which have not had music instruction and appreciation in schools, and to provide information at the basic level of slightly more advanced level, through a means everyone is used to using, it breaks down some of the walls and mystique around the elitism that comes from the Philadelphia Orchestra giving a concert,” Fleur said.

The three concerts in the LiveNote series are designed to be short – this one is under an hour — and early in the evening to draw the casual ticket buyer. Subsequent concerts will feature “Concerto for Violin” by Jennifer Higdon (Feb. 25) and excerpts from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” (April 22).

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