This emotional journey, guided by the prestigious Venezuelan conductor, features the compositions of Ludwig van Beethoven, as well as those of Gustav Mahler and Leonard Bernstein

Symphony: an unprecedented journey into the heart of music under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel

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The Mayor of Cordoba, José María Bellido; the Commercial Director of CaixaBank in Northern Eastern Andalusia, Amador Carmona; the delegate of the "la Caixa" Foundation in Andalusia, Yolanda López; and the project advisor, Marcel Gorgori, today presented Symphony, a virtual journey to the heart of classical music. The film Symphony, promoted by the "la Caixa" Foundation, with the collaboration of the director Gustavo Dudamel, has been recognised with one of the European Heritage Awards promoted by the Europa Nostra organisation and the European Union in the category of Education, Training and Skills. Symphony recently triumphed at the Thea Awards, a benchmark event in the thematic entertainment industry, with the Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement - Immersive Experience, and at the 40th Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF Immersed 2021) with the Best Cinematic Live Action Award. In addition, the project received a special mention at the end of September at the Guanajuato International Film Festival in Mexico, and in July it was a finalist at the 74th Cannes International Film Festival in the Cannes XR - Marché du film category for virtual reality films.

For the first time, the spectator will be able to place himself in the middle of a symphony orchestra in this immersive experience based on virtual reality technology, which, after its premiere in CosmoCaixa (Barcelona), arrives in Cordoba as part of a tour that will cover a hundred cities in Spain and Portugal over ten years.

The starting point of the project, on which work has been going on for more than four years, was to talk about the emotional power of music from an informative point of view. From the outset, the "la Caixa" Foundation opted for virtual reality as the best way of explaining this story. Cutting-edge technology has facilitated what would otherwise not be possible: sitting next to the violins in a great symphony orchestra while they play Beethoven. The aim is to appeal to all audiences, including those who are already familiar with classical music.

Symphony is made up of two mobile units that unfold and become two halls of 100 square metres each. In the first of these, a panoramic film introduces the spectator to the journey and guides him or her through the sounds alone. The second unit is dedicated to the virtual reality experience.

When the spectator puts on the glasses, they will see how their surroundings have suddenly changed. You are now in the Gran Teatro del Liceo, seated in a chair and Maestro Gustavo Dudamel, the soul of the Gustavo Dudamel Foundation, welcomes you. You will then find yourself surrounded by the musicians of a symphony orchestra, all keeping silent, waiting for the conductor's cue, who will energetically cue Ludwig van Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. The very famous four notes that begin this symphony mark the start of the experience.

The spectator will see the musicians distributed around the stage in their usual form, by families of strings, wind, brass, percussion, and will feel them very close in a real way, as well as fully experiencing the energy and the gaze of the conductor, situated right in front of him. This musical experiment will allow you to turn your head from side to side and up and down to gain new views and perspectives of a symphony orchestra and its instrumentalists.

This travelling project devised and promoted by the "la Caixa" Foundation, in collaboration with Cordoba City Council, offers the opportunity to understand, through image and music, how, from the simplicity of a piece of wood or the roughness of a piece of metal, a universe as sophisticated and beautiful as that of a symphony orchestra can be constructed. In this way, Symphony deconstructs the orchestra to show simplicity, which contrasts with the infinite arc of resources it offers composers to express ideas and emotions. The experience offers the user an emotionally active listening experience: thanks to the changing position of the 360° camera within the orchestra, the viewer will hear and feel the music in a new and surprising way and experience the different families of instruments.

Immersive experience in two parts

This immersive experience lasts approximately forty minutes, divided into two parts. It begins with the projection of a panoramic film and continues with a leap into virtual reality that allows a 360-degree view of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Dudamel, and recorded at the Gran Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona.

The proposal takes place in two fold-out units, each measuring 100 square metres: the first space is dedicated to the projection of a film on a large screen (12 minutes) and the second is for the virtual reality film (12 minutes). The first area will offer a sound and visual preamble to the virtual experience. It is a film without words in which sound and music drive the story. Its purpose is to create an opportunity to become aware of the soundscapes that surround us every day and everywhere

Three young musicians from different parts of the world star in this initial screening, shot in Colombia, New York and the Mediterranean coast. Through the portrayal of the sounds and music of the places where they live, we can understand how each of them is connected to the sounds and music of their environment. Through this mosaic of contrasts, the viewer will discover how these random sounds, thanks to human ingenuity, become music, thus connecting different cultures.

After watching this first audiovisual, viewers will access the immersive reality musical experience through virtual reality devices. After listening to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and watching Gustavo Dudamel from the front row, the experience will move to another space: the workshop of a luthier. There, the public will be able to listen to the sound of the wood as it is carved by the hands of the craftsman who builds the stringed instruments, before entering the violin on which he works and, later, the interior of a trumpet.

Emphasising the emotional power of music, the spectator will be accompanied by the melody of the opening of Gustav Mahler's First Symphony, surrounded by an intimate and special setting, to end this journey, again with the orchestra, now playing the jovial Mambo from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story.

More than 250 people involved in the project

The original idea for the project came four years ago from the Music Department of the "la Caixa" Foundation, which entrusted its artistic direction to the musician and creative Igor Cortadellas. He was in charge of writing the script and searching for the appropriate technology. The musical direction fell to the orchestra conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who was in charge of validating and rounding off this ambitious project. From then on, a competition was held to develop the technical part, which was won by the Barcelona post-production and visual effects and digital animation company Glassworks.

Once this company joined the project, it chose the London-based studio Visualise to complete the execution of work related to virtual reality, thanks to its experience in the sector. Both companies, under the direction of Igor Cortadellas and his IgorStudio team, supervised the production planning and created tools to improve the pre-production and production process. One of the main challenges they faced was deciding where to place the 360-degree camera when filming. To find the most natural and realistic view for a spectator inside the orchestra, they created a 3D tool through software to see in advance where in the theatre the camera could be positioned, and what they would see.

The final filming took place at the Gran Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona in August 2019 using a prototype Meta One camera created for the occasion, which allowed them to record scenes in low light and with a greater dynamic range than any other 360-degree camera in existence, thanks to its lightness and smaller size compared to the rest. This allowed for a closer and more intimate recording of the orchestra.

The sound recording for Symphony was done using the latest technology. Networked audio was used in order to keep cable lengths to a minimum. A single cable carried a total of 84 channels of audio at 96 kHz and 24-bit. The microphone setup itself used state-of-the-art 3D recording techniques. All instrumental groups were meticulously recorded with a mix of high quality digital and analogue microphones to recreate all the nuances of the orchestra and generate a 360° experience, which accompanies the viewer's gaze.

In total, more than 250 people have worked and collaborated to make this project a reality. Of these, a hundred people in the artistic field; from the luthier David Bagué, and under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel, to the 60 extraordinary mentors of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and 41 young artists of the Gustavo Dudamel Foundation, representing citizens of 22 countries on 5 continents (from the United States, Hong Kong, Japan, Spain, Norway, Venezuela, Colombia, Korea, Sweden, France and Argentina) bring to life masterpieces of the classical repertoire, while expanding access to music and the arts for young people, offering them tools and opportunities to forge their creative futures.

Technology at the service of creativity

The visual concept of this virtual reality experience combines the real image filmed in 360º (live action) with computer-generated imagery (CGI) and visual effects created through VFX, which recreate dreamlike universes that also find inspiration in nature to complete the beauty of the experience.

The graphic sequences gain complexity as the journey progresses and are the result of multiple layers and textures that overlap and adapt to the changes in the score to make the journey more organic.

Audiences and additional pandemic measures

The Symphony project is an educational, cultural and playful experience designed for all audiences from the age of 8 and upwards, which does not include physical movement on the part of the user, as its main objective is to encourage listening to music. Due to the VR technology itself, and as a recommendation, there are some restrictions, such as those for children under 8 years of age and people with epilepsy or vertigo, among others.

Due to the health crisis caused by the coronavirus, the organisation has taken all the necessary health measures to make this a safe experience. Cleaning has been reinforced and a photocatalytic (UV) disinfection system has been installed in the two units. This disinfectant action system is effective both in the ambient air and on all surfaces of the treated spaces, ridding them of contaminants and pathogens.