Move over corporate projects and rock and roll. Convergence has another outlet, where the classical meets the ultra contemporary in technology. While we're busy noting the shift toward the use of media servers and huge LED screens where we would expect in our lighting world — concerts, seminars, trade shows — enter cinemaphony (call in the lexicographers for this one): the synthetic art of combining orchestral performance with visual projection.
Production company Flux Events recently promoted and production managed a cinemaphony performance of Shostakovich's “Seventh Symphony” at London's Royal Albert Hall. The event was staged to commemorate VE Day 1945 and the loss of 26 million Russian Allies in World War II. Accompanied by documentary film footage from Leningrad, visuals were manually manipulated in real time by film director Georgy Paradzhanov.
Never heard of cinemaphony before? Well, Flux's John Farquhar-Smith runs his production company in an unusual way, so unique is not exactly foreign to him. “We are a small, creative core of professionals who produce bespoke events for a variety of clients,” he says. “We hold no in-house equipment, and the house style is led by overall excellence in any specific area. We create events using the most appropriate supplier for specific tasks.”
Performed by the 120-piece St. Petersburg Academic Symphony Orchestra and conducted by the composer's son, Maxim Shostakovich, the event was the brainchild of author-designer Sergei Davitaya and the official Russian Information Agency, Novosti.
Flux was initially approached to stage the piece just six weeks beforehand via London-based PR agency Brown Lloyd James. “It was a huge challenge to make it happen on that timescale,” says Farquhar-Smith. “So we absolutely had to take it on.”
In fact, Farquhar-Smith was so enthused by the concept that he took on the event as promoter as well as production company. “With such a short time between getting the green light and booking an available and appropriate date for the Hall, it was the only logical way it was going to happen,” he says. “We needed to be able to make all the major staging and production decisions quickly and decisively.”
Originally planned for an outdoor performance, Farquhar-Smith advised against it due to the erratic nature of the weather in May, suggesting instead the Albert Hall as one of the premier classical venues in the world, with exceptional acoustics, and a great place to view a wide screen.
When it came to projection, Farquhar-Smith turned to Malcolm Mellows at XL Video. The two had worked together on numerous other productions, including another commemorative event screening the film Battleship Potemkin, which Farquhar-Smith produced with the Pet Shop Boys in London's Trafalgar Square last year.
“We have a great relationship with XL, who advises us during the pitch processes through to realization of any project,” says Farquhar-Smith. “We discuss the event, and Malcolm and his team put together the best rig for the job. They provided the equipment for our screening of the Battleship Potemkin with the Pet Shop Boys and the Dresden Sinfonika for an audience of 38,000. Having used three stacked Barco R18s in Trafalgar Square with a 48'×60' screen, we were confident that the same rig would perform well on a screen indoors.” The screen was custom made at Harkness Hall, and it was rigged on an A-type truss frame.
For the cimemaphony performance, XL supplied two Barco ELM R18 projectors with 3.2:5 zoom lenses, which were set up to run overlaid images. Playback was from a Betacam SP machine, and the footage was downloaded from the computers of video technicians Viktor Goltsman and Pavel Grigoryev. XL's two onsite technicians were John Edwards and Kevin Parry.
Unlike Potemkin, which ran with synchronized sequencer automation, the last-minute edits were made to the footage onsite, so the live synchronization with the music was exactly in time. The 72-minute film — shown on a 43'×33' screen owned and supplied by Flux — was created to accompany the piece from amalgamated extracts of Russian and German newsreels, creating a narrative of documentary footage. By associating themes from the symphony with visuals, the film and music mirror each other: a combination of pastoral scenes from pre-war life alongside the rise of Nazism, combined with destruction of churches, the idolization of Stalin, famine in the Ukraine, and slave labor during the construction of the White Sea Canal.
Lighting design for the event was taken up by Farquhar-Smith himself, along with Will Thomas, one of the technical managers at the Albert Hall, who also acted as operator. The team decided on minimal lighting, employing just the house rig of ETC Source Four® Profiles and a selection of PAR cans to accompany the documentary visuals. “The whole focus of the piece was on listening to the music, watching the film, and being enrapt by the experience,” explains Farquhar-Smith. “We didn't need any dressing up or razzmatazz. The work was absolutely compelling, presented raw and as intended. It was a very simple design — a good general cover for the orchestra and special illumination for the conductor, who obviously had to be lit during the performance.”
The Rigging Partnership — Gavin Weatherall and Ollie Green — were brought in to handle the rigging aspect, and Flux worked closely with Simon Lupini, head of the Albert Hall's show department. Jenny Stogdon acted as show coordinator, and Anthea Roy as stage manager. Edwin Shirley was responsible for the trucking. Local crew was supplied by Crew Co.
“It was technically a relatively simple show,” states Farquhar-Smith, “but the logistics of staging it were very complex.”