And the Canned Band Plays On

Nearly eight weeks out, and the London Symphony Orchestra has already performed at the opening ceremonies of this summer’s Olympic Games. How can something that is scheduled for July 27th, 2012, already have happened? The LSO, apparently under great protest from its musicians and opening ceremonies artistic director Danny Boyle, recently pre-recorded their performance and will fake it and play the tape on the actual day of the opening ceremonies.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog) made the decision, citing Britain’s unpredictable weather and less-than-stellar acoustics at the stadium as the primary reasons. “This is standard practice for an event of this scale,” a spokesperson said in a statement, “and the performers have no issue with it.”

Except they do. As one LSO musician anonymously told London’s Daily Mail yesterday, “The LSO is one of the best orchestras in the world and we’re being asked to mime in front of a global audience of billions.”

Under extreme circumstances, I don’t have a problem with musicians miming their performances. In 2009, at the inauguration of President Obama, temperatures were in the mid-20s with wind chills hovering in the teens, so cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist Gabriella Montero and clarinettist Anthony McGill mimed their performance. Some people freaked out. Most reasonable people understood that the delicate instruments simply would not function in that extreme cold. (Can you imagine the vapor from Anthony McGill’s breath freezing inside his clarinet? Possible.)

But this is the middle of summer in London. It won’t be 20 degrees and windy. The worst that could happen is a little rain. They make covers for those sorts of things. This decision seems arbitrary and the musicians are right to complain. Hell, they just played Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring outdoors in Trafalgar Square. It can be done.

Speaking out against the decision is the beginning. But I think the musicians should continue their protest until Locog reverses course and lets the LSO play live. And if Locog refuses? Simple: halfway through their mime job, in front of a television audience of billions of people, the musicians of the LSO should freeze mid-performance and then set their instruments in their laps as the canned music plays on.

If there is one bright spot it’s this: at least the LSO will be miming to a recording of themselves. In the opening ceremonies of the summer games in Sydney in 2000, the Sydney Symphony mimed its performance to a recording of the rival Melbourne Symphony. Ouch.

One thought on “And the Canned Band Plays On

  1. Whilst I agree there is a dishonest element to such things, this has been the practice for every major opening ceremony event in the last 30 years. No only due to weather or acoustics but also due to incidents when crowd/spectators close to microphones have interfered with music yelling expletives etc.

    Moreover, the Sydney comment you make is misleading. Not All of the Sydney Symphony’s recordings were made by the MSO. The majority were recorded by the SSO and only a smaller fraction of less key pieces of the ceremony were recorded by the MSO due to the heavy workload.(The workload for the SSO was also mulitplied by the need to hold a variety of other live (not mimed) concerts during the Olympic Festival preceding and during the games.

    Moreover, this miming was not done in a misleading manner, if you seek out a copy of the Sydney 2000 Opening Ceremony Album you will actually see the pieces that are recorded by MSO credited to the MSO.

    On other sites there is also a misunderstanding that the LSO will not being playing live at the opening ceremony, this again is a misconception. The orchestra will play whilst having a backing track in an earpiece to keep them in sync, if you are a crowd member sitting close to the stage you will hear the music (you cannot mime banging a drum, playing a violin or blowing a trumpet, without making any noise.) The real difference is that the real performance will not be amplified through the stadium PA or heard on the broadcast.

    Ultimately, whilst I appreciate the outrage at such practices, they exist for practical reasons and exist in varying degrees. For example in some broadcasted events the music heard in the auditorium/stadium is performed/amplified live, but the TV broadcast has a pre-recording. Where does one draw the line?

    I appreciate peoples want of purity, but every opening ceremony we accept the fantasy perfect songs and orchestras that seemingly have perfect concert hall acoustic value, are not muddied by the sound of 90, 000 spectators and somehow are not destroyed by the sound of fireworks. The reality or purity people would like to see may be far less attractive than they would imagine.

    If the LSO believe doing such a fake performance is beneath them, then I respect their decision to refuse performance (though it is likely been agreed in their contract to perform in mime), as the VSO did in Vancouver, they will then assemble a similar ‘London 2012 Orchestra’ instead to do the dirty lowly work.

    In all this, I think it is worth having an open mind in at least considering the following:
    Opening Ceremonies are a form of artistic expression, namely it is theatrical performance which is envisioned, planned and executed by theatrical directors. The music played/performed is one of but many layers of entertainment in the show, it is not an orchestral concert. These directors balance the competing interests of a live audience of tens of thousands and more importantly an audience of billions. It is important to remember the theatrical and artistic expression of these artists is also relevant and important. The orchestra, the camera and lighting are part of many tools they use to make a magical and theatrical experience as whole.

    Whilst extreme examples, I didn’t hear anyone complaining during the vancouver opening ceremony that the fake snow wasn’t real or that the whales projected as swimming on the stadium floor were faked. I think there should sensibly be a line drawn between reasonable illusions such as orchestras that perform their own music (SSO not being ideal due to MSO invlovement) and downright blatant illusions such as the chinese girl who sang the Chinese anthem but was replace by a prettier girl lip syncning.

    However it is important to note, if i am paying to see an orchestra or singer and that is the primary purpose of the event, then I do not condone these practices at all. Just as I would not accept fake whales at a seaworld show.

    End of Rant… Apologies for crowding the comments field.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s