Beethoven rolls over into virtual reality

Roll over Beethoven. The immortal composer has just been transported to the 21st century.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic on Friday launched a Beethoven-flavored virtual reality experience using Oculus technology. It coincides with a Beethoven festival at the start of its 2015-16 season. (Tweet This)

"Wow!" music director Gustavo Dudamel says after viewing a virtual reality performance of the LA Philharmonic.

Outfitted with carpet and seating styled from Walt Disney Concert Hall, a truck called VAN Beethoven (get it?) will travel around Los Angeles though Oct. 18, offering free viewings of the iconic opening three minutes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. It made its first stop Friday.

Call it a new kind of "Fantasia."

"VAN Beethoven underscores the LA Phil's dedication to expanding opportunities for access to the widest audience possible," President and CEO Deborah Borda said in a statement. "Thanks to the remarkable Oculus virtual reality technology, we can introduce the magnificence of an orchestral performance throughout communities in Los Angeles as never before."

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Using a headset, the viewer will get a 360-degree panorama of 34-year-old Music Director Gustavo Dudamel leading the orchestra playing at its home venue. The perspective shifts, sometimes zooming so close to a musician that the viewers feel they can touch the performer. Colorful images—blues, reds, yellows—swirl and shoot across the screen.


"The images loosely parallel Gustavo's story about what Beethoven's Fifth Symphony means to him," Amy Seidenwurm, the LA Phil's director of digital initiatives, said in an email to CNBC. "It's a classic story of fate, destiny, and good vs. evil, with the fate represented by four looming red shapes (the da-da-da-DUM part).

"We wanted to find a fun and innovative way to take the experience of seeing a concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall into the community," she added. "VAN Beethoven can help evolve the public's perception of orchestral music and provide an access point for new audiences."

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To present the 360-degree view, technicians used a spherical camera consisting of eight modified GoPros.

"Wow!" Dudamel said as he removed the headset after he tried it out.

"Music is a beautiful symbol of unity, and it is very important to share the joy of music with people from all walks of life and from the many different communities in Los Angeles and beyond," he said in a statement. "I have often said music is a fundamental human right, and using this technology helps us to make this mission even stronger."

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You don't have to be in LA to get the immersive experience. The Orchestra VR app can be downloaded in the Oculus Rift and Samsung VR app stores.

Would this make Beethoven roll over in his grave?

"No! Beethoven was an innovator—he would love it!" Seidenwurm replied.