Keeping ‘Time’ Via Satellite

I Gergiev conducting at BC Placefelt that the Russians gave us a great show during the Closing Ceremonies of the 2010 Olympic Games, and one of the most memorable parts for me was watching Valery Gergiev conduct an orchestra via ‘live’ satellite uplink to Red Square in Moscow. It was inspiring to imagine musicians halfway across the globe interacting with the performance in Vancouver, and it was a great way to literally link the two nations together. But was it really a live performance? I am skeptical that the orchestra in Moscow could really have been producing the sound heard in BC Place stadium. I’m not sure that conducting via video link could truly be made accurate and responsive enough to make a good performance. Anyone who uses Skype knows that there is often a full second delay between what you say and what returns to you as feedback. Even with a direct signal path, the music would still be played, recorded, processed, and mixed on one end before it even gets to the waiting conductor in Vancouver, after which the audio signal is sent to his earpiece monitor and main speakers for him to react to. This would be a huge challenge for any sound crew. How on earth does an outdoor performance in Russia sound good indoors in Canada?

Conductors already rely on their performers responding after their downbeat falls and therefore get used to conducting ahead of the players. It would certainly be a test of faith to be delayed any more than that in an online performance. I think it’s a really neat concept, but I’d like to find out more about it! What do you think about the performance? Was it real or elaborately staged? (Or both?)

The piece they played was Time, Forward!, by Russian composer Georgy Sviridov. I quite enjoyed its intense rhythms and over-the-top percussion. Originally part of a 60s film score, it was later featured in the 80s as a bombastic news broadcast intro… talk about dramatic coverage.
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