Classical's web stars

Classical's web stars
Pianist Jon Schmidt and cellist Steven Sharp Nelson are two of the four members in The Piano Guys.

Mezzos gone WILD," Joyce DiDonato tweets, along with a picture of her in an emerald-green gown, pixie-cut hair mussed stylishly.

In another tweet to her 30,000 followers, she frets "#needthegownin5hours", worrying whether her luggage will turn up on time.

DiDonato, a 46-year-old opera singer, is one of many classical music stars who are shedding the stuffy image of yore and embracing the Internet and social media to connect with fans and promote their music.

She will be performing in Singapore next month with Italian orchestra Il Pomo d'Oro.

Other notable classical acts who are tuned in to social media include The Piano Guys, a crossover quartet who boast more than 3.7 million subscribers on YouTube; musical comedy duo Igudesman & Joo; and pianist Valentina Lisitsa.

What draws viewers to click on their links is not just their choice of music and skill, but also their personalities and eye-catching videos.

The Piano Guys, for example, have filmed their music videos in unusual locations such as the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Utah, overlooking canyons and on the pristine beaches of Hawaii.

The ease of access to social media has been a gift to fans, who can now watch their favourite classical stars in virtual concert whenever they wish, and musicians, who have access to a global audience base.

Steven Sharp Nelson, who plays the cello in The Piano Guys, tells Life!: "For me, this has completely democratised the industry... musicians nowadays can essentially be their own everything - record label, promoter, tour manager, booking agent. It's really a do-it-yourself music industry now."

Local observers agree.

Impresario Robert Liew, who has presented classical acts such as Placido Domingo, New York Philharmonic and the Paris Opera Ballet, recalls: "The classical music scene was once dominated by heavyweight household names who had established themselves through conventional means such as mainstream media, recordings and concerts.

"The new wave of Internet artists have expanded this circle in weird and wonderful ways, adding creative elements that are eminently suited to social media showing and sharing."

A fan of The Piano Guys is Rachel Xiong, 25. The doctorate student at the National University of Singapore Graduate School for Integrative Sciences and Engineering will be attending their concert here next week.

Ms Xiong, who has received classical training in piano, violin and voice, likes their "well- arranged sounds, both in the melody and in the harmonies".

But she admits: "I'm not really sure if it draws more people to classical music, but because I was classically trained before being exposed to classical-crossover music, for me, this makes classical music more relevant to our generation."

For local classical musicians, having a strong presence on the Internet allows them to reach out to new audiences and keep in touch with fans.

Violinist Loh Jun Hong, who made it to the semi-finals of the inaugural Singapore International Violin Competition earlier this year, says: "Instead of having to go for a concert and invest 11/2 hours listening to it, one can now easily have a taster before deciding to go for the concert."

The 25-year-old adds: "For fans, it allows them to listen to other works and pieces the artists have done and keep up to date with upcoming concerts."

It may also lead to professional opportunities.

Singaporean violinist Alan Choo, who has more than 350 fans on his Facebook page, says concert organisers and collaborators have contacted him after watching his online videos.

"It is great because when people hear about me from others and want to check me out to see if they would like me to do a concert, all they have to do is click on my links," says Choo, 25, who is studying at the Peabody Conservatory in the United States.

Although the overwhelming number of classical music videos uploaded to YouTube every day is a boon for the scene, listeners have to be discerning enough to sort the wheat from the chaff.

The Piano Guys' Nelson says: "There's a lot of traffic, and also a lot of noise, now that the barriers to entry have been lowered."

lting@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on April 8, 2015.
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