The Orchestra knew it wanted to celebrate the centenary of Benjamin Britten. That’s done easily enough by programming the music of the British composer, one of the major figures of 20th-century classical music.
But this occasion offered a prime opportunity for the Orchestra to continue its Theater-of-a- Concert initiative, in which we present innovative concert experiences. In this instance, it’s including a visual component with the concert. So the Orchestra joined forces with the New World Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, and the San Francisco Symphony in commissioning award-winning filmmaker Tal Rosner to create striking visual images to accompany Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from his opera Peter Grimes. The piece will be performed on concerts March 27, 28, and 29.
Rosner customized the images in each of the four Interludes to correspond to the four cities whose orchestras commissioned his work. He photographed images in each city that will ring familiar to their audiences. Among the many iconic Philadelphia images Rosner has chosen to illustrate the composition are the city’s skyline, the Strawberry Mansion Bridge, and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.
“The Orchestra is creating imaginative and original ways to enhance the concert experience,” said Jeremy Rothman, the Orchestra’s vice president of artistic planning. “Having Tal Rosner’s stunning visuals on display during the Four Sea Interludes will add a relevant dimension to the piece. The music is already theatrical in nature, originally composed as musical ‘bridges’ in Britten’s opera Peter Grimes. This is why Tal decided to use physical bridges and their architecture as his visual inspiration.”
“When approaching the piece as a whole, I decided to break it down into four video/animation scenarios that correspond to the four movements, and that, in turn, are inspired by one of the four commissioning cities: Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Los Angeles,” Rosner said. “As the visual building blocks for each section are derived exclusively from footage and photographs of that city, every host orchestra has its own unique representation in the resulting digital tapestry,” Rosner said.
“The urban layouts of the cities presented are also all defined by sea or in rivers,” Rosner continued. “By revealing or obstructing the views, the visuals not only reflect rhythm changes and orchestration within the music—but also delve into the psychological minutiae of the interludes in relation to the opera’s narrative. The graphic compositions peel away the layers of urban vernacular to explore the inner fabric of the cities; panoramic vistas and minute architectural details come together in choreographic unison.”
Britten partly mirrored Peter Grimes in the moods of the sea that are depicted in two interludes from the first act and in the preludes to the second and third acts. The four interludes are called “Dawn,” “Sunday Morning,” “Moonlight,” and “Storm.” Rosner chose Philadelphia to represent “Sunday Morning.”
The concerts conducted by Donald Runnicles will also feature guest violinist Janine Jansen performing Britten’s Violin Concerto, Pärt’s Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, and Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 (“Linz”).
The images will be projected onto surfaces, custom-designed for Verizon Hall. Audiences will be able to view these images from both in front of and behind the screens. Every seat in the house will have its own unique perspective on this visual installment. The projection panels will then move out of the way as to not interfere with the remainder of the concert.
“Presenting these great orchestral works alongside Tal’s visual interpretation provides a new way for audience members to experience a concert, and these innovative treatments of the music are increasingly becoming a hallmark of The Philadelphia Orchestra,” Rothman said.