Gene D’Andrea is a Multimedia Broadcaster for the Kennedy Center, who directed the concert footage that was used in the newly released video portrait of Christoph Eschenbach, which can be viewed here.
Filming an orchestra can be easy and hard at the same time – easy because there are often many musicians playing at once, so there’s always action to film; hard because the focus of that action must be determined quickly and then translated into camera shots that complement the story of the music being performed. The countless technical aspects of filming any large event add another layer of complexity to the challenge. The NSO is a joy to watch and listen to, however, making any such project worthwhile, and the members of the Kennedy Center (KC) Multimedia Department were enthusiastic about the recent opportunity to film a live performance of Guiseppe Verdi’s Requiem with newly-appointed Music Director Christoph Eschenbach.
Before the actual filming begins, there is much planning that takes place and while it isn't glamorous, it is vital to making sure things run smoothly once show time comes around. In the months leading up to the Verdi concert, the KC Multimedia Department worked with NSO and Concert Hall production staff to determine camera positions, coordinate crew calls, run cabling, and fine-tune lighting and audio. Jim Jensen and Kazu Masamura of Panasonic provided state-of-the-art video equipment for the shoot, including three robotic cameras, which were placed onstage amidst the performers, and a high-end video switching unit for transitioning live between the six different cameras that were used to film the concert.
As the director for the filming, I wanted to be closely familiar with the music itself so that I could determine appropriate camera shots. Using a score from the NSO Music Library, I identified prominent vocal spots, solo instrumental passages and the general flow of the music, from loud to soft and slow to fast. This gave me ideas for camera moves, such as broad sweeping pans across the orchestra and choir to quicker tight shots of individual performers.
During setup and rehearsals, robotic camera operator Phil Wolf pre-set a series of camera moves in the control unit for quick access during the show; manned camera operators Sam Devlin, Kyle Manfredi and Kristina Buddenhagen familiarized themselves with their positions in the hall; and technical director Regis Vogt set up the video switching unit.
The actual filming went smoothly with no major problems. I would follow along in the score with the music while keeping an eye on the six camera feeds, and call out shots via headset to the technical director and camera operators. The musical performance was impressive and the conductor, orchestra, choir and soloists all looked great on camera.
A video of a concert provides an exciting complement to the live performance, not only by making it available for archival purposes or online viewing but also allowing for a new perspective on the performance itself. Viewing things from different angles and from closer up can shed new light on the nuances of the music. Seeing the conductor’s face as the musicians see it can lend new meaning to certain musical interpretations. Christoph Eschenbach has often mentioned the importance of technology in expanding the classical musical audience, and video is one such artistic medium with many possibilities in that regard. I was happy to be involved in this process with a team that is able to undertake a cutting-edge production like this at The Kennedy Center. A lot can be accomplished with a motivated group of skilled professionals, and the end product can be enjoyed by all for years to come.
The newly released video portrait of Christoph Eschenbach can be viewed on the Kennedy Center's Explore the Arts website.