Arts & Culture

Houston Symphony Experiments With Live Music, Dance, And Virtual Reality

This weekend, the orchestra presents the U.S. premiere of an interactive program that combines live performance with 3D technology.

For its classical season finale, the Houston Symphony is utilizing the kind of special effects seen in blockbuster movies.

"We're using technology that's usually used in stereoscopic 3D movies like Avatar," said artist and director Klaus Obermaier, who created The Rite of Spring 3D in collaboration with Ars Electronica Futurelab.

"We do everything live on stage, there are no studio tricks ... People can literally watch how the whole 3D world in front of their eyes is created."

The performance piece combines Igor Stravinsky's iconic score with a live dancer, whose movements are captured by stereoscopic cameras. Complex computer programs then translate the motion into real-time 3D animations – or avatar dancers – projected on stage.

As the orchestra plays, their soundwaves are also fed into computers and influence the animations. The audience wears 3D glasses to be immersed in this virtual reality.

For Obermaier, the use of technology pairs well with Stravinsky's work, which itself was ground-breaking and tremendously inventive when it premiered over a century ago.

"So it also makes sense to do something with it now, which is even giving it another sophistication, another newness, and shifting it into our century."

Technology also offers a new way to interpret the story within the music. Instead of making a sacrifice to the god of Spring, as in the original ballet, are we perhaps sacrificing ourselves to Technology nowadays?

"It's more or less, how do we deal with all these new technologies. Do they kind of swallow our real existence? Will we be lost in these new technologies in this virtual world?" asked Obermaier.

It was Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada's idea to program The Rite of Spring 3D for its U.S. debut by the Houston Symphony. He first encountered it about ten years ago when conducting it with the Tonkünstler Orchestra in Vienna.

"It was very impressive. I remember it was like, ‘Oh my god, this is the first time I'm seeing 3D technology included in the classical world, in classical music.' "

He noted that the Houston Symphony has been mixing multi-media and technology-driven elements into their programming throughout their season, and he hopes to continue to explore new ideas.

"The motivation comes always from the music, from the pieces, and that's what makes it so interesting because ... it's natural, it's organic."

For Orozco-Estrada, a production like this is about "being always curious, being creative, using what the music is offering us ... and at the same time doing something on stage that is definitely new for everyone."

The Houston Symphony presents The Rite of Spring 3D on May 18, 19, and 20, 2018 in Jones Hall. Those concerts also include Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 featuring guest pianist Emanuel Ax, as well as Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Winds performed by Ax and principal musicians from the orchestra.

Listen to the complete interview with Klaus Obermaier below:

Listen to the complete interview with Andrés Orozco-Estrada below:


Catherine Lu

Catherine Lu

Content Producer & Announcer

While growing up in Chicago and Houston, Catherine’s love for art, music and creative writing was influenced by her teachers and parents. She was once concertmaster of the Clear Lake High School Orchestra and a four-time violinist of the Texas All-State Symphony. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Catherine...

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