Beethoven Whispering in your Ear

Sarah Verge - June 28, 2017

Somewhat controversially, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) is actively encouraging audience members to use their digital devices during certain concerts at Cadogan Hall. This isn’t carte blanche to Instagram selfies of yourself conducting with the orchestra in full flight behind you, or to stream performances on Facebook Live, but instead an opportunity to read programme notes in real-time. The app that enables this functionality is EnCue by Octava, LLC.

Beethoven Whispering in your Ear
Using EnCue by Octava

The RPO and Cadogan Hall trialled EnCue by Octava in October last year, with several members of the audience (seated in a designated area) using the app for the first concert in the Symphonic Soundscapes: The Music of Prokofiev and Sibelius series.

As the concert commenced, EnCue slides provided an introduction from the RPO’s Principal Associate Conductor, Alexander Shelley, with text appearing in tandem with the live music. Images conveyed the musical journey and highlighted orchestral techniques.

In response to positive feedback, EnCue was made available for the subsequent concerts in the series and will feature in the forthcoming Myths and Fairytales concert series (also with Alexander Shelley), commencing this November at Cadogan Hall.

[EnCue by] Octava is a unique app designed to help and assist the participant through a musical journey. We of course welcome all users, but the tone is specifically aimed towards new and potentially younger audiences, offering a real-time insight into the music being played live on stage by the Orchestra. I really feel this is a useful tool and could therefore be a game charger for those who are a little wary venturing into a classical concert. [EnCue by] Octava, we hope, will broaden the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s audience.

Chris Evans, Director of Marketing and Press, RPO

Since I’m not a digital native, the only time I feel the urge to whip out my mobile phone during a performance is to wave it around in lieu of a lighter. This is acceptable behaviour en masse during a pop power ballad at the O2 in my view, but not, I hasten to add, during The Dying Swan at Cadogan Hall.

It’s the glare of cell phone screens in auditoriums that I find every bit as disturbing as a burst of Grande Valse (below), so I’m intrigued to read that EnCue’s Darkscreen™ Technology delivers “glance optimised” information without distracting the viewer, or those around them, from the performance. Surely, this must be better than the rustling of programmes in the dark?

I’ve downloaded the EnCue app (still a novelty for someone who’s relatively recently switched allegiance from Windows Phone to Android!) and it appears very simple to use. However, I wonder if it could be programmed to automatically silence device notifications during a performance, rather than just having a gentle recommendation to do so when you open it. I was a little surprised to see Houston represented by a picture of The Royal Albert Hall, so a tweak for that is in order too!

Is the RPO’s deployment of EnCue by Octava at Cadogan Hall an inspired way of attracting dual-screening millennials and other newbies to classical concerts or just dumbing down? Whatever the answer, I’m always impressed by those bellwether organisations happy to embrace new technology to broaden their reach. Will it be “like having Beethoven whisper in your ear”? I’m looking forward to finding that out for myself later this year.

Nokia Tune
Nokia Tune

As co-creators of Octava, Eric Smallwood and I are thrilled that Royal Philharmonic Orchestra audiences will be the first in Europe to experience the musical connections Octava inspires. Refined through years of audience testing, we’ve perfected a way to enhance but not disturb the classical music performance with “real-time” commentary presented in smart phones. As a result of our synergistic collaboration, RPO will provide program notes that truly engage.

Linda Dusman, Co-Creator of Octava
Alexander Shelley with EnCue by Octava on a Tablet
Alexander Shelley with EnCue by Octava on a Tablet

Myths and Fairytales Concert Series

Myths and Fairytales I: Leonard Elschenbroich performs Tchaikovsky Tue 7 Nov 2017, 7.30pm

Myths and Fairytales II: Susanne Hou performs Tchaikovsky Tue 27 Feb 2018, 7.30pm

Myths and Fairytales III: Madeleine Shaw performs Wagner Sun 4 Mar 2018, 3.00pm

Myths and Fairytales IV: Jayson Gillham performs Chopin Wed 9 May 2018, 7.30pm

EnCue by Octava

RPO’s Press Release

EnCue by Octava website

Sarah Verge's avatar


Sarah Verge

Sarah is an accountant with a background in IT. In her spare time, she advises Sistema England, a music charity and is an ISPA committee member. She is a regular theatre and concert-goer: jukebox musicals are her guilty pleasure.


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