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L.A. Phil’s VAN Beethoven Project Hits All the Right Notes in 3D

Without even realizing it, most people have heard the music of the German classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven at some time in their life. For me that aha moment came in 1976 when I first heard and danced to the disco song “A Fifth of Beethoven,” which was a take on the composer’s “Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Opus 67” (aka Beethoven’s Fifth). Written between 1804 and 1805, it’s one of the best known compositions in classical music. The disco version was an early instrumental electronic song recorded by Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band that reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 music charts where it stayed for one week. The following year it was included on the soundtrack of the film Saturday Night Fever, starring John Travolta.

As part of its ambitious Immortal Beethoven music project, the Los Angeles Philharmonic launched a touring vehicle dubbed VAN Beethoven that is traveling throughout L.A. County through Oct. 18. This customized van is equipped with six seat stations (duplicates of those in Walt Disney Concert Hall), each with its own Oculus virtual reality headset and earphones that transport you (pun intended) to the first five minutes of Beethoven’s Fifth as though you are seated in several viewing spots in the concert hall.

One of the interesting aspects of this new Oculus technology is that while the images appear in 3D, your head movement also rotates your viewpoint in the hall in any direction. So while the Los Angeles Philharmonic is playing that famous introduction under the baton of Gustavo “The Dude” Dudamel, your “body” is placed in several seat locations inside Disney Concert Hall including within the orchestra itself. Some of the segments which face Dudamel head on are so real that you feel like you could reach out and touch him.

This innovative community outreach project was funded by the James Irvine Foundation and the David C. Bohnett Presidential Fund for Discovery and Innovation, named after its founder, the American philanthropist and technology entrepreneur David C. Bohnett. Bohnett is a former Board Chair of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and currently serves on their Board and Executive Committee.

Living Out Loud – Los Angeles had the great pleasure to meet Bohnett briefly at the VAN Beethoven launch event held at Walt Disney Concert Hall Sept. 9, which was followed by a phone interview at a later date.

LOL-LA: You were born in Chicago, Ill. and are not a native Angeleno. Why are the people in Los Angeles so important to you?
DB: I came to L.A. as an 18-year-old with two suitcases to study computer science and have spent most of my adult life here. At that time, seeing the growth, potential of the city, how it was so welcoming and still had that sense of western frontier and opportunity all inspired me. Here I made my way. My personal and professional achievements are all part of the spirit of Los Angeles, of openness and opportunity. So I want to provide an opportunity for others.

Read the full article and interview on Living Out Loud Los Angeles.