“We think quality is worth paying for,” said Robert Zimmerman, Chief Executive from the Berliner Philharmoniker as we stood in the confines of the Studio 7 production room high above the stage of this legendary concert venue in Germany’s capital. Quite right too. After all, how many of us look to the internet every time we want something and, more often than not, blag it without a thought for paying anything for the privilege. This is a bad habit we’ve all got into.
Berliner Philharmoniker wants to reverse the trend by charging subscribers €14.90 a month in order to access its Digital Concert Hall service. This is effectively a musical archive of performances from the venue with new ones being added all the time to a library of classic concerts, including many featuring high-profile conductors like Brit Sir Simon Rattle. Just want to dip your toe in and try it once? No problem, you can get a 7 day pass for €9.90. There are actually a selection of options depending on your thirst for up to 40 events a year and the beefy back catalogue.
If you’re a fan of classical music then this is a pretty cool arrangement, and thanks to a partnership with Panasonic, the concerts are about as good as it gets without being at the venue itself. In fact, there are some aspects that make it even more appealing, like the way you can avoid the stifling heat of this 60s concrete building and not have to worry about wanting the loo halfway through a performance. Simply stop and go. Ditto for a lager top when you want it too.
However, if anything, the powers that be at the Berliner Philharmoniker hope that it will encourage more people to make the pilgrimage to the venue to experience classical music for real. They do, of course, also realise for some people that visiting the location isn’t a realistic proposition. So the development of the subscription-based model makes a lot of sense seeing as it can be viewed at anytime and from anywhere in the world.
The only problem with all this is how you actually record a concert in its entirety without having lots of cameras and crew getting in the way, making a noise and putting musicians off. Panasonic came up with a solution though in the shape of a masterplan that revolves around the UB300 UHD camera. This is a compact power-packed remote model that has been installed in numerous vantage points throughout the venue. An array of these, coupled with a state-of-the-art cocktail of mixers and monitors means a faultless recording every time.
Time was tight for the development and implementation of this new system. Last summer saw the concert hall get its 4K infrastructure, 4K cameras and post production equipment installed. This summer sees the addition of a 4K mixer setup that allows the production team to squeeze the most out of the eight remote-controlled 4K/HDR (HLG) Panasonic box cameras. Boosting the shooting capability that little bit more is the addition of a 4K/HDR (HLG) 3000GSJ Panasonic Studio Camera while more hardware can be drafted in as and when needed.
All of the cameras can be controlled using a remote pan/tilt head, which means that a series of predetermined moves can be worked out prior to the concerts taking place. The production team has also been known to record rehearsals in the event that they need to insert any segments of a proper concert that might be tarnished by, for example, someone coughing loudly or, God forbid, a mobile phone going off. There’s a Vinten Server System that stores all of these presets as snapshots, giving the producers ultimate flexibility.
The other critical feature of all these remote cameras is that they’ve got a super silent operation so as not to be intrusive for the performers. Equipped with 4K Fujinon 2/3-inch broadcast lenses or Canon HD Tele Zoom ENG Lenses, the cameras have no visible lights or signal LEDs either, meaning that they get on and do the job without being a bother to the musicians. And, being mounted in some of the best vantage points in the building means you, the viewer, gets a unique take on proceedings.
Once the data has been captured it’s fed via the new fibre cabling right up to the Studio 6 Control Room, which is located high above the auditorium. Inside here is an Aladdin’s Cave of high-tech kit, including no less than six Panasonic 31-inch 4K SDR production monitors. There’s also a consumer spec’ 4K HDR Panasonic OLED smart TV, so that producers can get a feel for what the average end user is going to experience once the broadcast is received via the Digital Concert Hall service.
Across the corridor lies Studio 7 where the 4K/HD content receives yet more care and attention. The team from Berliner Philharmoniker call on an impressive stack of kit to ensure the audio quality matches the quality of the footage. Meanwhile, further checks are carried out at this point to ensure that subscribers enjoy the same level of quality no matter what sort of device they’re viewing the content on. However, it has to be said that the experience is made all the better when it’s viewed on a super-sized screen and with high-end speakers delivering the audio.
Elsewhere, down in the bowels of the building and connected using another vast tangle of recently upgraded fibre cabling, there’s a central server that allows the production team to store all new recordings. Sitting alongside those freshly harvested classical moments is the complete archive of older material, which allows the Berliner Philharmoniker to offer a comprehensive package of content via the Digital Concert Hall service. And it can all be done via a neat and tidy app or website option.
Panasonic and the Berliner Philharmoniker reckon that this growing collection of HD and 4K/HDR recordings is just the beginning. It’s easy to see the appeal of the end result as the experience is one that’s nearly, though not quite, as good as the real thing. It’s the same if you’re into pop, punk, funk or whatever; there’s nothing that quite beats the thrill of experiencing live music performances. But, if you’re not able to make it for whatever reason, then this crystal clear multi-camera arrangement makes a pretty awesome substitute.
All images: Rob Clymo