iPads at the orchestra: Boston Symphony’s ‘Casual Friday’ series okays tech, jeans

Isabelle Faust and Andris Nelsons performing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in November.
Isabelle Faust and Andris Nelsons performing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in November.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s standard pre-concert announcement is familiar to theater and movie-goers: Turn your devices off before the concert begins.

But for three Fridays in the coming months, the BSO will break tradition and hand out iPads that visitors are invited to refer to during the evening.

Like other arts institutions, the organization is looking to appeal to the next generation of visitors — the average age of BSO ticket buyers is 47. The iPads are among the features of “Casual Fridays,” a three-part series designed by the BSO to appeal to this younger crowd.

The cost of attending will be one key change: Tickets start at $25 for second balcony seats, and go up to $45 for orchestra floor seats. Television screens in the sections furthest away from the orchestra offer a close-up view of the conductor.

The experience includes a strong educational element. Surveys have indicated that young people who do visit the BSO were once musicians or come from musical families. “I think that there is a segment of younger people who just don’t know music as well,” said Kim Noltemy, the BSO’s chief operating and communications officer.

Scores to the music, interviews with the soloists and introductions to the pieces are included in the iPad app. In a departure from typical programming, performers will speak to the audience about the music between pieces. There will be no intermission, but the evening will include a reception. A usually rigid dress code will be relaxed to allow jeans.

Other groups have tried flashier attractions to woo the Millennial generation. Last year the Los Angeles Philharmonic designed a virtual reality segment for the Oculus Rift headset. That group also has a memberships series for 20- and 30-year-olds, with perks that include a 20 percent discount on tickets, complimentary drinks, and a chance to meet the artists.

Last fall, the Philadelphia Symphony released an app called LiveNote that contained many of the features that BSO is adding to its iPads – text introductions to the pieces and the ability to follow the score during the concert.

A standalone app not tied to the symphony’s own hardware could be the next stop on the BSO’s roadmap. But Noltemy is keen to see how the pilots with the iPads go. “You need to physically try it to see what really resonates with people,” she said.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at [email protected]
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