Bringing Lincoln Center To The Nation

Luciano Pavarotti is on stage, his voice slowly climbing its way to a high note. His face is contorted, his arms, spread. You, the viewer, can feel his emotion running like a current through the audience. Pavarotti hits his zenith, and the crowd at Lincoln Center breaks into wild applause. So do you, jumping out of your armchair in Juneau, AK.
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Luciano Pavarotti is on stage, his voice slowly climbing its way to a high note. His face is contorted, his arms, spread. You, the viewer, can feel his emotion running like a current through the audience. Pavarotti hits his zenith, and the crowd at Lincoln Center breaks into wild applause. So do you, jumping out of your armchair in Juneau, AK.

Because a man named John Goberman conceived of a series called Live from Lincoln Center (which airs nationwide on PBS), the above scenario is not unlikely. Goberman, who is the executive producer of Live from Lincoln Center, created it in the 1970s to bring the world-class performances enjoyed by New Yorkers at the famed concert hall to the rest of the country. Since its inception, the series has been a resounding success, having garnered nine Emmys and two Grammys, among other honors. How does Goberman do it? For him, the key is molding television technology to the performance, not the other way around. "I don't really believe you can put an opera or ballet on television," he said. "What you can do is put an opera or ballet performance on television, and that distinction is crucial."

Goberman is not a TV guy. His background is musical: before Live from Lincoln Center he was a cellist for the Metropolitan Opera orchestra. His father, Max Goberman, was a well-known conductor. He learned everything he knows about television from his over two-decade stint at Live from Lincoln Center, where he has spent most of his career. He has been the seriesâ executive producer almost since its inception.

The series premiered January 30, 1976, with a stereo broadcast of AndrZ Previn and the New York Philharmonic. It was the first concert ever telecast under existing performance conditions as well as the first to be sent out over a nationwide live television-stereo simulcast network.

A View To Lincoln Center


More than anything, Live from Lincoln Center is meant to be a window on the performances at the concert hall for the rest of the nation. This is where Goberman's distinction between putting an opera or ballet on television and putting an opera or ballet performance on television comes into play: Live from Lincoln Center is not "made for TV." For Goberman and his crew, television is simply the medium by which he transports the concerts, operas, and theatrical events that make up the series to audiences outside of Lincoln Center. "We're not here to turn the stage into a studio," he said. "We're actually bending the technology to fit the performance."

To that end, during Live from Lincoln Center broadcasts, television and its accoutrements are treated like pesky children trying to crash their parents' dinner party: Anything related to them is hidden as much as possible from the audience. "The less interference with the performance, the better," said Goberman. "And that includes the audience, so it doesnâ't feel thereâs a third presence in the house."

Cameras and microphones must be invisible, and lighting must not be adjusted so dramatically that the stage starts to resemble a studio. For example, for the performance of Contact, the hit Broadway musical, Goberman and his crew set up a rail-based camera system that moved back and forth silently in front of the stage. This afforded television audience members an intimate view of the action without disturbing those who paid big bucks to see it in person.

Sometimes cameras will be hidden in the back of the auditorium, behind the seating area. At Avery Fisher Hall, one of several venues at Lincoln Center, the crew has shot through doorways on either side of the stage and through holes in the walls. Also, some of the cameras have their own special type of camouflaging blinds to keep them hidden from the audience. Not that Goberman wants to alienate at-home viewers. In order to give this audience unusual points of view of the performances, he has had lipstick cameras placed throughout the performance area. This also helps concentrate the viewpoint on what he calls "the intensity of the effort," such as when Pavarotti is hitting that high note.

Nothing Left Undone

Many viewers make the mistaken assumption that live TV is impromptu or unscripted. However, a lot of practice and planning goes into each and every Live from Lincoln Center broadcast. "Everything is scripted,ä said Goberman. "It's all worked out 100% in advance before we go on-air.' On average, planning for one broadcast starts two to three years in advance. First, Goberman decides what performance to broadcast. While he often takes a look at the advance performance schedules at Lincoln Center for inspiration, he also has chosen his own performances and had Lincoln Center add them to its schedule.

It's during this decision-making process that Goberman's musical background becomes especially useful: "To me, it's very important that I'm a musician," he said. "You have to know the material; what an audience will react to, what an audience will not react to. There are plenty of things here that are first rate, wonderful performances, but that either wouldnât work well on television or not have the kind of audience that you should have for television."

After choosing a performance and contacting the performing company to do it, Goberman schedules, if need be, the date of the broadcast. Then comes the painstaking task of planning and assigning the camera moves, and rehearsing them with the performers and crews. "It's a collaborative effort," said Goberman. He works with Live from Lincoln Center Director Kirk Browning as well as the crew of both his program and the performing company to script camera moves, lighting, and all other aspects of the performance. Unlike some executive producers who prefer to leave the daily production work to a line producer or director, Goberman works directly with the performers and crew members, on a daily basis.

Even with all of the rehearsing and scripting, Goberman says making a concert, opera, or play "look good" on television really comes down to the actual quality of performance. "It almost entirely depends on the performance itself," he said. "So, if you have somebody really terrific, really putting out, itâs going to be good television."

Not that Goberman simply lets the performance speaks for itself. Since the beginning, Live from Lincoln Center has always employed the latest innovations in television technology. At the start of the series, Goberman had his technical staff rig up a satellite network in order to deliver the show in stereo. Even before the first broadcast, the technical team had the first satellite video signal received in New York City, for which it borrowed NASAâs ATS-6 satellite. The series was also the first to use a color solid-state camera.

Almost everyone has heard the proverbial tale of the New Yorker who hasnât attended a Broadway show in ten years or who has yet to make it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But people in areas of the country where there is no regional orchestra or professional theater organization donât have the luxury of putting off a trip to the opera or playhouse until next year. That's why John Gobermanâs Live from Lincoln Center is such a revolutionary concept. He and his staff bring Lincoln Center to those who may otherwise never get to see Yo-Yo Ma play Beethoven or Zubin Mehta conduct the New York Philharmonic. And this seems to be the main thrust behind Gobermanâs reason for creating the series. Great performances should be seen and heard by all, from New York City, to Juneau.

Sarah Stanfield is the managing editor. She can be reached at: sstanfield@uemedia.com.