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LA Phil filmed concerts in an empty Hollywood Bowl. You can stream them for free

Gustavo Dudamel rehearses the LA Phil for "Sound/Stage" at the Hollywood Bowl.
Gustavo Dudamel rehearses the Los Angeles Philharmonic for “Sound/Stage,” a new series of pandemic concerts filmed at the Hollywood Bowl.
(Natalie Suarez for the LA Phil)

The people need music, now more than ever. About this, Los Angeles Philharmonic Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel is very clear.

Toward that end, the LA Phil said Friday it is launching a streaming series called “Sound/Stage” filmed at the Hollywood Bowl during its unprecedented COVID-19 closure.

The new concert films will appear online for free, with donations encouraged to help offset the orchestra’s estimated $90 million loss of revenue this year. A new “Sound/Stage” film will roll out weekly starting Sept. 25.

Nine concerts were recorded on the Hollywood Bowl stage over two weeks in July and August. The series is possible in the age of the novel coronavirus because the stage is about 5,700 square feet — more than twice the size of the Walt Disney Concert Hall stage — and completely outdoors, but for the partial cover of the shell. All participants, including artists and tech crews, were tested for COVID-19 prior to filming and stayed at least 6 feet apart onstage. The brass and wind musicians performed 12 feet apart and were separated by plexiglass.

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The LA Phil was in the midst of its Power to the People! festival, co-curated by Dudamel and Herbie Hancock, when the pandemic shut it down. “Sound/Stage” is, in a sense, a digital extension of the festival, a way not only to uplift the public with music but also to keep the conversation about social justice going.

“When COVID shut us down, it also silenced us,” CEO Chad Smith said in an interview. “The ability to bring the orchestra together safely and begin recording our music in this kind of director-driven, episodic, filmed concert experience — that’s also topical and able to respond to this moment, to COVID and the Black Lives Matter movement and other contemporary real-time issues. That’s why we did it. It’s important for us to be relevant and for the musicians we’re able to support to have a voice.”

The pieces being performed, Dudamel said in the announcement, are especially meaningful given recent events.

“Many of the program themes,” he said, “from solitude to the political power of artists to our need for the sheer joy and beauty of Beethoven, are tied to our experiences as individuals and as members of a larger society over these past five months.”

The nine presentations were directed by filmmakers James Lees and Charlie Buhler. Five of them are orchestral concerts with Dudamel conducting the LA Phil, including one concert with mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges and another with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Three other filmed concerts spotlight different guest artists: R&B singer Andra Day, jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington and the L.A. psychedelic-soul band Chicano Batman. One concert is a mixed program, with the orchestra and Day performing.

“Sound/Stage” will debut with “Love in the Time of COVID,” in which Bridges will perform works by George Walker, Peter Lieberson and Gustav Mahler, with Dudamel conducting.

A “Power to the People” concert includes Day performing the protest anthem “Rise Up” and the orchestra performing Jessie Montgomery’s “Banner” as well as William Grant Still’s “Sorrow” from Symphony No. 1, “Afro-American.”

Washington will perform music from the Netflix documentary “Becoming,” which was released in May and is based on a memoir by former First Lady Michelle Obama.

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“Sound/Stage” is part of a roster of digital programming and partnerships that includes the KUSC radio program “At Home with Gustavo” and the six-concert PBS TV series, “In Concert at the Hollywood Bowl,” which culls performances from years past.

Smith said the “Sound/Stage” series is far more than “just a concert capture.”

Each concert will come with online materials to provide context — interviews with artists, essays, playlists, original artworks, as well as links to related past performances at the Hollywood Bowl and the nearby Ford Theatres.

“It’s really exploring what does it mean to have a concert experience in this medium. It’s an experiment,” he said. “Each episode is an experiment in presenting our work and contextualizing it by the world’s leading writers and poets and conversations with some of the most brilliant minds in film, and trying to understand this moment through the lens of music and artists’ voices.”

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And if the experiment is successful, from an audience perspective?

“This is just the beginning,” Smith said. “This is work we hope to develop through the COVID crisis and beyond.”

Sound/Stage can be found at laphil.com/soundstage.


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