PBS’s Great Performances Plows Forward With More Live Arts Television
By Lou Fancher
With coronavirus shelter-in-place restrictions keeping everyone at home, PBS offers free and low-cost, best-in-the-house seats to select performances, including Great Performances and others. The presentations falling into the free category include productions in the series, From Broadway to Now Hear This. It’s not the same as attending a live performance, but you can’t beat the price.
Streaming now through April 13 are Now Hear This: Vivaldi: Something Completely Different, with violinist Scott Yoo exploring Vivaldi’s original manuscripts and history in Northern Italy; Now Hear This: The Riddle of Bach, with Yoo and flutist Alice Dade investigating Bach’s sonatas and partitas; The Bernstein Centennial Celebration at Tanglewood, with Michael Tilson Thomas and other conductors leading the orchestra in honor of Bernstein’s 100th birthday; The Cleveland Orchestra Centennial Celebration with Grammy-nominated pianist Lang Lang joining the orchestra in a performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24.
Available through May 27, there are theatrical productions with fine film scores, among them The Sound of Music, a broadcast of the 2015 U.K. production that was cinematically photographed from a live performance on adjoining sound stages. There’s also Harold Prince: The Director’s Life, a documentary on the seven-decade career of the producer/director, who won 21 Tony Awards for shows such as West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Company, Follies, Sweeney Todd, Evita, The Phantom of the Opera and more. Interviews with collaborators, including Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Mandy Patinkin, John Kander, Susan Stroman, and others provide special insight into Prince’s process and productions.
With a PBS Passport membership (most stations set the donation price at $60 a year or a $5 ongoing-monthly fee), viewers have access to a broad platform of science, history, lifestyle, and arts programs. Great Performances productions included in the passport — Leonard Bernstein Mass and LA Phil 100 are two examples — stream for approximately one month following their premiere dates.
The May 15 broadcast of the Ravinia Festival’s production of Bernstein’s theater piece, Mass, showcases Tony Award-winning baritone Paulo Szot and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Artistic Director Marin Alsop conducts.
The LA Phil 100 broadcast marks the centennial celebration of the orchestra with La Valse by Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird, and other works led by three LA Phil conductors: Zubin Mehta, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel.
The best way to explore the options starts with a visit to the PBS website. Full episodes, preview clips of upcoming productions, and a trove of relevant articles are available. While concert halls and opera houses are shuttered, there’s hardly a better place for no- or low-cost access to top tier orchestra, opera, dance, theater, and other performing arts productions.