iPads Are Coming To Symphony Hall — Yes, During Performances

François-Xavier Roth at an earlier concert leading the BSO and soloists in J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 1. (Courtesy Stu Rosner/BSO)
François-Xavier Roth at an earlier concert leading the BSO and soloists in J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 1. (Courtesy Stu Rosner/BSO)

The Boston Symphony Orchestra continues its campaign to attract younger audiences. The latest experiment — starting on Friday, Jan. 15 — includes iPads in the concert hall.

Yes, there will be iPads in Symphony Hall. While the musicians are playing on stage. And earbuds, too.

But it's designated to a specific “technology area” at the very back of the famous, historic, acoustically pristine performance space. Patrons sitting in that area will also be able to watch a screen that shows what the conductor looks like from the orchestra's point of view.

People choosing to test drive the iPads can navigate through additional content about the evening's program, including original music scores, podcasts and behind-the-scenes videos and interviews with featured soloists.

For example, some of the digital content features BSO principal flute Elizabeth Rowe and principal harp Jessica Zhou reflecting on playing in Mozart’s "Concerto in C for Flute and Harp":

The iPad concept is part of a new monthly, winter series dubbed, “Casual Fridays." People can dress down (as the name implies), get cheaper seats, mingle during pre- and post-concert receptions, and sign up to use one of the BSO's 110 iPad loaners.

Kim Noltemy, chief operating and communications officer of the BSO, thinks the “Casual Fridays” concept will be well-received. She sees the "Casual Fridays" concerts as a test, especially for the technology.

“So the question mark is: Is it useful having the iPads in the hall or is it not useful? Do people really like it? Would they rather have the information in advance?” Noltemy asked. “We just don’t know, so we really have to try it.”

Noltemy said the BSO’s decision to try offering iPads is based on research that finds younger folks ("millennials and older Gen Xers") feel there should be space for tech in the performing arts, even during live performances.

“We’re guessing that people will be focused on that (meaning what's happening on stage) more than the iPads during the concert,” she mused, “but they will have the iPads for the whole concert — and they will have earbuds — so if they choose to be looking at some of that content during the concert they’re certainly able to do that.”

That doesn't sit well with some BSO musicians and artistic staff, Noltemy said when asked about concerns that the iPads could be invasive and distracting.

“Some are worried other audience members will be annoyed with the glow of screens -- or just seeing the use of technology as something that is so new to us during a concert,” she explained.

Time will dictate how the BSO proceeds after the three-month pilot is over. Surveys are being distributed to iPad users — and the rest of the non-using audience -- to gather reaction data about the concept.

The three “Casual Fridays” concerts will be held Jan. 15, Feb. 12 and March 18.


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Andrea Shea Correspondent, Arts & Culture
Andrea Shea is a correspondent for WBUR's arts & culture reporter.



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