For most classical music lovers, the thrill of the live concert is really what it's all about. While recordings may sate our collective musical appetite for a substantial period of time, there is nothing quite like being there. Being able to see the performers and their emotions, the reactions of the others in the audience, and even the ambience of the venue, adds to our experience of the music exponentially. Through live performances, we are able to connect not only with the music, but also with the musicians, and with each other.
Unfortunately, there are many obstacles that can prevent the average listener from attending classical music concerts of a professional level, at least on a regular basis. Some of us live in areas with populations too small for visiting ensembles or orchestras to bother stopping by. Others simply cannot afford the increasingly crippling price of admission at many major venues. Still others may prefer not to go out of preference, feeling out of place among the generally greying types who make up the bulk of the classical audiences today.
For my part, I'm just a poor student, and as much as I would like to attend every concert that comes through town, I also have a powerful need to eat on occasion. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised when, a few months ago, a friend clued me in to a rather remarkable website, Medici.tv. The site, begun in 2008, broadcasts live video feeds of professional performances from all around the world. Not only this, but they provide archives of all of the concerts they broadcast, so you can watch them whenever, and wherever, you like. Best of all, it's free!
Okay, it's not entirely free. You can pay a monthly fee and get unlimited access to every concert they have ever broadcast, as well as to their growing archive of historical performances and documentaries. But just registering for free on the site lets you watch live performances as they happen, and also grants you access to all the live performances broadcast over the previous couple of months. So if all you're looking for is your live performance fix, free registration is definitely a worthwhile investment of a couple of minutes of your time.
It's true that most of the performances are your typical romantic orchestral types, though often with fantastic soloists. But I mention it here because at the moment, period vocal group Les Arts Florissants is involved in a project that is being broadcast in its entirety through Medici: they are performing the Monteverdi madgrigals, from beginning to end, one book at a time, with performances being held in the Paris Cité de la musique, the théâtre de Caen and the Valladolid Centro Cultural Miguel Delibes. The project will last until 2014; you can find out more on Medici's blog.
Having listened to the first two concerts, I have to say, this is absolutely gorgeous music being performed at the highest level. The ensemble have such an incredible rapport with their audience, giving them as much contact as they do with each other. But they also just understand this music so completely, particularly its speech-like nature; after a while you almost forget that they're actually singing, it just becomes so natural. I suppose this is to be expected of such an accomplished period vocal ensemble, but hearing them is definitely a rare treat!
I know watching on the web is no substitute for the real thing. It can never be quite the same when the camera decides what we get to see, when we're sitting alone at home rather than in a crowded auditorium, and when the placement and quality of microphones and speakers create our overall listening experience. But on the other hand, it's an opportunity to see performances and performers you may rarely if ever have the chance to see live, without having to travel for miles or pay through the nose. So my advice is definitely to check it out.