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The Segerstrom gala's little gaffe

Whoops. A webcast of the Pacific Symphony's debut at the new hall fell through the cracks, and the online audience voices its displeasure.

September 25, 2006|Mike Boehm | Times Staff Writer

The gala opening of the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall could have been a shot heard 'round the world, streamed live on the Internet.

But in the hectic run-up to the Sept. 15-16 concerts, the opportunity to send those celebratory notes into cyberspace -- and make the Pacific Symphony's debut in its new venue double as its first live appearance on the Internet -- was overlooked or shrugged off by the radio programmers, musicians and orchestra managers who could have made it happen.

That lapse probably won't be repeated, because computer-reliant listeners both near and far were disappointed enough to voice their displeasure to officials at KUSC-FM (91.5). It's now clear, said Gail Eichenthal, director of arts programming at the public radio station, that a significant part of the audience tunes in via computer and expects major live broadcasts, such as the concert hall opening -- which featured the Pacific Symphony, Pacific Chorale and guest soloists Placido Domingo and Midori -- to be available on the Web.

KUSC's Web listeners heard a live introduction to the concerts, but the feed was cut off, and the program switched to recorded music unrelated to the hall's opening.

About a dozen Web listeners complained, Eichenthal said: "In radio, you multiply that. Three calls means something should be done, and 10 or 12 means a significant number of people were upset and didn't call. It's actually very heartening to know this service is important to people. It's a wonderful way to expand our audience, and we have to take it very seriously."

The classical music world as a whole is taking the Internet and its possibilities quite seriously; this year, the Milwaukee Symphony formed its own record label, selling its performances on the Web, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic began making its concerts available for download via iTunes. Such efforts can go forward only if management and musicians agree contractually on how to divide online earnings. Clauses specifying extra pay when performances are broadcast now commonly also address what musicians are entitled to when heard via the Internet.

So why couldn't webcasts of the Pacific Symphony's big event happen in real time? John Forsyte, the orchestra's president, said he and his staff were too inundated to initiate talks to update an existing labor contract that covers broadcasting but not Internet streaming.

"It slipped through the cracks," he said. "It wasn't that the musicians asked for something unreasonable."

KUSC's general manager, Eric DeWeese, said he asked in late August for the OK to stream, but the orchestra responded that it didn't have an agreement with its musicians allowing live performances to go on the Web. KUSC didn't press the issue, knowing how caught up the orchestra was in other preparations for the opening.

Until the opening of the new hall in Costa Mesa, KUSC had not worked with the Pacific Symphony for many years. The station airs and streams prerecorded concerts by the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Sundays at 4 p.m. during the orchestra's season.

The Pacific Symphony did raise the question of Internet streaming rights fleetingly in June when orchestra management and a committee representing musicians met to discuss promotional and broadcast initiatives connected with the gala, said harpist Michelle Temple, the treasurer of the Pacific Symphony Players Assn. "We just never got back to talking about it. It just was dropped in the craziness" leading up to the hall's opening. Christine Frank, violinist and secretary of the players association, said that under the musicians' four-year contract with the orchestra, signed in 2003, each player receives $20 extra for concerts heard on commercial radio, $17.13 if the station is nonprofit.

Forsyte said the complaints KUSC received after the hall-opening broadcasts would serve as a prod to hunker down and get an agreement with the musicians covering Internet performance rights.

"We learned how valuable streaming is from this experience," he said.

Frank Amoss, president of the American Federation of Musicians' Orange County Local 7, said it's unlikely members who play in the Pacific Symphony will seek more money for streaming a concert above what they earn if the same performance is being broadcast.

As for the missing webcast of the new hall's opening, Internet listeners won't be at a complete loss. National Public Radio, of which KUSC is a member station, will rebroadcast the two gala concerts Oct. 1 and 8 on its "SymphonyCast" program -- over the air and on the Web. KUSC will wait until Nov. 18 and 25 at 6 p.m.

NPR's rebroadcast and streaming of the two concerts comes under a separate, nationwide agreement between NPR and the American Federation of Musicians that DeWeese, the KUSC general manager, said did not apply to his station's original live broadcast. Each Pacific Symphony musician will receive an additional $83.09 per concert for the NPR feed -- 48% of their base pay of $176.10 per concert or rehearsal. Pacific Symphony President Forsyte said the orchestra, not the radio network, kicks in the increased pay and did special fundraising to make the NPR rebroadcast and Web streaming possible.

The Pacific Symphony's regular radio outlet, KMZT-FM (105.1), also broadcast the opening concerts live. Securing streaming rights was "a moot point," said operations manager Mike Johnson, because KMZT's streaming day ends at 8 p.m. He said the station received no more than "a handful" of complaints.

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