February 8, 2009 in City

Technology expands festival’s reach

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Abraham Lincoln was not exactly a wired guy – but the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox is using Abe’s festival here to launch its high-tech connection called Internet 2.

Internet 2 is an ultra-high-speed version of the Internet, perfect for music. It moves information (as in, video and audio) about 1,000 times faster than the fastest home Internet connection. The result: A musician can, for instance, conduct a master class with students hundreds of miles away.

That’s exactly what will happen Feb. 25, when famed composer Michael Daugherty, in Spokane for the world premiere of his “Letters From Lincoln” song cycle, will conduct a master class with a student composer in Missoula, all from the stage of the Fox.

How will that work? With video cameras, projection screens and Internet 2.

When the 1931 art deco Fox was renovated a few years ago, the Spokane Symphony wanted its new performance hall to be on the cutting edge of technology. High-speed fiber optic wiring was added, with Internet 2 in mind. This was unusual for a theater; Internet 2 is mostly used by universities and government agencies.

Since reopening in November 2007, the Fox has test-run the technology a few times, but the Lincoln Festival was always considered the true target date.

“We always felt that the Lincoln Festival would be a natural showcase for this,” said Ted Brown, information services manager for the Spokane Symphony and the Fox. “Not the centerpiece (of the festival), but a supporting tool.”

So now, Internet 2 is ready to make its debut with two events related to the Lincoln Festival:

A remote press conference – On Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., Daugherty and baritone Thomas Hampson will conduct a press conference with Spokane Symphony music director Eckart Preu on the stage of the Fox. However, only Preu will actually be at the Fox.

Hampson will be at the Manhattan School of Music in New York and Daugherty will be at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Their faces will be projected above the stage on a movie screen and their voices will come through in CD-quality sound as they chat with Preu about their roles in the upcoming “Letters from Lincoln” performance on Feb. 28 and March 1. The public is invited.

A remote master class – On Feb. 25, Daugherty will be on the stage of the Fox to conduct a master class for student composers. Half of this master class will be conventional, with a student composer and musicians from Gonzaga University onstage to perform an original piece and receive Daugherty’s input.

The other half will be anything but conventional. A student composer from the University of Montana will perform a work from Missoula – seen on a screen and heard through the theater’s sound system. Daugherty will be able to experience it with crystal-clear definition and give feedback.

The Montana students will also be able to watch the Gonzaga portion of the class through their connection.

This, according to Annie Matlow of the symphony, is the future of the symphony’s music education.

“We see these kinds of master classes becoming routine,” she said.

It can also be used for many other kinds of music education. The region’s students from kindergarten on up can learn from the Spokane Symphony’s musicians without leaving their schools.

Another possible use of Internet 2: A prospective performer can audition for the Spokane Symphony without buying a plane ticket to Spokane. The Internet 2 sound quality is that good.

Matlow said there are probably many other uses for Internet 2 the symphony hasn’t thought of yet.

“It’s so unique and cutting edge, in all honesty, we don’t know what we can do,” she said.

Jim Kershner can be reached at (509) 459-5493 or by e-mail at jimk@spokesman.com.


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