Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Mahler 9, final movement: "Adagio"

In recent weeks during August, I have worked on a new rendition: the final movement of Gustav Mahler's 9th Symphony, "Adagio". I got inspired to do this after listening to the BBC Proms concert this summer, where Roger Norrington and the Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart performed this work (a quite positive review is here. This particular performance created a split response from the audience: some loved the "no-nonsense" approach, based on the mantra of Norrington that in Mahler's time there was "no vibrato", others did not like the dry sound. Initially I was also a bit underwhelmed when listening to it on the radio, but when watching the TV performance and seeing the player and the orchestra, it made more sense, and I enjoyed it.

I also know the legendary recording by Bruno Walter in Vienna, January 1938, which to my ears also is a bit in the "no-nonsense" category, with the tempi not too slow but moderately stringent.

These are the only two recordings I knew, and with these in mind I began working on the iconic slow final movement, which has the connotation of "farewell", "good-bye", "Leb wohl", although none of that is written anywhere in the score or in any notes my Mahler.

Since this is a slow movement, it has not so many notes - just 17 pages of score. There are some technical difficulties, those 1/5 notes need to be properly done. I could have attempted playing them live, but since in these segments there are several layers of different note duration fractions overlaid, I decided to do a brute quantization there. I must say that I admire the real orchestra musicians who are able to play these difficult passages.

The overall mood of this music is to be "light", airy, with a chamber-music-like quality to it, despite all the brass and woodwinds (4 flutes!).

My first attempt is here:

Apologies for a few issues with clipping - it is actually not audible, but I see it in the wave analysis. Has to do with simultaneous instrumental attacks which I need to spread slightly to avoid that initial peak.

I hope you like this recording, and I hope that it does not spoil for anyone the enjoyment of this wonderful music - if you do not like my version in particular, there are plenty of excellent "real" orchestra recordings out there!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Concert Review: Elisabeth Kulman and Amarcord Wien

Friday afternoon, I walk through the streets of Graz. Then I see a poster with an announcement of a concert for this evening: Songs by Mahler. I HAVE to go. The ticket office is already closed, so I will have to try at the evening box office.

After quickly eating one of those gigantic Wiener Schnitzel (which are usually at least two or three slices of meat) with fried potatoes, I rush to the Congress. And yes, they still have tickets. I take my seat. Then the performance begins.

I have never heard about Amarcord Wien before. Well, this just proves that I am a moron. Now I know what I have missed, and their performance will never leave my mind. The violin plays the melody. The bass gives the low pitch foundation. The cello plays the counterpoint melody. And the accordion provides the harmonic texture. And then Elisabeth Kulman begins to sing. And heaven opens its gate.

Absolutely unusual instruments for a performance of Gustav's music, but absolutely fitting. A wonderful play with the music, full of emotion and inspiration. Makes you forget that there is no full orchestra here. Elisabeth's voice is like a dream come true.

From "Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen":
"Ging heut' morgen über's Feld"
"Die zwei blauen Augen"

Then from "Kindertotenlieder":
"In diesem Wetter"

Then the "Scherzo" from Symphony No.1. This performance by Amarcord convinces me that my version of this movement is indeed too slow: they play it like a typical Austrian country folk song in a quite lively tempo, and now I know that this is how it should be played.

Then from "Des Knaben Wunderhorn":
"Ablösung im Sommer"
"Lob des hohen Verstandes"
"Ich ging mit Lust durch einen grünen Wald"
"Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht?"

After the break the program continues with the "Adagietto". The clear instrumentation with these four instruments begs for a more rapid tempo than many of the current lush orchestral recordings, and Amarcord delivers a very appropriately paced performance, lyrical, but keeping up the momentum instead of bathing endlessly in long passages. Well done1

Then from the "Rückert Lieder":
"Ich atmet' einen linden Duft"
"Liebst du um Schönheit"
"Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder"
"Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen"
"Um Mitternacht"

They gave an encore: "Urlicht"
The applause did not stop, Elisabeth said "Wir sind etwas überwältigt", and since they did not have another piece, they played again "Ging heut' morgen über's Feld".

A wonderful evening - I am so glad that I saw that poster and did not miss this concert!

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Maazel and Philharmonia: Mahler #5 and Mozart in Hull

On Saturday, 29.May 2011, I once again had the pleasure of attending a concert conducted by Maestro Lorin Maazel. He conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra in the Victorian City Hall of Hull. The first part of the concert was Mozart's Piano concerto No.9, KV271. Pianist Lise de la Salle gave a superb performance of this work, with crystal-clear intonation. The acoustics of the concert hall appeared to support the piano sound very well, allowing to hear every nuance of the piano play in bright clarity. The orchestra performed flawlessly well in its complement to the piano.

But of course, the main "attraction" of this evening was Mahler's Symphony No.5, and the Mozart was merely an appetizer. After the break the orchestra took seat in its full configuration, the elevated seats in the back now occupied by an extended brass section. Mahler's original score calls for 6 horns, 4 trumpets, and 3 trombones. Here, however, were 7 horns, 5 trumpets, and 4 trombones! Maazel had chosen to place the strings in the contemporary string setup, which is from left to right: Violins 1, Violins 2, Violas, Celli. Basses were in the right back behind the Celli. It appears that in the past (example: 2001/02 season) the Philharmonia Orchestra had used different possible setups, and it is interesting to note that Lorin Maazel at that time (as seen in the sketches on that web site) appeared to have chosen the traditional string setup with opposing 1st and 2nd violins in the front of the orchestra (which is the seating layout which I would opt for).

The solo trumpet fanfare began with great impact, and then the Mahlerian sound universe unfolded under the conduction of Lorin Maazel. He took the tempi of the first two movements a bit slower than Bernstein in the 1973 recording with the Vienna Philharmonic (which in my view is THE reference recording), similar to the slower tempo of Valerie Gergiev at the 2010 Proms. The overall duration of the whole symphony was 80 minutes, and they were filled with the emotional roller coaster of Mahler's expressive music. The orchestra performed exceptionally well, following Maazel's precise conducting, the instruments were played with excellent intonation, and all the nuances of this music came across in all their glory. There was, however, a slight problem with the overall instrumental balance: maybe it was a flaw of the acoustics of the concert hall, maybe it was the elevated position of the brass players in that amphitheatre-like setting in which they were placed, maybe it was the fact that the number of brass players had been increased from Mahler's already generous setting - but the brass appeared too loud in several instances. I do not mean here the expressive outbursts and glorious triumphant sections - these were just right and had the appropriate impact. But in parts when the brass really did not have much meaningfull to say (yes, such segments do exist, even in Mahler's symphonies), it was too prominent and covered sometimes the main melody by the strings. It might have been a good idea also to strengthen the first and second violin section. Violas, celli and basses appeared to stand up against the brass well, and also the woodwinds were well audible, but the violins seemed sometimes to drown within the sound of the rest of the orchestra.

But overall a grandious and enjoyable performance by a world-class orchestra and one of the best conductors in the world.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

18.May: 100th Anniversary of Mahler's Death

On 18.May 1911 one of the greatest composers ever died in Vienna: Gustav Mahler. So much has been written about him and his music, I really have nothing to add. Except maybe a note about why I enjoy his music so much: it is the most "rollercoaster-like" music, expressing emotions ranging from utmost happiness to deepest desperation. I do not know any other composer who was able to capture human emotions to such an extend in music.

Here is my contribution to the commemoration of his death: "Urlicht", the 4th movement of his 2nd Symphony.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

CD: Walter conducts Mahler's 9th Symphony

On one of my recent long motorway drives (on the M62) I had the opportunity to listen to another treasure from my CD collection: a recording of Gustav Mahler's 9th Symphony, played by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (the other VPO), conducted by Bruno Walter live in the Musikvereinssaal in Vienna - on 16.January 1938. This is a remarkable recording for several reasons: despite its age the recording sounds quite fresh. Sure, it is in mono, and the frequency spectrum is quite limited, but one can hear the immense musicality. This recording received the "Classic CD" Historical Award in 1997. Walter was the conductor who had led the premiere performance of this work in 1912. And this recording is significant for another reason: it can be seen as the "swan song" of the pre-war Vienna. Not exactly anymore Stefan Zweig's "Welt von gestern" (world of yesterday), but not yet the 1000-year-long future that would begin for Austria two months later... Many of the people in the audience of this concert would be leaving Vienna a few weeks after this concert, and Vienna would never be the same as it was.

A marvellous recording, from many viewpoints. It is available at Amazon.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Event: "The River Aire" in Castleford, Fr.,15.April, 18:30

On Friday, 15.April 2011 at 18:30 a preview event will be held for an exhibition at the Bridge Arts Gallery in Castleford (at the Sagar Street). I will be there to present my music "The River Aire" in the context of other art work which is related to this river. This event will be the opening of 8 weeks filled with various events related to the "Free Uni****** of Castleford on Aire".

New Composition: "The River Aire"

Something different in this post, no Gustav Mahler music; instead this time it is my own. I have just uploaded my composition "The River Aire - A Symphonic Poem in 50 Nouns".

The composition was inspired by the poem by David Wilders "The River Aire - From Source to Castleford". This poem basically consists of a series of nouns, each preceded by "the" and grouped into a few segments. I took the "musification" quite literally and attempted to translate each word into a short musical phrase / theme / motif / segment. In October I had musified the first part ("birth of the river Aire"), by December I had added a further segment, and on 5.January 2011 I had come to the end of the poem - by skipping 11 nouns. That version was then played live to an audience on 10.January in India, as part of the Rivers Movement educational program.

A few days ago I sat down in the evenings and completed the missing part, and now the complete poem with all its 50 nouns has been musified. The rendition and the composition are tightly connected, as I was composing it through live improvisation of each instrumental voice on the keyboard while imagining each of the nouns and trying to capture their musical essence. Therefore, I do not yet have a score, because the recording is not available yet in a metric.

The musical language of this composition has been inspired by many composers. Naturally Smetana's "Moldau" ("Vltava") comes to mind, also Debussy's "La Mer". There are a few hints of Ravel and Frederic Delius as well, and Beethoven's "Pastorale" is apparent in the "Fauna" segment. The "Flora" segment appears actually to be inspired by one of Alexander Courage's side themes in some episodes of the StarTrek series - so a whole bunch of musical influences can be detected. All this is not deliberate, it just turns out that the music that came to my mind while I was trying to find associating themes for each word, originated from my sub-conscience, in which all these influences seem to have been stored. Overall there is of course again our friend Gustav Mahler apparent - I was not able to shake off the occupation with his music in the past months.

Hope that this music still can be classified as original and not as pastiche!

The MP3 and WMA files of this recording are available on the VPO website. I plan to release shortly a video with the music and the nouns of the poem in its current version. In the meantime, you can try to envision the words without aid while listening, or get the list of words directly from the poem by David Wilders.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Mahler plays Mahler

This week I have been on the road a bit: Monday to Hull, Tuesday and Wednesday to Manchester. The hour-long ride on the M62 provides a great opportunity to listen once again to some of the CDs to which I nowadays rarely listen. On Monday I chose the rarity "Mahler plays Mahler" from 1993, which contains recordings of Gustav playing the famous Welte-Mignon Piano, which is a kind of analogue predecessor MIDI file recording. The piano recorded attack and sustain onto a kind of piano roll, and the replay of that role with a special device reproduces exactly (more or less) what the player did play. Fascinating! When listening to Gustav playing piano versions of some of his Symphony movements (recorded in 1905), it becomes evident how he must have conducted his works. Surprisingly the tempo he chose is quite agitated, even though these are some of the slower movements. Not smooth long sweeps as most conductors take it today, but short, somewhat hectic playing, somewhat imprecise, some wrong notes rushed in a hurry, and a kind of unsteady tempo. Quite unexpected. This surely gives an insight into how the music would have to be performed "authentically".

But I think that the other interpretations which disregard this authenticity and chose a more soft, long sweeping tempo do have their justification as well. This is the beauty of "good classical music": it is subject to individual interpretation, and playing it in ways which the composer has not anticipated can also produce excellent results.

Very interesting on this CD is also a 26 minute long recording of interviews with people who knew Mahler. Quite fascinating insights there! One is that Mahler often changed his mind regarding tempo, from one day to another, and he justified that with being in a different mood. Excellent - gives now much more tolerance for a wide range of "authenticity".

The CD can be obtained from Amazon as used versions, or possibly from other venues.

Here is a review of this CD.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Version Numbering of Recordings

As I am creating new versions of my renditions regularly, I have to find a way of distinguishing them. Since in the past 20 years, people have gotten used to updates of software and numbering them, I am adopting this method here to.

So from now on, all my renditions and compositions will have a version number. This will also be applied to actual releases / publications, so that the tracks can be uniquely identified through that number. On my site, the track name actually includes the date in the form YYMMDD, which already provides a unique identifier. But the version number tells more: a number of 0 indicates that this is not yet completed; number 1 is the first complete release; subversions such as 1.1 indicate updates, whereas full increments indicate a complete re-recording, using for example new samples or synthesizers.

In some of the latest renditions I have already embedded the version number in the comments.

So now you will be able to see that a music is not really in its final state before the version 3 is out, in analogy to software products.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

New Renditions: Mahler, Symphony No.1, 1st and 2nd movement

In my effort to improve the string sounds of my rendition of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.1, I have now added additional string layers to the 1st and 2nd movement. The first movement only has one new additional layer per string group, providing a more punchy attack, whereas for the 2nd movement I have added two layers per string group: one with more attack, the other with more smooth sustain. The results are now online on the VPO website on the pages for the first movement and the second movement.

There is a slight inaudible (at least I think so) clipping in these renditions, due to the increased overall loudness, which I need to fix in an upcoming version.

Next will be the 3rd movement, then all parts of Symphony No.1 will have improved string sound. I will then go through a final round of checks and edits, to release the album "From the Life of a Lonely One" in time for the 100th anniversary commemoration of Gustav Mahler's death on 18.May 1911.

And for that date I also plan a special rendition of a single movement from his symphonies, which I am not yet revealing - will be a surprise.

Monday, 4 April 2011

New Rendition: Mahler, Symphony #1, 4th movement

In my pursuit of creating good renditions of the orchestral music by Gustav Mahler, I have completed another step: A new rendition of the 4th movement of Symphony No.1 is now online. A few days ago I did release an intermittent version, in which I put more emphasis on the strings, similar to what I had done with the "Blumine" movement, but more consequent: I added two additional layers for each of the string tracks, not only for the violins. This now creates a fuller sound and adds more "punch" to those staccato fp string attacks that are prevalent throughout this movement.

After I had put that intermittent version online, I addressed once again the tempo. Editing the tempo through the currently available methods in sequencer software is quite simple: I can simply edit tempo values at any instance, or can draw tempo curves over the time axis. While this editing is very easy, it is very difficult to achieve a consistent tempo flow which could be considered to be "musical". Because what would be the rule for it? What does it mean "allegro"? 120bpm? or maybe 125 bpm? This is currently all a matter of try and error... I put tempi in the tempo map, then listen to the result until it sounds pleasing enough. There are, however, more problems: leaving the tempo at a constant pace and having quantised music notes makes the rendition sound like a machine gun. Would be ok for Techno music, but is unsuitable for anything else. There are two ways of avoiding this: shifting the notes out of their strict quantisation, or drawing additional tempo values into the tempo map. Neither of these methods allows a natural intuitive musical play, because the process of doing this requires offline try-and-error. There is one "middle" ground which allows a direct entering of such tempo subtleties: during the recording process, play live. This allows a direct tempo interpretation as is done in a real live play of the orchestra resp. the instruments. I did try this method in the 2nd movement, but then I encountered errors when trying to homogenise the overall recording: because the notes were due to tempo fluctiations not exactly on the metronomic beat, it was very difficult to match properly the various tracks or deliberately place consistent tempo chances. Therefore in this 4th movement I have resorted to the method of drawing tempo values into the tempo graphics. This leaves the music notes within each bar quantised to their metric position, but then allows me to introduce tempo changes within bars, e.g. subtle accelerations and slight ritardandi at the end note wherever appropriate. The problem with this: I did it on one day, then a few days later listened, and found all those tempo changes inappropriate. So I had to go again through everything and change the tempo at all the locations where I thought it was not right. It seems that the judgement of how the tempo should be is quite subjective even by the same person, depending on the mood, on the time of the day, etc. So there is no absolute correct tempo map. But it would be nice if there would be some more overarching way of changing those tempo subtleties instead of having to change more than 700 bars of music individually each time the tempo does not seem to be right...

It would be great if there was a tool with which one could add/modify the tempo directly as the music is playing, and then record the result right away. A slider might work, but it does not truly reflect the concept of "energy" in the musical motion... I am working on a software that would enable a different concept, but that software is work in progress only.

In any case, this is my "interpretation" of how I thought this movement should sound on 3.April 2011. Maybe in a few days I would post another version...

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Online Music Distribution - "Classical" is still problematic

When I recently released my album "My Music in 2010", I used CD Baby as the distributor. They take care of submitting the music files do the various online sites such as iTunes, Amazon, Zune, Spotify etc. Is in principle a good idea, but there are still problems with Classical Music.

When I entered all the information about the tracks, I naturally indicated the composer of each piece. The instructions stated that the track name should not contain any artist name, so I did not put the composers' names into that field. Since each track had a separate field for the composer, I thought that the composer would appear in an additional information field. However, it turns out that the composer's name is nowhere present: neither on the track list of the album at CD Baby nor at any of the online music sites that I checked (Amazon, iTunes, Zune). This is quite annoying: now these tracks are without the composer information... And once published, this info cannot be added anymore.

This means that from now on I will have to place the composer's name into the track title. This is what is also done with most other classical music tracks that are online.

Another annoying thing: on Microsoft's Zune my music appears under the category "Pop", although I had explicitly given the "Classical" label.

It seems that the digital online music distribution is still not suitable for classical music...

New Version of "Blumine"

A new version of Mahler's "Blumine" (version 1.4) is now online on the VPO website (MP3 and WMA file). This version is based on the most recent rendition with trumpeter Julius Eiweck. The changes only concern the string part. Mahler-expert Jim Zychowicz had commented that the strings would benefit from "more depth", and so I decided to add a few layers. In particular the beginning sounded a bit "tinny", and so I added a total of four layers for the violins: for violin 1 a separate additional tremolo track (the GPO4 violin tremolo is different from the tremolo of the keyswitch violins) and a muted sordino, and the same for violin 2.

These changes give the bright strings a bit more substance and bite, and I find that this has improved the sound, away from the thin chambermusic-like texture to a more Mahlerian orchestra. I am working now on the same effect for all the other movements of Mahler's Symphony No.1.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Amazon is fast - "My Music 2010" online there

In February 2011 I had uploaded my album "My Music 2010" to CD Baby, and it was immediately available there. After that, CD Baby was supposed to distribute it to all major online music distributors (OMDs) such as Amazon, iTunes, Zune, Spotify and others. But I had forgotten co click one last button there... and so the distribution did not happen. I noticed this only last week - and then rectified this immediately.

Since then I have once in a while checking, and today I saw that this album is now available on Amazon. Quite fast!

It is not yet available on iTunes.

The pricing is beyond my control - it is determined by the individual OMDs; I only was able to set the price at CD Baby.

This album in this constellation of tracks is NOT available as such compilation on my web site - only the individual files can be obtained from my site and have to be collected manually to be assembled into this collection. So there is some benefit for the buyers of this album!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

New Rendition: Gustav Mahler "Blumine". With Live Trumpet (Julius Eiweck)

I just completed a new version of Gustav Mahler's Blumine, the formerly 2nd movement of his Symphony No.1 which he discarded after three performances and which had been lost since then, until it was rediscovered in 1966.

Last year in July 2010 I was able to create the first version of this rendition in one evening, just in time for the celebration of Gustav's 150th birthday on 7.July 2010. I did one revision a few weeks later, but now I created a substantial revision: my friend and colleague Dr Julius Eiweck plays a live trumpet (in Vienna), being accompanied by my Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra (in Leeds). Julius plays also in the Haydn Orchestra Eisenstadt and since recently in the Orchesterverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien - they give a concert tomorrow, 17.March 2011 at the Musikverein, so if you have a chance to be in Vienna, you can listen to a great concert with Mendelssohn, Elgar and Bruckner - and you can meet Julius Eiweck in person!

This latest rendition of Blumine was created the following way: I prepared a version without trumpet and sent the rendition to Julius. He then listened to this music through headphones and played life his trumpet part with it. He then sent me the recording of this trumpet solo, and I mixed it together with the rest of the orchestration.

The file is available as MP3 and WMA on my website.


I am also grateful for feedback about this rendition.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

New Renditions of Mahler: 2nd and 3rd Movement from Symphony No.1

These past few days (evenings) I have been busy revising my recordings of Mahler's Symphony No.1. I want to finalise that recording and create a separate album for it, as a special edition for the Mahler Year. I have started with the 3rd movement, "Hunter's Funeral". There had been some technical problems with my PC MAESTRO-2: this particular file of the 3rd movement caused some stutter, due to some memory problems. I had to copy track by track into a new Sonar file in order to get rid of the problem. Then I still encountered problems: Sonar would suddenly crash at particular locations in the file - when a lot of instruments were simultaneously playing. I did then upgrade to the latest version of Asio4All, and after a while of tinkering I finally got everything working again properly.

The new version of the 3rd movement has only slight changes: some instrument attacks have been adjusted, to properly differentiate between marcato/staccato/legato, a few tempo changes to correct tiny imbalances within measures, and some new expression curves for selected instruments in a few locations.

The same overhaul was done with the 2nd movement. This movement has the inherent problem that I had recorded in in free-style and only later added the tempo quantisation. This has still the effect that not all instrument tracks appear properly synchronised: some quantisation that I did in some tracks in order to properly adhere to tempo and metric had the effect of slightly disrupting the consistent structure, and I will still have to fix that. I corrected a few errors and added some instruments which I had missed in the earlier rendition.

When I compared now the final audio recordings of the new with the previous versions, I hardly can note the difference - it is very subtle.

Here are the new versions, together with all the previous renditions of these movements:

2nd movement

3rd movement

Maybe you can hear the differences to the previous versions?

Sunday, 13 February 2011

My Music now Commercially Available

On 10.February my new artist page on CD Baby went online. I had signed on with them, and have created my first album: My Music in 2010. This album contains 8 tracks with the most recent renditions of music which I had created in 2010.

These music tracks are now for sale, on CD Baby, but soon also on all their online music distributors which they have partnership agreements with. This includes iTunes, Amazon, Zune, Spotify and many others.

Does this mean I will no longer make my music available for free on my website? No, it does not. All the tracks which are available for purchase, are also available on my website. The agreement with CD Baby is not exclusive, I still can do with my music recordings whatever I want. And I have decided to offer them here still for free. Does this make sense? Not from a purely business point of view: In order to ensure that everybody pays for my music, I should remove it from my web page and have it only available through online pay sites. But I want to pursue another business model: I want that as many people as possible have the opportunity to listen to my music, for free, before they would pay; and if they like the music, they can then move to a site where they can then express their appreciation through a purchase of one or more tracks.

This may be a slightly optimistic assumption, that anyone would want to pay for something that they can get for free. But I do have a believe in the good of mankind, and I am sure that there will be a few people who will be clicking the purchase button on some of those online sites. If using iTunes or Zune, then this will also make it easier and straightforward to manage the music on the mobile device, so there is actually some additional value in the purchase rather than only getting the free MP3 files.

So for the time being, there will be the free versions on my site, and there will be the commercial versions of the same renditions online for purchase at various Online Music Distributors. I plan, however, to release a few special recordings only for purchase. One such album is already in the making.

What am I going to do with the little revenue that I might get from the music sales? I plan to use it for keeping my music equipment up to date. Software needs updates, I also need to purchase some more tools, and there are cost related to web hosting. All my music activities are currently running at a loss, and it would be great if I could stop this and at least break even.

The album that I am releasing now is My Music in 2010. I plan to do this now at the end of every year, to document my musical work for each year. I have no physical CD, these albums are all only available online.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Edvard Grieg: "The Death of Ase"

Here is now the post with the proper heading for this announcement of my new music recording: Edvard Grieg's "Peer Gynt Suite No.1, Op.46, II. The Death of Ase".

The MP3 file and the WMA file are available on my website.

A Quickie During Lunchtime

This heading is actually incorrect: it happened not during lunchtime but in the late evening hours, between 22:40 and 00:05, to be precise. I had just finished a meeting with my collaborators on the latest music project, a bit outside of my own comfort zone, something new and exciting - in the coming months I will post more details, but for now I have to keep quiet about this project. We had met in my little studio in Leeds, and Maestro-2 was at its best producing nice sounds, for the accompaniment of the singer. Oops, here I said it - but no more details for now! After everybody had left, I was still in the mood to produce some music, and I thought again of Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite. That second movement of the Suite No.1, "Ase's Death", looked like it could be done within two hours. First I watched the BBC 10 o'clock news, then I began to work. Yes that music is just strings with sordino, very slow, just two pages. And indeed, I had completed the recording within 1 hour 25 minutes. Good - a new quickie rendition completed!

And here it is, your moment of Zen: The MP3 file and the WMA file of Edvard Grieg's "Peer Gynt Suite No.1, Op.46, II. The Death of Ase".

Next will be "Solveig's Song", and then I just have to rework my old rendition of "In the Hall of the Mountain King", and the whole Suite No.1 is completed.

And now it would be the right time to change the heading of this post...

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Edvard Grieg: "Morning Mood" (Morgenstimmung)

When I woke up this Saturday morning, I suddenly had the idea to create a completely new rendition of a music I had not really planned for: Edvard Grieg's "Morning Mood", which is the first movement of the Peer Gynt Suite No.1. This is a very popular piece, one of the standard "war horses" of classical concert music. Back in 2000 I had already created a version of the 4th movement of that suite: "In the Hall of the Mountain King". At that time it took me one month to complete the rendition of that 4th movement, and now I was curious to see how long it would take me with improved techniques and technology to create the rendition of the first movement. They have almost an identical number of bars (1st movement: 87, 4th movement: 88), but the score of the 4th movement goes over 16 pages, while the 1st movement only covers 14 pages. Still relatively close.

I began at 10am in the morning, using the standard orchestra template I had created with the Garritan Personal Orchestra 4 samples. Initially I worked only in small segments, creating renditions of complete pages, and I was able to work at a rate of 2 pages per hour. Then I changed the strategy and completed individual instrument tracks to the very end: bassoon and strings were the first to be completed. Since the were several laborious 16th note segments, I could not uphold the original work speed, but the complete movement was finished at 7pm - and that includes lunch and dinner break. One more hour to fix some tempo and volume balance issues, and the movement was ready.

This was a new speed record: I am now able to create a rendition of one complete movement of moderate difficulty within one single day.

The tempo in the Eulenburg No. 1318 score is given as 3/8 = 60 bpm. I personally feel that is is a bit fast and rushed, and I think that most conductors take it slower than this. But the movement is titled "Allegretto", so it is not really intended to be too slow.

The recording is available on my page as MP3 file and as WMA file.

I hope you enjoy this rendition!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

100 Years "Rosenkavalier"

Today 100 years ago the opera "Der Rosenkavalier" by Richard Strauss had its premiere. To celebrate this occasion I am re-releasing a recording that I created in July 2000, together with tenor George Everett Swails. Interesting about this recording was the production process: I prepared a MIDI piano transcription which I emailed to George. He then took this transcription, modified some of the tempi, and then sang to it. He mailed me back the audio recording of his voice, and I built the orchestration around this recording. This was one of the first recordings of the "Virtual Opera Company" that we founded around that time.

The result can be heard on this MP3 file:

It is also avaliable on iTunes, if you feel that this is worth spending some money.

The orchestration relies mostly on the sounds of the Yamaha MU-80 synthesizer which I was using at that time. I also incorporated a few additional string sound fonts on the Soundblaster AWE46 card, but I do not recall which sounds these were.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Premier performance of "The River Aire - A Symphonic Poem"

On Monday, 10.January 2011, my composition "The River Aire - A Symphonic Poem", has been "performed" for the very first time in front of an audience. Well, it was not a "real" performance by musicians, but "only" a rendition. Just before the travel to India, I had completed this rendition in quite a hurry: I had the recording ready on 5.January 2011 at 23:00, and afterwards I began to pack my suitcase for the travel which would take place next morning.

This composition has been inspired by the poem by David Wilders: "River Aire - From Source to Castleford". This poem had been presented in a 6-week workshop "Free University of Castleford" in October 2010 in the framework of "The Rivers Movement", and I had begun then to put the words of this poem into music. On 15.October I had the first few lines of the poem "converted" into music, and I had played the rendition at one of the events of this workshop as "Birth of the River Aire". In the meantime I had expanded the music to include more lines of the poem. My goal had been to complete the music before the travel, but I did not have the time for this. Therefore I decided to skip a few lines and to go straight to the end of the poem, to produce a shortened version. This is the one which I completed on 5.January, and which I took with us on the travel to India.

The poem by David Wilders describes the river Aire in simple words, nouns to be precise. The sequence of these nouns evokes images of the river, very concrete images. I took this poem literally and tried to translate each of these words into music. The complete composition is in my view a "Symphonic poem", a musical art form which has been popular during the late Romantic period, late 19th century.

The performance, meaning pressing the play button of the Mediaplayer, took place in Vallabh Vidyanagar in Gujarat, India, at the HM Patel Institute for English of the Sardar Patel University. The lecture was moderated by composer Nishant S Joshi and Brian Lewis, and the audience was a class of 95 English teacher students. The performance was in the context of poetry, rivers, climate change. The students were given the task to listen to the music, without knowing the words, and to write down which words came to their mind.

The duration of the composition in its current abbreviated form is about 10 minutes. After the last sound occured, students gave their impressions. It was astonishing that they were able to capture very closely the words of David Wilders, despite that they are Indian and do have a completely different musical heritage and culture: storm, rage, flow, animals, plants, ... I recorded with video the responses of the students and will post this after the return from my travel.

In the second part of this lecture a piece of music by composer Vishal A Joshi was played in a recording with sitar and flute, evoking musical images of a river. Also here the music quite literally described a flowing river, although in an Indian music tradition.

This event quite convincingly showed the power of music across cultures: music is a language without words, a language that is common to all people, and that is shaped in a kind of dialect by its cultural context. It seems that its appeal is universal across human cultures and traditions.

When I am back from my travel, I will try to extend this composition to include the missing words from the poem. Also I will need to do some more revisions of the existing parts: a few compositional intends need to be worked out better, and the recording / rendition needs to be more poignant.

I prepared a video of this recording, with the words of David Wilders matching their musical translation:

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Facebook "Like"-Buttons

The VPO website has now a Facebook "Like"-button on the pages of several of the music recordings. This will enable visitors to express their (positive) attitude. Fortunately Facebook does not have a "Hate"-button which I could put there...

Monday, 3 January 2011

Website Update

The error 500 which appeared yesterday evening is gone now. I was told it could have been an over-utilisation on the server, some open database connections which were not closed. Just to be on the safe side I now closed explicitly all database connections on each page. The page load is still quite slow - this is because of my extensive use of PHP for various purposes: reading the ID3 tags from the music files, sorting them by date, etc. Also the Javascript widgets which load content from other sites (through Feed2JS, Twitter, and Facebook) take their time... but there is unfortunately not much that I can do in order to improve the speed.

I did a few changes across the site to make it "compatible" with being viewed on a mobile screen: ensured that the default scaling is off, auto-aligning the content into one long column when the screen is too small (can be tested when resizing the browser to a small size), and reducing the information shown with some of the audio files. Also I ensured that links to the the MP3 files are shown wherever they exist. I personally prefer WMA files because they are smaller at a comparable sound quality, but WMAs are not in general playable on anything else than a Windows maching.

I checked the site on a Apple iPhone, and it appears to be ok.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra on Facebook

VPO is now on Facebook. I have just setup a page there, and it seems to work fine. There is also a "like box" available, which will be included in this blog into the side bar.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Happy New Year!

Three days ago I decided to give the old "Blue Danube Waltz" a refurbishing. It appeared to be straight forward to use the MIDI file which I had created more than 10 years ago, and build a new rendition on it. Just in time for the New Year I was able to finish it and upload it - the files (WMA and MP3) are accessible under this link. This morning I listened to the New Years Concert from Vienna, on BBC Radio 3 listening to the first part, then on TV BBC2 viewing the second "official" part. I did get some "advice" through listening to Welser-Möst's interpretation of the "Blue Danube Waltz", although I personally tend to keep the tempi a bit tighter and faster.

This is my musical New Year greeting to those of you who read this blog - hope you enjoy it!

Happy New Year 2011!