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!