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Boston and Birmingham orchestras seek a wider audience through streaming / Financial Times

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Programmes from the two cities' orchestras presented high-quality music and more besides

Barely a month passes without an advance in how concerts are being presented online. A straight filming in the concert hall has quickly been sidelined, as managements realise that streaming offers the opportunity to attract a wider audience with supplementary material such as interviews and arty videos.

The promotional value of all this will not have gone unnoticed. As with last weekend's streamed concert from the San Francisco Symphony, the Boston Symphony Orchestra kicked off its online winter season by introducing itself with a broad-brush history of the orchestra, appealing to new viewers and potential sponsors alike.

For its opening concert, "American Promise", Boston looked to three moments in the development of American music. Ives's The Unanswered Question encapsulates American individualism and its evocation of a boundless universe of sound was enhanced by having the solo trumpet far off in the balcony of Symphony Hall. Dvorak's New World Symphony, showing how American folk tunes could work in a classical form, formed the popular centrepiece and received an invigorating performance under former BSO associate conductor Ken-David Masur, son of Kurt, conductor of Leipzig fame. The orchestral playing was high quality, as evident online as it would be live in the hall.

A documentary interlude gave a thumbnail biography of Florence Price, one of the finest of the early 20th-century African-American composers who are at last getting their due, and this was followed by her String Quartet in G. Slight, though none the worse for that, it has grace and romantic warmth, allied to some searching harmonies, all rendered with expertise by the four Boston players. The concert is available as part of a charged subscription series until December 19.

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was unlucky that its centenary fell this year during the pandemic. Undeterred, it has already given one centenary concert online under former music director Simon Rattle, and here was another under his current successor, Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, who had been on maternity leave the first time round. As in Boston, the presentation includes chat and interviews, and the Earl of Wessex, the CBSO's patron, provides a centenary tribute.

The orchestra's inaugural concert was given on November 10 1920, when Elgar conducted a programme entirely of his own music (the Birmingham Gazette reported that this did not attract a "record audience"). The central work then was Elgar's Cello Concerto and that was revisited in this concert, with soloist Sheku Kanneh-Mason heard at his most intimately thoughtful, playing that might not work in a large hall but came across affectingly here. On either side, Grazinyte-Tyla conducted two of Sibelius's tone poems, Lemminkäinen's Return and The Swan of Tuonela, with a lively, if not very trenchant, performance of the Leonore No.3 Overture by Beethoven, another anniversary figure of 2020, to close.