screen video makes Mathis larger than life for concert goers
tries image magnification for Valentine's concert
was a cold night in February, but the sounds of romantic melodies
coming from the Milwaukee Auditorium warmed the hearts of thousands
of concertgoers celebrating Valentine's Day in style. Who better to
headline the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra's Valentine Pop Concert
than Johnny Mathis, whose decades of hit love songs have become romantic
As incredible as Mathis' voice continues to be, chances are a lot
of ticket holders had opera glasses or binoculars hidden away when
they arrived that night to see the 62 year old artist in person. If
you've ever been in the Milwaukee Auditorium's vast Bruce Hall, you
know the stage can seem as distant as a memory if your ticket puts
you in the back rows. But on this February night, all 7,000 people
had the best seat in the house thanks to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra
and United Visual.
The Pop Concerts
The MSO is Wisconsin's only professional orchestra and performs nearly
200 concerts a year, in both large and small venues all over the world.
Two million people come to downtown Milwaukee each year to attend Orchestra
events. A few years ago, the MSO signed bandleader Doc Severinson as
its Principal Pops Conductor, and it's his influence that brings the
big names to the MSO stage.
The Pop Concerts are always big sellers for the Milwaukee Symphony,
which prides itself on being "the orchestra for people of all kinds
of different tastes," according to Public Relations Director Andy Buelow.
"We accept a broader mission than some larger city orchestras. There's
no reason for the barriers to be so distinct anymore."
The best part about these concerts is that they're fun. Names such as
Ray Charles, Natalie Cole and the Manhattan Transfer are on the list
of past and future performers, so it's not unusual for ticket demand
to exceed seating. When the MSO decided to move the Mathis concert to
Bruce Hall, they knew they would have to do something to bring the front
and the back of the hall closer together, or a lot of the concert would
be lost for those furthest away. What they decided to do was treat the
whole concert as if it was a live television production, but the signal
would only go to the audience. They would rely on the viewing screens
to bring the performers to the audience.
Setting up the video
day before the concert United Visual crews moved in and mounted two
15 x 20' screens, one on either side of the stage. They hung two Panasonic
LCD projectors firmly on trusswork. Then they stationed one broadcast
camera halfway down the center aisle (in order to shoot frontal close
ups of the performers) and two other cameras on the stage. Behind
the scenes, United installed a master control center consisting of
a switcher, preview monitors, source monitors and a variety of other
equipment. Finally United's technicians laid down cables and connected
all the components together. United hired a freelance camera crew
out of Chicago to run the equipment, and the MSO brought in Bill Werner
of Milwaukee Public Television to call the shots.
MSO Operations Manager Susan Steele said they chose Werner because
of his experience with the Symphony. "You need someone who knows what
camera to call when...who is familiar with the orchestra, knows the
music and when the violins will be playing, or the brass."
Since the Orchestra played without Mathis for the first half of the
evening, United Visual treated the performance as two separate concerts.
For the first half, they placed one camera behind the orchestra, allowing
close-ups of Associate Conductor Andrews Sill. Intermission meant
some fancy footwork for the UV crews running the performance. "We
had to reset camera positions during a 15 minute time frame so it
was pretty stressful," says United's on-site manager Mike Hahn. "We
pulled the two cameras from the stage and put them into the small
private boxes at the front corners, so we could have frontal shots
of Mathis. When we moved the cameras we had to use different cable
because they were all different lengths. But we got it done on time
with only a few minor quirks." Susan Steele agrees. "They were up
and ready to go on time. They were minor glitches but certainly nothing
that came across to the audience."
Less stressful was setup and use of the Panasonic projectors, which
performed flawlessly. "We really have to have equipment we can trust,"
says Hahn. "If one of these units were to fail, it would be just about
impossible to climb up and replace it during a performance."
This was the first time the MSO had tried visual enhancement of a
concert at Bruce Hall, and reaction from the audience has been nothing
but positive. "This is a long narrow room, so if you're sitting even
half way back you can see nothing with definition," says concert goer
Barb Kreski. "That may not matter as much if the symphony is performing,
but with a solo artist like Johnny Mathis, you want to see his face.
He puts a lot into a song that goes beyond the music. You wouldn't
have been able to see any of that without the monitors."
You can bet a lot of other audience members had their eyes on the
screens instead of the stage for much of the concert. The screens
make the whole experience much more intimate for everyone. "I think
the audience likes it," says Steele, who admits the technology is
a big help. "It's just the nature of doing business in a larger venue."
Since more and more solo artists are now performing with the Milwaukee
Symphony orchestras, will they use this technology again? Chances