High Fidelity

The Berlin Philharmonic: streaming to a TV near you

Andrew EverardThu 13th May 2010
Karajan with Akio Morita at launch of first CD Karajan with Akio Morita at launch of first CD

Orchestra inks a deal with Sony for concert archive access

There's been a lot of noise of late about Sony's plans to bring extended coverage of the FIFA World Cup football to buyers of its new internet-capable Bravia TVs and Blu-ray Disc players: these feature a Bravia Internet Video system which allows programmes to be streamed to the TVs via a home broadband connection.

But rather lost in the roar of the football crowd has been another Bravia Internet Video announcement: Sony has signed a deal with the Berlin Philharmonic to allow buyers of the new TVs and players access to the orchestra's Digital Concert Hall.

This includes around 60 concerts, going back to the beginning of the orchestra's 2008/9 season, and all will be delivered in full HD picture resolution and what Sony calls 'immersive sound quality'.

It makes the Berlin Philharmonic a world first in delivering music this way, and solo cellist and orchestra board member Olaf Maninger hails it as a 'great chance to embrace our worldwide audience'.

So why Sony and this particular orchestra? Well, Norio Ohga, who succeeded company founder Akio Morita as president as Sony, and is now an Executive Advisor to the corporation, trained in Berlin as an opera singer, is a conductor himself, and had a close friendship with Herbert von Karajan - something he shared with Sony's founder.

Ohga says that this 'was a wonderful opportunity for our customers to enjoy the concerts of the Berliner Philharmoniker from the comfort of their own home'.

So the new move is just a further link between the electronics company and the orcehstra: after all, Karajan was in at the start of Sony's work on digital audio products, with its Betamax-based PCM-1 tape system.

As Sony's official history has it, when engineer Heitaro Nakajima was finalising the design of the PCM-1, Karajan visited the Morita family home.

'Morita asked Nakajima, "Since Mr. Karajan has come here, isn't there something we can play for him?"

"Let's play him something on the PCM recorder," replied Nakajima, happily carrying the prototype into the room.

'They played a performance of Karajan's that had been secretly recorded during a rehearsal in Salzburg. Rather than scolding them for this unauthorized taping, Karajan was profoundly moved. "This is a new sound, he said."'

Karajan, who had his own recording studio, went on to be a firm advocate of digital recording, which he said he preferred over the then-existing analogue technology.

No wonder, then, that the legend arose that the physical size of the CD, when it came along some years later, was dictated by the need to get Karajan's recording of Beethoven's 9th onto a single disc...

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