How to Produce Image Magnification (IMAG) for Orchestral Performances

2017-09-10 14.24.41

Image Magnification (IMAG) is a great way to enhance a symphonic orchestra performance.  IMAG is directed live video content shown during a concert that showcases the musicians performing and allows the audience to see up close images of the performers.  Because of the size of the ensemble and the complexity of the music, IMAG of an orchestra requires a huge amount of planning and qualified resources.   The result is a dynamic, interactive and engaging performance for audience of all ages.

How do you start planning for IMAG?

First, realize that IMAG is not cheap if your organization doesn’t already have appropriate equipment and camera operators.  Most orchestras don’t have this in-house, so you will need to find a video production company that can produce the IMAG for you.  Production, equipment and labor could cost somewhere around $10,000-$20,000 for one performance of IMAG depending on what in-house equipment you do have.

Next, research video production companies in your area and interview them about how much live concert performance experience they have.  Have they worked with orchestras before? Do their video directors read music? Do their camera operators feel comfortable identifying instruments of the orchestra quickly?  Ask for samples of their work to get a sense of their style of camera work.  You will want a video director and camera operators who have a natural sense of musical performance.  With orchestral performance, the audience wants to see what they are hearing and the video content should always enhance instead of distract (not too jarring or too quickly transitioning from one camera shot to the next).

It is ideal to have an approved budget and confirm a video production company at least 30-60 days in advance of your performance.

Identify A Score Reader

Score preparation is crucial to creating a prepared and excellent performance of IMAG. As an Operations Manager, you will need to properly identify who will prepare the scores and call the cues in performance.  The Score Reader must be able to read orchestral scores during a performance and give verbal cues to the video director, so a staff conductor is an ideal choice if one is available.   Often, the Score Reader can also be a member of the Artistic or Operation departments.  Preparation time can easily take 1-2 hours per piece on the program, so make sure that person (which could very well be you!) understands the time commitment of preparation and being available for all services.

How do I prepare scores for an IMAG performance?

There are four main steps that you need to start with before you meet with the video director:

1. Request copies of all the scores for the program from your library department, so that you can write in for camera cues.

2. Watch examples of orchestra performances on YouTube or other video outlets (Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall, etc.) and get a sense of pacing for shots.  This will be very helpful as you start to mark scores.

3. When you are ready to mark scores, block off some uninterrupted time to listen to the music and mark in preliminary cues.  Gather some simple supplies to mark (I like pencil and post-its,  LOTS of post-its).

4. Some simple guidelines for marking cues:

  • Something always needs to be on the screen, from start to finish.
  • A good default is conductor because he or she is always moving!
  • Mark primarily what your ear is drawn to as a listener, in order to enhance listening
  • Try to highlight all instrument families throughout the work if it makes sense to do so
  • Be sure to capture the beginnings of solos
  • When the whole orchestra is playing, a wide shot of the orchestra can be used
  • Start listening to the work and add post-its in the score with an identifying word of what you want to hear at that exact point “cellos” “2nd violins” “oboe solo”, etc.
  • Keep in mind that the pacing of shots should not be too quick or too slow, but for the first pass through marking the scores just mark what you find interesting.  (You will need to revise the markings a few times!)

Once you have worked through the scores with a first draft of cues, then you will meet with the video director to discuss next steps about communication of the cues during performance.    Set up a meeting and plan to bring a stage plot of the program with principal players and sections labeled.  This meeting should happen 2-4 weeks before performance.

At the meeting, find out about how you can assist the video director with calling cues in the music.  The video director will be communicating with the camera operators, so there will need to be clear and concise language between you and the video director.  The video booth is a very active place during a performance! As the score reader, you will be on headset so you can talk to the video director, but keep in mind that is also the channel for the video director to talk to the camera operators.  Don’t talk conversationally on the headset during performance, cues only – short and sweet!  Examples of language the score reader may use are: “start the piece with cellos” “standby for oboe solo” “oboe solo GO!” “next up 1st violins” “everyone plays to the end”

The last very important factor in preparing a score before you get to rehearsal and performance, is backing up the post-it cues to the place where you actually need to call the cue in preparation for the camera shot. In order to determine how much you back-up the cue, talk with the video director to see how much notice he or she needs.  I have found that 6-8 seconds is about the time needed to acquire a new shot (varies depending on handheld versus robotic cameras). That timing can, of course, translate to a different number of bars depending on time signature and tempo.

2017-09-10 14.25.28

Now You are Ready for Rehearsal and Performance

Give the video director a copy of the rehearsal and performance schedule.  He or she might want to sit in on music only rehearsals, in advance of the dress rehearsal with cameras.  Block your calendar to be available for full rehearsals and performances associated with IMAG, so that you are focused on your role as score reader.

Be prepared to revise, remove or add cues as you work through rehearsal.  Like any performance, you will need to be confident but agile as anything can happen! Most importantly, stay calm, assist the video director and have fun.  IMAG is an exciting enhancement to any performance and the audience will love it!

An Interview with Mitch Hansen about Lighting Design for Orchestras

Mitch Hansen joined the Nashville Symphony in 2008, having previously worked for a number of production companies and venues in the area. He is an alumni of MTSU and has lived in Middle Tennessee since 2004.


What specific duties or tasks are a Lighting Director responsible for in producing an orchestra concert?

  1. Make sure the musicians can see their music
  2. Make sure musicians can see the conductor
  3. Make sure the audience can see the musicians.

Note: Not all of the orchestra needs to be visible all of the time, but, all of the orchestra that CAN be seen from the audience’s perspective SHOULD be able to be seen. This means that you don’t always have to light them perfectly even from all angles, if priorities 1 & 2 are met.

What documents or information does a Lighting Director need when preparing for an orchestra program?

Every theater or hall has some sort of technical documents, usually:

  1. A line-set drawing
  2. A lighting and stage plot
  3. A patch sheet

If you’re lucky, they will also have an inventory (assuming they HAVE inventory). If you’re REALLY lucky, they will share said info with you in a timely manner. Some houses treat these like nuclear codes, other houses post them on their websites as public info (albeit buried more often than not).

These documents will tell you:

  1. where you can hang lights
  2. what lights are usually hung where to hit what
  3. how to control said lights
  4. what extra options you may have.

Each show will require a different approach (yes, even standard classical repertoire), although often they start from the same origin.

Under what circumstances should an Operations Manager consult the Lighting Director before making a decision?

When making decisions that require changes to the stage, the personnel onstage, the timeframe in which the LD has to set up/program/teardown, it’s ALWAYS courteous and professional to let the LD know in as much advance warning as possible. When asking for artistic elements (specific cues, effects, etc), it’s best to confer with the LD to ensure the idea is feasible, as well as can be accomplished with the tools and time provided. This also lets the LD know that these items are considered priorities, and the other elements of the show may come secondary to them.

How much time should be scheduled in the hall for the work of the lighting department on a weekly basis?

This is largely a function of time and scope. Ideally, the Lighting Department should have as much time as they NEED to do everything they want. I’ve never seen such a luxury in practice. More often, there should be at least 1 dark day in the room for maintenance, and 1 day off for the crew. Beyond that, every 10 minutes of show requires 1 hour of programming (on average). 90 mins, 9 hours. Depending on the complexity of the show, familiarity with the console, severity of load in, and general condition of the equipment (and crew), this can go either way. I try and schedule no less than 4 hours for both load in, and load out. If load in takes 4 hours, typically load out takes 2.

If the orchestra is performing a classical concert outside the home hall, what basic language should be in the rider communicated to the offsite venue regarding lighting needs for the orchestra?

Make sure that the orchestra can see their music and the conductor. Try and keep the lights from shining in the musicians’ eyes from their line of sight to the conductor. Make sure there is a minimum lighting standard, including qualified and capable electricians to load in, program, and run the show. When in doubt, make sure the ENTIRE stage can be illuminated with WHITE light from both ABOVE and in FRONT (toward the audience) of the stage.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

  • Establish a priority for every show: Is this the orchestras show, the visiting artists show, or the video crew taping it for later. This will help streamline answering questions that may arise.
  • Just because you CAN use older gear, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Spend some money to look modern and stay relevant when it suits the act. Likewise, not every show needs moving projectors and pixel mapping. Less isn’t more (that’s why it’s called LESS), but less CAN be more TASTEFUL.
  • Lights are like cars: they consume expendable materials, they take time to maintain after use, and they eventually wear out. Plan, and budget, ahead to stay in smooth operations.
  • Always remember that the production crew is the first to arrive and will leave well after everyone else’s day is over.  They work diligently on a narrow timeline on long days in order to accomplish a massively complex undertaking, within a system with infinite variables. This job has immense pressure to succeed behind it; the show MUST go on. So, be nice to them, be patient with them, tell them they did a good job (when they do)… and make sure to include them in the headcounts for catering.

Audio Engineering for Orchestras by Mark Dahlen

Mark Dahlen is currently an audio engineer for the Nashville Symphony, and also mixes symphony rock shows around the country. A history of two decades in the industry, including a long stent in the international touring world with rock/pop/country and world music artists.


As an audio engineer, I have had the experience of working both directly with orchestras and also with touring artists performing with orchestras. While they needs of both are similar, there are differences in approach. The main goal of my job is to reproduce or assist in sound reinforcement of the orchestra so that all patrons throughout the venue have a pleasant experience and enjoy the performance.

From a very basic standpoint, audio engineers want information about the performance. The venue, its layout and equipment. What are the acoustic features, or lack thereof, in the space? A proper onsite visit is important in determining what approach will be appropriate.

Some of the first questions I would ask after understanding the space is: what is the instrumentation of the orchestra? And how is it laid out? A stage plot diagram, usually created by the stage manager, showing the setup is most helpful in understanding how the orchestra will react sonically in the room and how microphones should be placed. An audio engineer will create an input list with all the necessary microphone allocation for the performance. Depending on the setup and the repertoire, different instruments will bleed through other microphones. For example, If you have the brass section behind the strings, which happens often, and you use overhead microphones on the strings, you will most definitely get a lot of brass in those microphones. Given the nature of the repertoire and the other instruments on stage, it may not be an insurmountable issue to work around. In other situations, especially in a collaboration with a pops type performance where louder stage sound levels are possible, different micing techniques may be appropriate.

It is important that the audio personnel are given day schedules and show flow information: rehearsal and show times, top of show speakers, guest artist entrances, solos etc.

When working with orchestras or artists, it is important to make sure the on stage experience is working well for them. Monitor speakers, sound baffling and isolation might be required. Operations managers are often the liaison between these conversations, but direct musician to audio engineer conversations can be helpful in creating a positive two-way relationship.

There are times when abnormal aspects of performances arise, such as live broadcasts, additional guest performers, stage moves, seating on stage, and additional guest technical requirements. Anytime new details emerge, the production staff should be made aware as soon as possible so that they can give input on production related obstacles and solutions. Keep in mind that audio personnel may be booking equipment through outside vendors and may have input on purchasing or renting items. Having regular conversations about upcoming performances with the production personnel will help ensure a smooth show day.

In the end, we are all on the same team, and we want to produce the best possible show. The best compliments you can receive as an audio engineer, are no comments at all.  The audience is so caught up in the performance, that they don’t even notice the sonic experience as a separate aspect. Hearing people walking out saying, “that was just amazing” is a very satisfying thing to hear.

Interview about Leadership and Music

I, Sonja Winkler, was guest on a podcast recently where I was able to talk a lot about my career with orchestras.  If you are interested, take a listen!

Libsyn Link to Trooper Project Podcast Episode 11 – Sonja Winkler

iTunes Link to Trooper Project Podcast Episode 11 – Sonja Winkler

Lighting and Audio Design for Orchestras

The environment onstage for orchestra musicians includes lighting and audio design, especially now that amplification and special colored lighting enhance almost half of the programs presented.   Therefore, understanding the needs of lighting and audio staff will be an important part of ensuring the success of a concert.  If you can identify possibilities and limitations for a program ahead of time, the probability of a seamless and impactful performance presentation definitely increases.

Stay tuned for some first-hand information about lighting and audio design for orchestras from seasoned professionals in the ‘biz!

Conducting a Site Visit

Orchestras often perform the majority of their concerts in a main concert hall and the balance of concerts in the community or on tour.  When a venue is being considered for a performance by an orchestra, the first step is for the Orchestra Operations department to conduct a site visit.  For the site visit, the Operations Manager (or equivalent) should bring a stage manager or the person most knowledgeable about setting up the orchestra and ask to meet with someone at the venue familiar with the facility layout.

Before the site visit, I find it very helpful to develop a checklist of questions to ask.  These can include, but are not limited to:

  1. Where is the loading dock entrance? What size trucks can be accommodated?
  2. Is the pathway from the loading dock to the stage all on the same level? Or are stairs/elevators required on the path?  What is the width of the narrowest doorway?
  3. What are the dimensions of the stage area?  **Some venues have technical packets with drawings. Ask for a copy on your site visit.
  4. What kind of lighting is available over the stage?
  5. Do you have a sound system and someone to run it for our concert?
  6. How much control do you have over the temperature in the theater? *Most orchestras want the temperature to be stable and draft free at 68-72F onstage.
  7. Where are the closest bathrooms to the stage?  Can they be restricted to use only by the musicians/staff of the orchestra?
  8. What large classrooms or dressing rooms are available for the orchestra? Do you have small offices or star dressing rooms for conductor and soloist near the stage?
  9. Can you reserve free parking onsite for the orchestra? (i.e. We expect to need room for a 56 passenger bus and 25 personal cars)
  10. Who will be our main contact on site for the concert day that can help troubleshoot any unanticipated issues?

It is important to remember that not all venues are used to the needs of an orchestra, so try to help them imagine the scope of 80+ musicians and instruments on site and the potential limitations of the schedule.  Bring a digital camera on your site visit so you can refer back to the pictures.

In my experience, modern theaters are well equipped for a symphony orchestra.  School gymnasiums are usually pretty accessible for all of the equipment as long as the load-in area is wide enough for timpani cases and harps.  Stable climate control is going to be a real challenge in high capacity venues (like Royal Albert Hall, indoor stadiums, ice arenas).  Churches are beautiful spaces but often not well equipped for a symphony orchestra.  If you are working to building a stage in a church, be sure to have meetings that include the church talking with the stage company.  Some marbles or stone materials are not resilient to stage risers being built on top.  Church services schedules are also sometimes complicated to work around, especially if you intend to load-in a stage and leave it for a few days.  Be sure to discuss your schedule hour by hour with a church, including what equipment will be where for the duration of the orchestra’s stay in a church.  You don’t want to experience schedule conflicts with choir practices, noon time services and weddings only a few weeks in advance.

All in all, some of my favorite concerts have been outside the home concert hall because of the challenges and rewards of bringing music to a new space.   Site visits should be done as soon as a venue is being considered because the site visit could rule out the possibility of going.  Keep a record of the venue facts in a database so that you can refer back to it with the pictures you took.   Err on the side of respectfully over-explaining the details to the host venue, especially if it’s a first time visit for an orchestra.   In the end, enjoy the tangible reward of hearing the orchestra in a new venue and knowing you had a hand in making it possible.

Calculating Concert Timings

An orchestra’s work rules are governed by a Collective Bargaining Agreement or CBA.  The CBA is a contract between the employing organization and the union group of musicians.  Adherence to the agreed upon rules is essential in day to day operations.  As a member of the Orchestra Operations department, it is your responsibility to understand the agreement and enforce compliance.  All that said, one simple rule stated in a CBA is how long a concert can be.   The length of a concert is usually up to 2 hours 30 minutes, including a 15-20 minute intermission.  Some CBAs have certain designations for a longer length based on the type of concert, such as ballet and opera performances can be up to three hours.  

It is very important to note that the official concert timing starts at the time listed in a weekly calendar created for the musicians as specified in the CBA.  A common “end time” is start of applause after the last note of the program.   The timing is very precise and it is recommended that there be an official digital clock (HH:MM:SS) near the stage to avoid discrepancies.  Because of the precise nature of the timing, the space in between the official scheduled start time and the actual end of the concert must be mapped out in advance.

Below, is a sample run sheet with timings that I find is a helpful tool. In this example, the posted concert time for the musicians is 7:35pm and tuning cannot occur before that time.

7:34pm Pre-recorded hall announcement (1 min)

7:35pm Concertmaster enters / tuning (2 min)

7:37pm Conductor enters (1 min)

7:38pm Rossini, Overture to Barber of Seville (7 min 30 sec)

7:45pm Applause (1 min 30 sec)

7:47pm Piano move – pit lift used (6 min)

7:53pm Orchestra tunes (1 min)

7:54pm Conductor & soloist enter (1 min)

7:55pm Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto No. 2 (37 min)

8:32pm Applause / bows (3 min)

8:35pm Encore (4 min)

8:39pm Intermission (20 min)

8:59pm Orchestra tunes / conductor enters (2 min)

9:01pm Bartok, Concerto for Orchestra (42 min)

9:43pm Applause

Concert timing for this program is calculated from 7:35pm to 9:43pm and equals 2 hours 8 minutes in this case.  This concert did not have a live welcome announcement or any speaking between pieces by conductor. Speaking in a concert can be an unpredictable variable in timings, so budgeting generously in the run sheet is recommended.  Another type of “end time” designation I’ve seen in a CBA is when the concertmaster begins to leave the stage, usually signalling the end of applause, the concert clock stops.  The disadvantage of this type of rule is that applause can be the item that extends the service into overtime.   Many orchestras have moved away from the concertmaster designation.

The program above was created with plenty of time to spare.  If the service was permitted to run 2 hours 30 minutes, then we would have had until 10:04:59 to complete the concert.  At 10:05:00, overtime would have been reached. As a member of the Operations department, you will need to monitor the timing of the concert as it occurs.  If it looks like a concert will run over the allotted time, there are few measures that can be taken such as shortening intermission slightly or prohibiting an encore.  Each of these  has implications that would be better avoided (losing bar sales during intermission, upsetting a soloist or shortchanging the performance).  Unfortunately, sometimes there is not much to be done and the clock runs into overtime.  Overtime is often calculated in 15 minute segments at a small percentage of service rate for the musicians, but can add up quickly.  Even one second into overtime can cost approximately $1,500-3,000 of unbudgeted expense.

Watching the clock and experiencing an unanticipated delay in a concert can be very nerve-wracking.  If you find yourself in that position, seek out the members of the artistic, operations and stage management departments working the concert to discuss options.  I have found it is best not to shortchange or inappropriately rush the performance, as you don’t want the patron to feel either of those.  Do your best planning in advance, learn from mistakes and build in extra time where you can.  The more relaxed the backstage atmosphere can be, the better the environment for everyone.

Production needs of Orchestral Repertoire

Concert production is one of the key responsibilities of the Orchestra Operations department.  The Operations Manager, Personnel Manager and stage crew (lighting, audio and stage management) work together to satisfy the needs onstage for repertoire and musicians, while ensuring the performances will run smoothly and be in compliance with the work rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

What production needs does orchestral repertoire have?

Instrumentation is the number one factor in an orchestral program that determines set-up needs onstage.  Instrumentation should be carefully considered in all pre-planning of a concert season.  Maximum instrumentation of a program is a very useful tool in determining the space onstage required for a program.  Differences in instrumentation within a concert program should be looked at closely in order to determine stage changes required during a performance.  The biggest stage changes should be planned for during intermission as you will want to minimize adding to overall concert length.  Creating stage plots for every work in a program is essential in gaining an understanding about stage space.   Work closely with the stage crew if you are the one developing the plots so that they are accurate and to scale.

Some repertoire will require special auxiliary instruments for the musicians of the orchestra to play such as Wagner Tubas, bass oboe, alto flute/bass flute, bassett horns, bass trumpet, any number of percussion instruments, portative organ, concert organ, etc. It will be very important to identify if your orchestra owns or needs to rent/borrow instruments and where you will get the instruments from.  Start this process as soon as a program is confirmed on the schedule in case it might take several months to track down a source.  Asking the musicians who will play the instruments if they have a preferred source is the best first step.  Sources can include commercial vendors, other orchestras, colleges and universities.  Guest artists performing on specialty instruments (such as an Ondes Martenot) often will have their own instrument but the orchestra will need to pay and arrange for shipping.

Electronica is a term used to describe electronic sources of music in a symphonic work.  Electronic sources of music can include CD playback of sound samples, synthesizers with or without custom samples, live sampling through laptops or effects pads (Mason Bates does this when he performs) and many others.   If you see the word electronica in instrumentation, try to talk to the composer or another orchestra that has performed the work to understand specifically what the source was, who played it and if the equipment was provided or rented.   I recommend starting these conversations as soon as the piece is being considered for a program.

Offstage instruments are exactly that – instruments not played on the stage.  Each composer, musician and conductor will have ideas about where instruments should be played from for any given piece.  Be sure to have a conversation with at least the conductor and ideally also the musician, in order to determine where the proposed location is.  Depending on the location, the musician might need an escort (if they have to travel to get to seats in the theater), conductor, audio and video monitors, music stand and light.  You might need to propose alternatives based on any of the factors.  I’ve seen offstage instruments played from stairwells, loading docks, balconies and catwalks.  Most importantly, make sure the musician is comfortable and can perform their best.

It is not unusual anymore to perform a standard orchestral work in a new way by augmenting the presentation with video, slides, special lighting, actors, animals(?!), scenery and beyond.  The sooner you can ask questions (even when an idea starts small), the better.  If you can be a part of the development, noting implications and proposing solutions along the way, the higher the probability that the end result will meet artistic vision, logistical constraints and budget goals.

No two concerts are the same in a symphonic concert season and that is exactly what has kept me engaged for over a decade.  Enjoy the variety but also know that you can apply all of your knowledge to new ideas, building a foundation of analytical, critical thinking and problem solving skills.