MUSINGS: Do visuals help or hurt a concert experience?

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

Joshua Kosman (San Francisco Chronicle)

Zachary Woolfe (New York Times)

Mark Swed (Los Angeles Times)

At first glance, reading these two reviews following a presentation by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis — and Mark Swed’s review of a performance earlier this year by MTT and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall — might seem like the latest chapter in the “were you and I at the same concert” series of reviews.

However, the question these two reviews illuminate is whether inserting visuals (or whatever kind) into a concert piece is helpful or merely a gimmick. Earlier this year the New West Symphony used abstract visuals in its performance of Holst’s The Planets — and I noted the challenges that came from that performance in my review HERE.

Tonight’s performance by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LINK) is quite a different animal but its concept of melding live performance with motion pictures (in this case, Disney cartoons) is another side of the equation: how do we introduce people who are increasingly visually oriented to a medium that has traditionally aural? Do visuals help or hurt?

(c) Copyright 2015, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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  • kjboneham

    I think visuals with music works in the right situation. For example, the LA Chamber Orchestra Disney concert, accompanying silent films, or clips of movies where John Williams has composed the music. But once you start creating visuals that people don’t already associate with the music, it runs the risk of being very distracting, especially if the visuals are too “precious.”

  • MarK

    It all depends on WHAT and HOW: in some instances visuals are helpful and useful, in others they are distracting and harmful.