LENOX -- Tanglewood is doubling down on efforts to woo more youthful, tech-oriented concertgoers, especially "digital natives," to the Boston Symphony's summer home.
It is testing an innovative multimedia experience for a pre-registered group of lawn ticket holders, beginning with this Friday evening's BSO concert led by incoming Music Director Andris Nelsons.
The pilot program was explored by the BSO's recently formed Media and Technology Committee, headed by former MIT President Susan Hockfield, said Kim Noltemy, the orchestra's chief marketing and communications officer.
Hockfield used her connections at Twitter and other major high-tech companies to form the committee. Six weeks ago, the BSO gave a green light for a test run of the project at Tanglewood -- "a pretty tight time frame," Noltemy commented.
"People in their teens and ‘20s have had this technology their whole lives," she said during an Eagle interview. "They can't even imagine not having a smartphone. Everything they do in their lives relates to this, and for us to have no way for them to relate to us, using what is maybe the most important thing to them it would be foolish on our part to not look into how we could possibly figure this out."
The goal was to explore ways technology "could enhance the concert experience," Noltemy explained, as long as "it was not obtrusive to the audience, who is really just focused on the stage and does not want anything distracting."
"We're so sensitive to our existing audience to try to make sure we explore these channels without affecting their love, we don't want to have our core people, this is their life, walking out in disgust because we've ruined it," she emphasized. "So it's a challenge but I think you can do both if you spend the time and work on it."
In view of hesitance at testing in Boston's Symphony Hall without creating a challenge for existing audiences, the decision was made to run the experiment on the Tanglewood lawn -- "a much less obtrusive environment for us to be able to test out different types of content that could be viewed during, before or after the concert," Noltemy observed.
About 150 lawn ticket holders who pre-registered for the "Tanglewood Lawncast" pilot program will be able to access exclusive digital media content on their Android or iOS smartphones, tablets or laptops, including two live camera feeds of the conductor and the orchestra players. Brief video interviews, program notes and archival material will be available before the performance and during intermission.
Participants will sit in a cordoned-off section of the lawn on the side of the Shed near the Tent Club. They will be encouraged to post about their experiences on social media before and after the concert, and during intermission, using the BSO's Facebook and Twitter pages.
After the concert, they will offer feedback to orchestra administrators at a reception and in a focus-group debriefing.
Technically, the project is "incredibly challenging," Noltemy acknowledged, "far more challenging than I or the committee would have ever imagined." She cited the complications involved in setting up a dedicated Wi-Fi system with multiple routers at Tanglewood, enabling enough broadband capacity for the test zone to handle live streaming video for 150 users at the same time.
After synchronization problems between video and audio feeds caused a breakdown during a test run at last Saturday night's concert, the tech team decided to quickly install a different Wi-Fi routing setup. The most recent tests on Wednesday night and Thursday morning went smoothly, according to Noltemy.
"It's a big deal because it's not your typical Wi-Fi," she noted. "When you put the whole thing together, it's pretty complicated."
Among the complexities is setting up a zone covering the Tanglewood grounds so users can see all real-time social media comments posted on the concert night. "It's quite far-out, conceptually," Noltemy said.
The BSO is using CO-Everywhere, a Boston company that, according to its website, markets a social app "that connects people to their ‘hood'. Access real-time social activity you don't even know is happening by telling us your location."
The BSO will have its own "geek squad" offering tech support as needed to participants in Friday night's inaugural run of the project. If all goes well, two more "Lawncasts" will be offered this summer on dates to be announced early next week, backed by a major promotional push, said Noltemy.
The original plan would have opened the test to as many as 500 participants, but the pre-registration was closed earlier this week and limited to the 150 people already signed up after the technical problems cropped up.
"I felt we should be conservative, considering what happened," Noltemy said. "Had we not had any technical problems, I would have been less risk-averse."
"Obviously, we only want to put great stuff on," she added. "The last thing we want to do is have it look like we missed a shot and we're showing a picture of nothing or someone scratching their head. So we have a vested interest in making it work."
To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter; @BE_cfanto
By the numbers ...
Some key facts about the Tanglewood Shed and its audience for Boston Symphony and Boston Pops concerts:
Shed seating capacity: 4,750 (for most concerts)
Shed seats for high-demand events: 5,184
Former Shed seating capacity (until 2012): 5,125
Ticket sales: Slightly above 75 percent of capacity (classical, Pops events)
Average age of Shed classical patrons: 68
Note: For near-sellouts, seating is expanded by adding reserved spots on benches at the back of the Shed.
Source: BSO Marketing Department.