Technology 3 min read

How This Virtual Reality Orchestra in London Changed Concert-going and Music Education

Nikolay Antropov |

Nikolay Antropov |

London’s Southbank Centre and its resident Philharmonic Orchestra recently offered the public better than front row seats. For a few minutes, VR technology put concert-goers in the heart of the orchestra– for free.

Launched on September 23 in London, the ten-day virtual reality experiment allowed music lovers to delve into an orchestra with a comprehensive sensory experience, and illustrates a wider trend toward a new, immersive era in both live entertainment and music education.

The internet has given us almost instantaneous access to a wealth of information that we might never have had otherwise. Now, VR will give us access to a wealth of experiences we might never have had otherwise.

Gillian Moore, Director of Programming at the Southbank Centre, expressed her hope that this project would help to make classical music to more accessible  in people’s minds.

“This is all part of Southbank Centre’s belief that everybody should have access to art and culture,” said Moore. “We’re constantly trying to find new ways to do that, including the use of the latest technology.”

Next-Gen Backstage Pass

Instead of watching from the audience or just getting a closer look, this Virtual Reality experience placed visitors directly in the action as one of the musicians  amid the conductor and instruments.

“Virtual Reality offers a more cost-effective opportunity to learn an instrument without ever picking one up.”

The Virtual Orchestra’s VR equipment allowed visitors to the Southbank Centre to attend real-time recordings like the one of the Sibelius Symphony No. 5, 3rd Movement as it was directed by Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Cognitive Concordance

Visitors were able to step into roles and become performers, musicians or even emulate the Maestro Salonen as she was conducting the symphony. Equipped with VR headsets, concert-goers were taken behind the scenes of the Royal Festival Hall in London and the orchestral interpretation of the Finnish maestro. 

The experience was also complete with “3D audio”, meaning that the instruments directly around the user were louder, and the sounds changed as users moved their heads.

“You are sitting in the front row of the orchestra with the principal conductor Salonen conducting you,” said Luke Ritchie, head the Philharmonia Orchestra digital. “We wanted you to hear what it’s like to sit in the viola section in front of an orchestra, for people to get an insight of the dynamics.”

Potential for School Music Programs

VR experiences like the recent project hosted by the Southbank Centre could be adapted to resident music programs and classes for schools.

Despite research having shown that music encourages cognitive development in children, music programs are often the first to be cut for when schools experience budget and funding issues and instruments along with private lessons are monetarily out of the question for some children. Virtual Reality offers a more cost-effective opportunity to learn an instrument without ever picking one up.

The Future of Concert-going

In the coming years, opportunities to see a concert at home or anywhere in VR as if you were there are going to expand widely. Live Nation, the pioneer in this new kind of service, created in partnership with Citi and the startup NextVR via a 5-year contract, this new offer for music fans, starting with 10-concerts VR series.

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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