Orchestral quarantine: Concert Bleu – New possibilities

par Marie-Pierre Brasset

Cancellation, postponement, de-quarantining, a possible second wave… What will autumn look like? How to reconcile concerts and social distancing? In our new dossier series, we’ve asked the artistic directors of Quebec classical ensembles and orchestras a few questions, to get a sense of what’s in the works. Seventh subject in our series: the Concert Bleu initiative.

Concert Bleu, the new project of the Festival Classica team, could well change the face of classical music in Quebec.

Marc Boucher, the festival’s general and artistic director, had the idea – a digital platform dedicated to broadcasting classical music concerts captured in different locations across the province.

When was the idea born? “Friday, March 13! I was coming back to Quebec,” says Boucher, “and seeing what was going on, I said to myself, what are we going to do? I had started thinking about a digital platform just for Festival Classica, but after 24 hours, I realized that it would take something bigger to be viable, and also because it was clear that the artists in the field were all caught in the same situation.”

(Photo: courtoisie du Festival Classica)

Boucher adds that the idea had been in the works for a few years, and that he was closely following the initiatives of the Berliner Phiharmoniker Digital Concert Hall, which offers very sophisticated digital broadcasting experiences for classical concerts. “It must be said that COVID was an opportunity to explore in this direction. All of a sudden, we were no longer caught up in the whirlwind of festival planning.”

Boucher would like the platform to feature mainly Quebec content, so that the public can identify with and get to know the artists better. He also wants to help the community deal with this unprecedented crisis. “The idea is to create a new financial contribution to artists. It’s not to replace live concerts. Also, we want to reverse the current trend, that people no longer dump their content for free on the web or social networks.” 

According to the model implemented, 70% of the revenues generated by listening to concerts online will go to the artists, who will not have to pay any fees to upload their content to the site. “Of course, we’ll ensure the relevance of the content, and offer the possibility for ensembles to record their concerts with our technical team.”

The Quebec digital transformation firm ellicom/LCI LX is working on the skeleton for this major project, which Boucher wants to be at the cutting edge of technology. “The acoustic experience is paramount and will be the first thing to watch for – we’re first and foremost audio nuts! The goal is to ensure that the experience is satisfactory for the most enthusiastic, but also for those who are less used to it.” This way, it will be possible to listen to the concerts in an immersive way, in augmented reality, just as it is to do it simply by means of an ordinary technological tool. A whole educational and informative component will also be put in place to introduce new fans and democratize access to classical music.

Concert Bleu definitely aims to include concerts from all corners of Quebec. In addition to broadcasting content from across the province, the platform will partner up regionally by offering listeners the opportunity to purchase a gastronomic basket to accompany the concert. “If we’re in Rimouski, for example, there will be the possibility of ordering a basket that will be coupled with the music on offer. This will allow us to discover the region’s terroir, and appeal to all the senses! This is an association that is at once touristic, economic, and cultural.” 

What about the 2020 edition of the Classica Festival? “Of the 70 concerts scheduled, we’ll be doing 15 in December. As this is the year of Beethoven’s 250th anniversary, we will present events that cannot be postponed to 2021. Obviously, we hope to present these 15 concerts in front of an audience, but all options are on the table, we will follow the rules of public health.” Naturally, the festival’s concerts will be the first to be broadcast on the Concert Bleu platform. 

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