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July 22, 2009

National Symphony to introduce real-time Twittered program notes

This in from the NSO: Conductor Emil de Cou has prepared real-time program notes to Beethoven's Sixth that will be beamed to Twitterati sitting on the lawn of Wolf Trap July 30.

It's an interesting variation on a palm-held device, tried out by some orchestras a few years ago, that texted program notes as a performance was in progress. There were skeptics then, and I can imagine there will be howls and scowls from some corners about the Twitter application, but you just know this was bound to happen. And what a great thing this will be for those folks who can't go more than a minute or two without staring down at some sort of electronic device in their hands.

Here's the press release:

"With this first ever in-time symphonic Twitter you can have the conductor as your personal guide through Beethoven's most colorful and atmospheric work,” explained NSO @ Wolf Trap Festival Conductor Emil de Cou. “I have designed the tweets to go perfectly with ideas I have about the piece as I conduct it but also some interesting commentary to go along with the sights and sounds of Beethoven's day in the countryside: an adult musical pop-up book written for first timers and concert veterans alike."

The messages will begin during intermission and provide facts about Beethoven’s life and work. Once the concert begins, the tweets will be sent at specific points in the score, becoming streaming program notes that mark musical signposts depicting Beethoven’s symphonic tribute to a day in the country.

Please note that the Filene Center does not allow electronic devices to be used in the main house, only on the lawn.

Current NSO at WolfTrap and Wolf Trap followers on Twitter have the exclusive opportunity to purchase $10 lawn tickets through a promotional code included in a series of tweets to come this week.



Posted by Tim Smith at 11:38 AM | | Comments (7)


I spend a great deal of time on the internet (and the computer in general), but I _am_ able to break away and interact with the real world.

(Of course, then I go running back to the 'net. Oooo, here's a good one: the 'Netropolitan Opera! A-hem. Back to normal -- for what it's worth. ;^)

Essentially, the Twitter thing is no different from when I sit at said computer, listening to music (all kinds, really!), and do research about the music (well, sometimes not) as I listen. (Often, I go to Google Maps and look around at all the pictures people have attached to various sites. I guess it's somewhat akin to a "music drive" -- Bruckner and mountains, woo-hoo!)

I certainly don't mind the Twittering, as long as it doesn't interfere with other patrons' enjoyment of the performance. All too often, however, the people who just -- CAN'T -- BREAK -- AWAY -- from their electronic toys really have no _concept_ of how substantially they interfere with others' experiences while playing with the toys, so the battle's almost lost before it's fought.

I just don't know where this concept is headed -- seems like the ride's going to be rather bumpy!

But certainly interesting. TIM

De Cou *would* be the one to make this highly entertaining, whether one agrees with the concept or not. (And in any case it seems rather appropriate for Wolf Trap, no?)

Cheers & best,


Absolutely. And cheers to you, too. TIM

Ought not the experience of listening to music at a concert be a personal one---just the listener . . . listening? Only that way can any emotional responses that result be the listener’s alone. And shoudn’t conductors encourage that?

Most listeners will have perfectly legitimate responses to Beethoven’s Sixth that have little or nothing to do with de Cou’s “ideas” about the symphony. And the subconscious responses of many will be caused by countless personal factors having no relation to the sights and sounds of “a day in the country.” Shouldn’t all this be respected, and encouraged? A few “howls and scowls” from music critics wouldn’t hurt either!

Texted or twittered program notes during a concert “a great thing . . . for those folks who can't go more than a minute or two without staring down at some sort of electronic device in their hands”? I don’t think so.

Louis Torres, Co-Editor, Aristos (An Online Review of the Arts)

To tell the truth, I couldn't agree with you more. Just the thought of all those cell phones or laptops glowing in the dark on the Wolf Trap lawn during the performance disheartens me. But it's interesting to note that the palm pilot-type program-note device that a few orchestras tried out was seriously embraced by music professionals, all in the name of engaging audiences. My guess is that we will see experimentation by music organizations with every new bit of technology that comes along. Maybe something will turn out to be truly useful and non-distracting. Twitter, I suspect, won't be it. TIM

OMG can't u totally c those horse peeps smashing those grapes n then dancin around w dat fat guy w the pimp cup? #fail

And for those of us whose first language is English? TIM

Beethoven's 6th in Fantasia:

JK. ITYK. But thanks.

I agree with Mr. Torres. At some point people have to "step up," throw away the crutches and interact directly with the artistic product, be it a painting or a symphony.

Another point is that you can do this with Beethoven's Sixth, it being a programmatic work, but you simply can't do it with most other works, which are non-programmatic. So an unsuspecting audience may be left with the misleading impression that most classical works have a programmatic "content" and all that's left is for the kind music director to explain it.

Thanks for providing the forum, Tim.


Thanks for the comments. TIM

I'm late to the ball on this, but I have never read program notes during a performance. Although I think the intent behind this idea is sincere, it straddles the line between the ability to keep an audience hypothetically more informed than program notes while distracting said audience from the performance itself. Program notes are typically a cursory overview of a piece, composer, or performer. The only times that I listen or watch a performance and want to look at something simultaneously is during score studies.

I'm not able to attend tonight, but will be interested to read the reviews of the Twitter experiment.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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