Stockholm is one of the most vibrant musical centres in northern Europe, and the city’s main orchestra, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, enjoys an enviable international reputation. Thanks to a new project, RSPOplay, it is now possible to hear and see the orchestra’s performances without having to make the long trip north. The web platform is run by the orchestra’s home venue, the Konserthuset, which also hosts a wide range of other performers and musical styles. That diversity is reflected on RSPOplay, with chamber music, jazz and family concerts offered alongside the orchestral events. And it’s all available for free, anywhere in the world.

RSPOplay was launched in October 2013 following almost a decade of preparation and planning. When Stefan Forsberg became Executive and Artistic Director of the Konserthuset, his ambition was to make the concerts of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic accessible to the widest possible audience. In this context he began to explore the possibilities of broadcasting to listeners beyond the concert hall.

Filming players from the RSPO © RSPO
Filming players from the RSPO
© RSPO
Their first success was a Sing Along opera broadcast in 2010. The event was hosted by world-famous Swedish mezzo-soprano Malena Ernman and was transmitted by satellite to cinemas across the country. It was an immediate success and outsold every other cinema broadcast in Sweden, even the Metropolitan Opera relays. It was followed by other Sing Along broadcasts, focusing on the musical genre and children’s music.

The cinema events demonstrated that there was a large and enthusiastic audience for broadcasts and filmed concerts from the Konserthuset. Forsberg realised that an internet platform would be an even better way to connect with these audiences. The internet also has the potential to bring concert music to those unable to attend live events. Forsberg explains: “Part of our mission is to make our concerts available to those people who for whatever reasons are unable to experience the concerts live at the Stockholm Concert Hall. Accessibility to the arts has for a very long time been the highest priority for the arts sector in Sweden. It was therefore a very natural development for us to embrace all the possibilities this new digital concert arena provided us with.”

In the few months it has been running, RSPOplay has already become a central component of the arts outreach system in Sweden. A programme called “Arts Within Healthcare” organises events in hospitals and daycare centres throughout Stockholm. RSPOplay recordings are presented within this programme as digital “concerts” at gatherings such as afternoon tea or Saturday matinees. The platform could also be used by individual patients, as well as in therapy treatments, especially for dementia.

Education is another key component of RSPOplay. Conscious of the decline in music education in Swedish schools, the Konserthuset team sees the website as an important means for children to learn about orchestral music. A specially designed library of children’s concert films is being assembled on the site, and both the venue and the orchestra work closely with teachers and schools. The players of the orchestra have a particularly important role here, not only performing, but also giving demonstrations and talks for the children to learn how the instruments work and how they can best move forward with learning to play themselves. This aspect of the website is being made possible by the generous support of the venue’s main sponsor, the bank SEB.

Sakari Oramo conducting the RSPO © RSPO
Sakari Oramo conducting the RSPO
© RSPO
RSPOplay clearly has much to offer the people of Stockholm, but its content is available far beyond the city’s boundaries, offering music lovers around the world the opportunity to sample the finest orchestral music Sweden has to offer. Recordings are listed on the RSPOplay website, with information in both English and Swedish, and most of the films are kept available for at least one year from publication, thus in time building a rich library. Comprehensive and detailed listings can also be found at Bachtrack. Among the performances already available are a particularly impressive Mozart Symphony no. 40 and Nielsen Symphony no. 2 with the orchestra’s current Musical Director, Sakari Oramo. In another concert, Christoph Eschenbach leads an electrifying account of Mahler’s First Symphony. And in a more unusual programme, called “Dollhouse”, leading Swedish clarinettist Martin Fröst presents a conceptual performance combining choreography, innovative lighting design and music.

Stefan Forsberg is particularly excited about some of the concerts planned for RSPOplay in the coming months: “During February we will launch the Nobel Prize Concert from December 2013, in which Maestro Riccardo Muti conducts Act III of I vespri siciliani and Pini di Roma. Later we will present a concert with Herbert Blomstedt, taking place almost exactly to the day of the 60th anniversary of his debut with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic. He will conduct Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler. Regarding jazz, we are happy to be featuring a big band concert with recently Grammy awarded singer Gregory Porter. And our next educational film will be a family concert based on the much-loved Icelandic storybook “Maximus Musicus”, with music performed by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic. During spring we will also launch a number of chamber concerts with players from the orchestra.”

So how should viewers find out about the latest concerts and keep up with news from RSPOplay? “The best way is to join our Facebook group for RSPOplay. Or even better – use the Bachtrack guide!”

UPDATE, 6 February: the Nobel Prize Concert 2013 is now online!

This article is sponsored by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra.