‘Sinfonia’ A Sin?

Update: Synthesizers have recently been at the center of controversy in Costa Mesa, Calif., and New York City, where orchestral musicians feel threatened by the instrument.

The Opera Company of Brooklyn had to cancel a December 14th benefit concert over its use of an electronic device called the Sinfonia. Seven days later, musicians demonstrated outside the opening-night performance of “Oliver!” at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, saying the use of a virtual orchestra machine was an assault on their profession.

The electronic music maker supposedly rivals the sounds of real instruments. A New York musicians union threatened to protest the December 14th event. In Orange County, musicians handed out leaflets to patrons who would accept them.

This isn’t the first time the keyboard has been at the center of controversy. The Sinfonia was an issue in last year’s Broadway strike. Manufacturer Realtime Music Solutions believes its product can replicate orchestral instruments exactly.

Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians promised to protest the NYC concert at CAMI Hall, where it said the opera company was “showcasing and promoting” the Sinfonia, The New York Times reported. The instrument was to accompany singers on Mozart’s “Magic Flute.”

Ronald Wilford, chairman of venue operator Columbia Artists Management, supposedly came down hard on the opera company. A lawyer for the opera, Edward Quigley, told the Times that Wilford contacted the group hours before the event, claiming the Sinfonia was to “take the place” of live musicians.

“You never informed us of your intentions to use CAMI Hall for such a purpose,” Wilford reportedly said. “CAMI Hall is for the use of musicians performing live music.”

In Costa Mesa, the local chapter of the musician’s union said the Orange County Performing Arts Center was basically robbing local musicians of employment, an accusation the PAC vehemently disputed.

“We took ‘Oliver!’ as the show was presented to us. It’s the exact same show that started the tour at the Kodak in Los Angeles,” venue spokesman Tim Dunn told Pollstar. “There was nothing done differently to this presentation of ‘Oliver!’ than any other that has been done across the country.”

Dunn added that the Sinfonia in “Oliver!” did not replace live musicians, local or otherwise. The show came packaged with 10 musicians and a conductor; the Sinfonia replaces a keyboard – essentially upgrading technology already in place.