A concert companion in the palm of your hand

Thursday evening, The New York Philharmonic offered 75 members of its audience the possibility to test the Concert Companion, a hand-held device that delivers in real-time listening notes, program notes and video images during a concert.

The aim is to deepen the understanding of concertlovers and to make classical music accessible to new audiences. Besides, the videos allow cheap seats to see clearly the face of soloists.

For example, as Stravinsky’s “Petrushka” unfolded, short paragraphs flashed on the device’s screen. “Throughout this piece, the music breaks into separate, independent blocks, each with its own rhythm, melody and sound,”. “These blocks of music are a trademark of Stravinsky’s style.” Another advised concertgoers to “listen to the oboe give way to two solo violins — an effortless transition.”

The tester were quite satisfied by the helpful information they could gather from the device, however listening to the concert and concentrating on the flashing insights was sometimes perceived as stressful.

However, there were a few technical flaws, and some listeners sitted next to testers found the glowing light of the CoCo distracting.

The focus group met after the concert to suggest improvement of the handheld: adding a glossary, having cameras focusing on anyone soloing, etc.

But the ultimate issue has been raised when a tester said: “It really comes down to how you want to listen to music.” “Are you going to listen to it analytically or are you going to completely immerse yourself? It’s an eternal debate.”


More in The New York Times.