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Filming concerts: a different (camera?) angle

comments on PGW's article reached by clicking in this line.

MP's editor, PGW, often fulminates against over-complicated filming of concerts. (e.g Proms or this DVD of the Lindsay String Quartet - links here). He complains that the endless shifting between different shots – an instrumentalist here, even part of a player's hands there – actually distracts from the enjoyment of the music.

In a purist sense, he must be right; naturalistic filming must be truer to the live experience, where the audience member changes his gaze more or less unconsciously. Again, it is obvious, not just cynical, that film-makers feel they must earn their crust by changing points of view and distance, not just by leaving a fixed camera running.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, PGW's purism is doomed. In the last thirty years, and above all because of technological advances in computers, we have become absolutely flooded with information. So our expectations in entertainment are of a far more signposted, 'marketed' experience. We have become lazy consumers, as much in culture as in food and shopping. Even at the Proms, we want ready meals.

Almost everything in our culture is consistent on this point. Of all sports, cricket most follows the rhythms of nature; a test match takes five days, far, far too long for the attention span of most people. So a new, abbreviated version, 20-20, has been invented. The ratio of the length of a 20-20 cricket match to that of a traditional Test match is exactly the same as that of a pop song to a Mozart or Haydn symphony.

Those filming the Proms know very well that the generality of those who watch are quite unable to sustain their attention without visual clues. And indeed, how to film a concert is a problem. This weekend sees the start of the English football season; a sport that transfers ideally well to television. One reason it does so is that analysis and action replays at half time and afterwards add immeasurably to the pleasure and understanding of those who cannot be present in the stadium. There is simply too much going on during the match to be taken in at once.

But in the interval of a concert, when the same idea is tried, with eminent musical figures and outside celebrities (another sad point, classical music is perceived as needing outside celebrities to give it a bit more oomph and glamour) giving their views, the experience is poorer altogether. Musical analysis is far drier than its sporting equivalent; it is impossible to splice in 'action replays.' We end up with platitudes spoken by grandees and it is hard not to feel the traditional view of classical music as stuffy and elitist is reinforced, not demystified.

I am myself purist; my intensive interest in a few composers is arguably far less laudable than PGW's cultural Catholicism. But I think that those who are already trained, or already hooked have every opportunity to pursue their particular line of enquiry. So I am grateful for every attempt made to popularise and broaden the base of interest in classical music, for every jingle on Classic FM, for every CD that features great works known only from TV advertisements, and yes, for every close-up of a wind player's embrasure or a violinist's knuckles. I am grateful that a few concerts at the Proms remain on networked TV at all.

Ying Chang