Sunday, January 8, 2012

Technology and the Symphony - Recordings, Radio and Television

Victor Records by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
source: San Francisco Symphony programs, 1929-1930, p. 786

The Victor Talking Machine Company contracted with the San Francisco Symphony in 1924 to produce 78 rpm discs. Between 1925 and 1928 the Symphony recorded 19 works. Alfred Hertz and the Symphony recorded with Victor during a period when recording techniques were still developing. The earliest recordings were “acoustic,” meaning that they were done without benefit of microphone or amplifier. The later “electric” recordings were also hampered by the short duration of these recordings--each side could contain a maximum of 4 ½ minutes of sound--necessitating carefully planning to divide longer classical works into sensible portions. There were also questions of how many musicians they should engage in order to guarantee the correct balance and timbre on the recordings.

Standard Hour broadcast, Program for Thursday Evening March 13, 1930
source: San Francisco Symphony programs, 1929-1930

In 1926 the San Francisco Symphony became the first orchestra to be broadcast live on the radio on the West coast. The Symphony originally attempted to fund these broadcasts through audience subscription, but was only able to realize these programs with substantial financial assistance from the Standard Oil Company. The initial performance was broadcast on October 24, 1926 from the Curran Theatre over the Pacific Network of NBC, and locally on KGO and KPO (today’s KNBR). The orchestra's performance was picked up by microphones and sent over telephone wires to the local stations, as well as to KFI in Los Angeles. Live radio also required the orchestra to carefully consider its time allotment in order to allow time for its performance and on-air program notes. This early foray was well-received and ultimately resulted in the weekly Standard Hour programs that continued into the 1950s.

A Special Concert for the Orchestra's Pension and Endowment Funds Source: San Francisco Programs. Music, 1955-1956

On March 3, 1956 the Symphony engaged in a “musical experiment” sponsored by the Ampex Corporation with a tape recorder. This performance, benefiting the musicians’ pension fund, featured live performance as well as the orchestra playing in silent synchronization with the tape.

Channel 7 Proudly Presents the Premiere Television Concert of the San Francisco Symphony Source: San Francisco Symphony programs, 1961-1962

During the San Francisco Symphony’s 50th anniversary season, they made their first television appearance on KGO on February 10, 1962. That season they also appeared in a documentary broadcast by KRON.

The technologies of radio, television, and recording continue to be used by the Symphony and today are enhanced by the worldwide reach of the Worldwide Web.

The two San Francisco Symphony centennial exhibits at the Main Library will be coming to a close within the next couple of days. Don't forget to see them while you can.


From the Archives: An Audio History of the San Francisco Symphony, a twelve episode series of podcasts from the San Francisco Symphony website.

Music For a City, Music for the World: 100 Years with the San Francisco Symphony (Chronicle Books, 2011)

San Francisco Symphony [programs] (San Francisco Symphony Association, 1911-1969).

San Francisco Programs. Music (San Francisco Public Library, 1850-1926; 1943-1956).

San Francisco Symphony Discography [.pdf] from the San Francisco Symphony website (n.d.).

San Francisco Symphony Youtube channel.

SFS Media [webpage] from the San Francisco Symphony website.Link

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