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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Streamlining Stravinsky?

PHILADELPHIA -- Bits of Bach. Bytes of Beethoven. Browsers with Brahms. Attending a symphony concert in cyberspace could become commonplace under a first-of-its-kind agreement that would allow orchestras to distribute live and recorded music on the Internet.

Management and musicians from 66 of the United States' orchestras and opera and ballet companies are expected to vote in mid-July on the agreement, which they hope will bring classical music to a larger adult audience and serve as an educational tool for children and teachers.

"I don't ever want to be reading about the orchestra being a dinosaur," said Florence Nelson, director of symphonic services for the American Federation of Musicians, which negotiated on behalf of its union members.

"We want to reach out to people and keep our institution alive. So the question was, 'How are we going to use this new Internet technology to be able to fill seats and to generate new audiences?'"

Under the tentative agreement announced this week, orchestras would make two kinds of performances available on the Internet: live and unrecordable "streaming audio" or prerecorded music to be downloaded. It would be up to a local committee of musicians and managers from each orchestra to decide what concerts to put online and whether to make them available as live "Webcasts" or as online recordings that listeners can download.

Rather than being paid up-front for their work, as is the case when orchestras make traditional recordings, they would receive little or no payment right away but would receive a share of the generated revenues.

"If we want to stay viable, we have to sell tickets," Nelson said. "If there's anything we can do to keep the music alive as an art form, to keep people interested and make them inspired, ? we need to go for it."

Once approved, the agreement will run through Jan. 31, 2002. It covers groups including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Houston Grand Opera, Nashville Symphony and New York City Ballet Orchestra.

"It creates a direct link between the artist and the consumer," said St. Louis Symphony Orchestra contrabassoonist Brad Buckley, who was involved in the negotiations.

"If you stream a program on the Internet, it's available to a worldwide audience," he said. "That broadens the base of people who could find they like the music, listen to the music and perhaps purchase the music."

The deal would not replace current agreements that govern creation of television programs, production of compact disks or audio and video tapes for recording companies. But it may change the way orchestras handle their recordings in the future and the way the public buys classical music.

"Instead of licensing the music to the recording company, the rights will be retained by the musicians and the orchestras," said Philadelphia Orchestra president Joseph H. Kluger, who represented the interests of orchestra managers in the talks. "It's cutting out the middleman."

Such thinking may be wise during the currently tough times for the classical recording business. Citing sluggish sales, many recording companies have dropped classical artists from their labels f including the Philadelphia Orchestra, which lost its contract with EMI Classics in 1996.

"Record companies, because they're run by commercial enterprises, their motivation is primarily financial f it's more important to maximize sales," Kluger said. An orchestra making its own recordings also would have more freedom to record all kinds of music, not just what may be considered commercially valuable, he said.

Officials were unsure how long it would take for orchestras to go online once the agreement is reached. Many larger organizations likely would have the funds to get them on the Internet faster than smaller companies, Nelson said.

Technology also needs to improve too, allowing for crisp sound and clear video that doesn't take forever to download. The orchestras want to be ready when that happens f and they believe it will be soon.

"The Internet is something very active and very alive," Nelson said. "We want to be on the front of the train, to move with the territory and to be innovative."

American Federation of Musicians:

American Symphony Orchestra League:

Philadelphia Orchestra: