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26 Nov  

James Weeks: SIGNS OF OCCUPATION, msv 28559 (Spotify, Apple Music)

 

Actually released way back in September, I only came across this today and was attracted by its grungy back-to-basics approach. To see what I mean you can read a very thoughtful review of the disk, here. Or better still, have a listen.

 

Paul Ruders: SYMPHONY NO. 5, Bridge 9475 (Spotify, Apple Music)

 

The first recording of the composer’s latest symphony, performed by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. The music is energetic and pretty accessible, especially in the frentic dance-inspired final movement.

 

Jonathan Dove: FOR AN UNKNOWN SOLDIER, Signum Classics (Spotify, Apple Music)

 

A cantata to mark the centenary of the First World War with choral performances from tenor Nicky Spence, the Oxford Bach Choir and Portsmouth Grammar School Chamber Choir. The work is paired with An Airmail Letter from Mozart, directed from the piano by Melvyn Tan.

 

Richard Wernick: VOLUME 3, Bridge 9480 (Spotify, Apple Music)

 

The survey of Wernick’s music continues with performances of his Concerto for Cello and Ten Players, Piano Trio No. 1 and Sextet. Music of brittle beauty, worth investigation.

 

Vásquez, Sierra, Liang and Paredes: CUATRO CORRIDOS: A CHAMBER OPERA, Bridge 9473 (Spotify, Apple Music)

 

Four composers, two Mexican and two from the U.S. set a libretto by Jorge Volpi. Distinct voices but a satisfying whole.

 

Vyacheslav Artyomov: ON THE THRESHOLD OF A BRIGHT WORLD, dda 25143 (Spotify, Apple Music)

 

Artyomov’s Symphony On the Threshold of a Bright World and Ave Atque Vale for percussion and orchestra are both works of brooding power. The final work, Ave, Crux Alba is rather surprising…

 

Mark Bowden: SUDDEN LIGHT, NMC D214 

 

Orchestral works from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales’s former Composer in Residence. There’s a nice review of the disk, here.

 

Hans Zender: ADÓNDE? WOHIN?, WER 73362 (Apple Music)

 

Subtleties of harmony from a composer who, dissatisfied with equal temperament, has divided the octave into as many as 72 microintervals. There are four pieces: ¿Adónde? Wohin? for violin, soprano and instruments; Oh Bosques|Oh Wälder for soprano, choir and orchestra; ¿Por qué? Warum? for choir in two groups a cappella; and Oh Cristallina… for three groups of vocalists and instruments.

 

Rolf Riehm: SHIFTING/ ARCHIPEL REMIX, WER 73572 (Apple Music)

 

A violin concerto and a suite for large orchestra and electronics from German composer Rolf Riehm. Dense and intensely serious music. 

 

Various: WAR MEMORIALS, NMC D226 (Spotify, Apple Music)

 

The Tredegar Town Band play a selection of music by Robin Holloway, Lucy Pankhurst,  John McCabe, Simon Dobson, Paul McGhee and Gavin Higgins. Britten’s cumulative Fanfare for St Edmundsbury also provides a framework for responses by four of the composers.

 

Nico Muhly & Teitur: CONFESSIONS DIGITAL MP3 ALBUM, Nonesuch (Spotify, Apple Music)

 

A collaboration between acclaimed American composer Nico Muhly and Faroese singer/songwriter Teitur, with performances from Holland Baroque.



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23 Nov  

France is mourning the loss of composer Jean-Claude Risset, who died on Monday aged 78. He is often mentioned alongside French electronic pioneers Pierre Henry and Pierre Schaeffer and is credited with being one of the first composers to create a piece only using a computer.

 

Risset’s early training in mathematics and physics led to an interest in synthesised sound. After studying with André Jolivet, in 1964 he travelled to the American research and scientific development company Bell Labs, where he experimented with synthesising real instruments from raw sound. This led to the creation of Music for Little Boy (1968), his first work for computer using the Music V program.

 

 

This work and Mutations (1969) formed the basis of a research study Sound Examples, 1969; a compendium of computer sounds that formed the basis for further research and composition. 

 

 

After Mutations Risset returned to France, accepting academic research posts as well as helping Boulez with the creation of IRCAM. As its head he composed music that extended the domain of computer music to include interactions with live instruments. 

 

Risset continued to experiment throughout the rest of his life, wrote extensively about his work and was frequently invited to speak at institutions throughout the world. In recognition of his contribution, in 1999 he was awarded the Médaille d’or by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

 



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23 Nov  

If, like me, you've entered a few composition competitions in your time, you might be interested in this survey (the link follows the description):

There are few ‘emerging’ composers active today who will have not taken part in a competitive composition opportunity. Masterclasses, residencies, commissions and workshops regularly require a panel to whittle down dozens of applications to just a select few.

It has been assumed that these schemes are necessary parts of a composer’s education – and that they contribute to furthering their career.  Yet this assumption has rarely been supported by evidence.  Exploring these themes in more detail is the impetus behind the Composition Opportunity Research Project, which will explore the climate of opportunity in new music today.

Composers: we want to know why you apply (or do not apply) for these kinds of opportunities and, more importantly, what makes them fulfilling when you take part.  If you have been an ‘emerging’ composer within the last 10 years, we want to hear from you too.

We want to know if any of these schemes have made a difference to your practice, and what others can learn from your positive and/or negative experiences.  Have these opportunities expanded your professional networks or encouraged creative ideas?

So, let us learn from your experience!  Tell us what would really help you develop as a composer and which opportunities have been wholly unfulfilling.  Through your contribution we can better understand, and fight for, the formats that truly encourage creativity.

Follow the link below to take part in the survey.

https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/VRT5CS2



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20 Nov  

On December 2nd Valery Gergiev will give the 'world premiere' of Stravinky's Funeral Song. The piece, which was performed just once before being lost, was decribed by the composer as "The best of my works before The Firebird". It was recently rediscovered in the St. Petersburg Conservatoire. The performance will be webcast at medici.tv

You can also hear Gergiev talking about the performance, here

From the medici.tv website:

A year ago, we learned that a lost work by Stravinsky had been discovered in a pile of dusty scores in the archives of the St. Petersburg Conservatoire. The work turned out to be Funeral Song ("Chant Funèbre"), a 12-minute long musical commemoration of Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky's beloved composition professor. The score disappeared soon after its one and only performance in 1909. The composer wrote in his Memoires in 1935:

Unfortunately, the score of this work disappeared during the revolution... I no longer remember the music, but I recall very well my idea for the work. It was like a procession of all the soli instruments of the orchestra, coming in turns to each leave a melody in the form of a crown on the master's tomb, all the while with a low background of murmuring tremolos, like the vibrations of bass voices singing in a choir.

Specialists have long considered Funeral Song to be a major work by the composer. Numerous searches were organized after the fall of the Soviet Union in hope of finding the score, all without success. But then...

"Natalia, you were looking for a score by Stravinsky, was it called Chant Funèbre?"

Like her professors before her, musicologist Natalia Braginskaya had long held on to the hope of finding the precious document when one day, she received a call from Irina Sidorenko, the librarian of the St. Petersburg Conservatoire. Funeral Song had been found! A year later, Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra perform the miraculously-preserved piece.



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17 Nov  

December is not traditionally known for its music festivals, which makes the Spitalfields Winter Festival, which this year runs from 4th–11th, a welcome anomaly. There are a number of dance and music events enjoy, but four new music concerts stand out:

 

1. TROUPE: The Empty Chair (Brady Arts & Community Centre, 4th December, 2pm and 4.30pm

 

A music theatre piece billed as a ‘mischievous musical adventure exploring loss, change and friendship’ it includes music by Moondog, Meredith Monk and TROUPE.

 

2. Gothic Voices: Tower of London (The Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, 4th December, 7.30pm)

 

Vocal ensemble Gothic Voices perform medieval and renaissance settings of Marian texts with contemporary interpretations by Joanne Metcalf and Andrew Smith interpolated.

 

3. Protein: May Contain Food (Shoreditch Town Hall, Assembly Hall, 6th December 6.15 pm and 8.30pm)

 

A dance and music theatre show inspired by social occasions and life at mealtimes. Choreographed by Luca Silvestrini with music by Orlando Gough.

 

4. Melvyn Tan (Shoreditch Church, 6th December 7pm)

 

A concert to mark the pianist’s 60th birthday and the festival’s 40th. It includes music by Judith Weir, Anthony Dove and a host of other composers as part of the compendium piece Variations for Judith. 




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17 Nov  

As well as the new Michael Berkeley carol for kings (see my previous blog post) there are a number of contemporary music Christmas options to consider in December. On 2nd December the BBC Singers give an Advent concert at St Giles’ Cripplegate that includes music by John Tavener, Judith Weir, Gabriel Jackson, Cecilia McDowall and Owain Park. On the same day at the Barbican there is a chance to hear Neil Brand’s setting of Dickens’ Christmas Carol for spoken voices and orchestra. The work is very family friendly, as can be heard here. 

 

An excellent alternative to Messiah is John Adams’ retelling of the nativity story in El Niño. Adams himself combined the libretto from a number of sources, from ‘pre-Christian prophets to twentieth century Hispanic female writers’ to form a two-hour opera-oratorio. It seems that Adams himself is touring this work around Europe this December; I have found three performances, in London on 4th, Amsterdam on 10th, and Paris on 11th. There may be others.

 

At St. Davids Hall, Cardiff on 4th December The Sixteen look beyond December to Epiphany with a concert that examines music inspired by the Three Kings. The programme includes music from the renaissance to the present day. At Milton Court Hall, London meanwhile, on 13th the BBC Singers give a concert that includes seasonal music by its conductor Bob Chilcott as well as pieces by Britten, Rutter and James Lord Pierpont. 



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16 Nov  

From the King's website:

The composer of this year's commissioned Christmas carol is British composer Michael Berkeley, who has set to music a the traditional 15th century Christmas text This Endernight. The carol will receive its first public performance at A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.

 

Michael Berkeley is a Fellow of the Royal Northern College of Music and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music, and in 2012 he was appointed a CBE for services to music in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Michael is also the son of Lennox Berkeley, who was the first composer commissioned by Stephen Cleobury to write for A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in 1983.

 

About the new carol, Berkeley writes:

 

The anonymous c1400 text, This Endernight, is unusual for a carol in that it articulates the voice of the infant Jesus in dialogue with his mother. ‘Ender' or ‘Endris' means past or recent. Maternal feelings of tenderness are in abundance but there is also a knowingness about the importance of the event that is unfolding. It is an upbeat lullaby which looks forward to heavenly bliss and so culminates in a radiant cadence.

 

This Endernight will be performed during the Christmas Eve service which will be broadcast live on BBC Radio and public radio stations around the world. The carol will also become available as a download immediately following the service through the Apple iTunes Store.

 

And here is another chance to hear last year's carol, The Flight by Richard Causton:



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11 Nov  

Four visual artists and three composers have just been announced as recipients of the £50,000 Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award. 'Awards for Artists was launched in 1994 and are the largest individual awards made to visual artists and composers in the UK. At £50,000 per award and with no strings attached, they are designed to give artists the time and freedom to develop their creative ideas.'

The three composers are:

Daniel Kidane

Daniel Kidane (born 1986) is a London-based concert composer whose works range from solo pieces to large orchestral works. Often drawing from experiences from his own background and upbringing, Kidane’s compositions explore social narratives, especially multilingual interactions in everyday life. Among Kidane’s most notable compositions are Foreign Tongues (2015), which re-envisaged the setup of the string quartet and Pulsing (2016), which explored the idea of migration through its energetic instrumental passages and vocal interludes. Kidane’s compositions have been premiered by several notable companies including the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. He has also completed commissioned work for the Orgelbüchlein Project, which was premiered at the Tower of London Chapel.

Heather Leigh

Heather Leigh (born 1976) is a West Virginian, Texas raised composer and singer currently based in Glasgow. She is renowned for her spontaneous composition and for redefining the pedal steel guitar, taking the instrument beyond the bounds of the country and western genre. As a solo artist, she explores themes relating to the representation of women, sexuality and vulnerability. Leigh’s 2015 album I Abused Animal (Ideologic Organ/Editions Mego) received wide international acclaim, showcasing her talent as a composer, songwriter and vocalist, as well as her pedal steel guitar innovations. This album built upon previous successful releases including Nightingale (Golden Lab Records) and Devil if You Can Hear Me (Not Not Fun). She has an extensive catalogue of collaborative work, which in recent years has focused on her duo with German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann. She has toured widely in the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Ailís Ní Ríain

Ailís Ní Ríain (born 1974) is a Cork born contemporary classical composer and stage writer. Currently based in Yorkshire she is a regular collaborator with artists in other artforms, her artistic interests are diverse and combined with an unwavering desire to push and develop her artistic practice through each new project or commission. Working across several media, including small-scale acoustic music, installations, mini-opera and music-theatre, her work uses a multi-disciplined approach to challenge, provoke and engage.     Ní Ríain’s compositions focus on strong visual and narrative ideas and building connections with new and diverse audiences. Among Ní Ríain’s most recent compositions was Skloniŝte (2015), a solo accordion and video homage to the people who survived the Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996. The Irish Times described the piece as ‘truly evok[ing] a strong response.’     She has also completed notable commissions for the Royal Irish Academy of Music, The Bronte Society and Feelgood Productions with new commissions lined up for Spitalfields Festival, Temenos Ensemble and Manchester Opera Project. Her work has been performed in the US and across Europe. Alongside her work as a composer, Ní Ríainis a published stage writer with plays produced in the UK, Ireland, Germany and Sweden.  



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9 Nov  

I was going to share some arts news stories today but, sadly, my plans have all been Trumped…

2016 will forever, in my mind at least, be the year of Brexit and Trump. The breaking of the liberal consensus. 

I’m not going to dwell, though. As someone said to me this morning: ‘laisse tomber’. Let it drop. Focus on your own happiness and stop worrying about politics.

I will try.



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5 Nov  

I now have a copy of Dorico, the new scorewriting software from Steinberg (see my previous blog post). What I am going to attempt, over several blog posts, is less a review and more my thoughts as I get to know this software. In particular I am keen to see how the program works when I give it real-world tasks.

 

My system

 

I am running MacOS Sierra on a late 2013 MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM. I will make frequent comparisons with Sibelius, though that will be version 7.1.3. This might, of course, be considered unfair, so where the current version of Sibelius would have handled something better, I’ll be glad to have that pointed out to me. My own feeling, rightly or wrongly, is that the improvements since 7.1.3 have not been comprehensive enough to warrant an upgrade. 

 

The kinds of tasks I will ask of the software

 

I spend most of my time producing arrangements, typesetting and composing. The arrangements and typsets are done against the clock—I work by the hour—and so require me to balance the conflicting requirements of speed vs. a professional end result. In these circumstances, the less time I spend editing the better. They also require decent audio output, since the score is used to generate backing files for a sheet music website. Typesetting work also includes the generation of high quality music examples for publication in journals. This means testing the ability of the package to notate advanced compositional techniques. When I compose, these days I do it straight into the computer. For this reason I look for the flexibility and the ability to change things. Composition, at least for me, is a very organic process, in which I often need to move things around, insert ideas, transpose etc. 

 

Setup

 

Downloading and installing Dorico is a cinch, though if your internet connection is slow, you might want to think about getting the boxed version—the complete download, with its many sound files, is 9GB.

 

Dorico, as I mentioned in my last post, breaks the process of scorewriting into five stages or modes: Setup, Write, Engrave, Play, Print. You can move back and forth between these freely.

 

When you open Dorico, the first screen you are presented with looks like this:

 

 

This enables you to open a recent project, to create a project from a preexisting template (for example, ‘film orchestra’, ‘concert band’, ‘string quartet’ etc. or to start from a blank score. Bringing up a blank score brings you to the setup phase (i.e. first of the five stages, above):

 

 

As you navigate this for the first time Dorico gives you a useful tour of the features (it does the same as you enter each of the subsequent scorewriting modes). I should probably have paid more attention, since at first I was a bit confused by the distinctions Dorico makes between solo player, section player and ensemble. Actually, however, they make total sense. A solo player is just that: one human being. A section is a whole group of human beings i.e. a violin section. ‘Ensemble' sounds like an ‘orchestra’, ’band’ etc. but this isn't the case—it refers to sections within a wider ensemble. In this way, you can add a whole woodwind section at once, but choose single, double or triple wind.

 

Interestingly Dorico also makes a distinction between a player and the instrument, so you can create an empty-handed player and then give them one or more instruments to play. I am hoping that this approach will make handling players who swap instruments (e.g. flute doubling piccolo etc) more intelligent, since it’s a big pain point in Sibelius.

 

Once the players are added you don’t create your score, instead you simply click on the Write tab. Of course, you can also add more instruments at any time in Sibelius, but I quite like the way that this is presented as a fluid and connected process. The Write window looks like this:

 

 

The tools for entering music are available around the edge of the score. The screen shot shows the note durations tab open, but this can be hidden so that the tools take up a small amount of screen space. It does not seem that they can be undocked, which I imagine could be a problem when working on a larger screen. On a laptop, however, the approach works well. I find the floating keypad in Sibelius infuriating and, what is more, mapping specific functions to the numeric keypad seems like a ridiculous throwback. I wonder how long it will be before these programs start supporting Apple’s new Touch Bar? Now that would be nice…

 

My initial experience of trying to enter notes into Dorico was frustrating, but I feel that this was more my fault than Dorico’s—one has to really get to grips with new input methods before judging them. I am going, therefore, to leave this for another time. Instead I chose a task that was so simple it did not require any input.

 

Basic task: transcribing a piece from piano and violin to string quartet

 

I deliberately chose a simple piece as it is presents a transcription task that, in Sibelius, would take me around an hour, including preparation of parts and extraction of an audio file of the completed score. The original file, for piano and violin, was for Sibelius. Dorico will not read Sibelius files so I had to export this as an mxl file. For comparison I then reopened this mxl file in Sibelius as well as opening it in Dorico. The initial results were interesting indeed. Here is the imported score in Sibelius:

 

 

Here is the imported score in Dorico:

 

 

Here is the piano part, as generated by Sibelius:

 

 

Here is the piano part, as generated by Dorico

 

 

At this point it’s worth me reiterating that this is Sibelius 7.1.3. The result, however, is a clear win for Dorico. If one compares the parts, especially, Sibelius is too inconsistent as regards the number of bars per line and it also fails to divide the score in a way that fills the second page. This is consistent with my experience of using Sibelius to prepare parts—one has to intervene constantly to get them to look right. Even worse, Sibelius has somehow also managed to reproduce the title and ‘Trad. Gospel’ marking at the bottom of the page. Also, though its not so obvious from looking at the part (but obvious on the score), the anacrusis in the Sibelius file is actually detached by three beats from the rest of the score. Dorico reads it perfectly. My only preference in terms of the Sibelius file is that it automatically right justifies the final line (i.e. it fills the line). First impressions, then, suggest that Dorico might be a step forward in terms of automated engraving.

 

Adding a violin, viola and cello to the score was easy—a simple matter of going back to the Setup tab and selecting the instruments. I now needed to copy the material from piano to strings. This is where I bumped into my first limitation. Sibelius offers pretty advanced filtering and copying features. So, for example, I can select a whole stave, copy all of its contents or just filter the top note or one part and then copy that. It’s hugely useful when separating out chords when assigning single notes to melody instruments. Dorico, at this stage, only offers a simple marquee selection (i.e. draw a box shape to select notes) with no filtering. This makes the process very cumbersome.

 

Also, as I copied notes to viola, the stems did not automatically set to the correct direction:

 

 

However, it turns out that Dorico, by default, preserves the stem direction of an imported mxl file, which can be removed by selecting the offending notes and selecting Edit > Stem > Remove Forced Stem. I wonder, however, if it wouldn't be better to make good typesetting the default in these circumstances. 

 

I continued to copy and paste the piano music into the other parts, but it was becoming clear that to filter out the notes was going to take a very long time indeed. Unfortunately I was on a real deadline, with six more of these arrangements and a set of orchestral parts to prepare in eight hours, so at this point I was forced back to Sibelius. Not without regret, however, since I consider that the typesetting elements in Dorico have real promise. Editing, however, needs a great deal of work.

 

A note on playback:

 

For a comparison of audio playback I imported the completed file from Sibelius back into Dorico. Dorico accurately imported all of the dynamic and articulation marks from the mxl file. There was one small problem with a repeat mark, which doesn’t otherwise affect the audio playback. In all other respects the two programs were reading the same information. Here is the score (generated in Sibelius):

 

 

 

 

Here it is in Dorico:

And here it is in Sibelius:

 

 

 

I think in all respects the differences in quality speak for themselves: Sibelius is by far the superior. Not only are the sounds themselves more convincing but Sibelius accurately reproduces articulation marks.

 

Initial conclusions 

 

So what are the takeaways from this first session with Dorico? First of all that the setup and general layout of the program is sensible and pleasing to the eye. My initial worries about the program dividing up tasks too much are drifting away—I think the five modes could work together pretty well, though I will need more time to make up my mind completely. The automated engraving shows great promise—I was very impressed with how cleanly Dorico imported an mxl file and then generated parts. This could be a real timesaver. On the downside, however, the editing tools are way below the standard needed for carrying out even quite basic work. The audio, too, is disappointing.

 

Is this a course for alarm? Not at all, as long as Steinberg continue developing the product, and I think we can be pretty confident that this will be the case. 

 

Here is Daniel Spreadbury answering some of my concerns from this initial post:

 

Q: Will Dorico be getting more accurate playback soon? For example, it doesn’t recognise articulation marks at the moment.

A: Yes, please see my recent blog post about the things we are working on for the 1.0.10 update, and its ETA:

 

http://blog.steinberg.net/2016/11/dorico-is-available-now-first-update-coming-november/

 

Q: Can I select one stave in a whole score and copy its contents to another stave?

A: Only by way of a marquee selection, which is obviously not ideal. You'd have to switch to galley view and zoom out to be able to make a suitable selection at the moment.

 

Q:. Can I isolate the top note or part on a stave and copy this alone?

A: As above – not easily (only if you can do it with a marquee selection at the moment), but improving the tools for selection is a high priority for the 1.0.10 update.

 

Whether you should buy it or not will depend on you want it to do and, especially, if you can find a use case where the program is plainly superior. On this first outing, I think it’s fair to say that we have a way to go. Still, so far we’ve only scratched the surface. Stay tuned for more thoughts…



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