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Symphony Prepares For A Close-Up

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra The most traditional of the Charlotte Symphony's concert offerings will undergo a multi-media make-over next month. The symphony is attempting to sell more tickets and find solid financial footing. Some of the changes walk a fine line between appealing to newcomers and alienating long-time fans. Three remote-controlled cameras on stage at the March 30-31st Classics Concert will beam the faces of musicians and conductor Christopher Warren Green to a 16-foot screen above the stage as they perform music of Tchaikovsky. It's the kind of thing rock concert-goers expect, but it's a radical departure from the traditional symphony experience. "Yeah we have a little bit of nervousness about this," says Charlotte Symphony President Jonathan Martin. Martin says symphony performances in America haven't changed much in 200 years: orchestra on stage, conductor in tails with his back to audience most of the night. There are generally no flashy light displays or big screens, and any change to the format can unsettle core supporters. But Martin says the symphony's viability depends on attracting a broader - often younger - audience. "The perception of our Classic Series is that it's 2-2 1/2 hours plus intermission," says Martin. "You can't talk. Somebody tells you when to clap. Somebody tells you how to dress and the price is too much. We gotta begin to chip away at that." Long-time symphony-goer Cookie Parnell says some people in the audience won't like the TV screens, "but I think that's kind of a neat experience." Parnell misses the days when people dressed up for concerts, but she understands the need to attract more people. So what does she think about the symphony's plan to let the audience vote by text message for the encore number they want to hear? "I don't know that I would participate in that just because I don't text a whole lot, but if it makes the audience or a younger group of the audience feel a part of it then I think that's fine," says Parnell. Another dedicated symphony supporter, Mark Bernstein, agrees: "If it does good for the symphony, I'm for it." Live video and text-voting are just an experiment for the March 30 and 31st classics concerts, but Jonathan Martin says they could become regular features if the audience responds well. The Charlotte Symphony has a task force dedicated entirely to brainstorming ideas that will chip away at the stodgy reputation of classical music concerts.