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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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2 Nov  

On 19th October Steinberg released the first version of its scorewriting software Dorico. This is an event of huge significance, since it promises to give professional composers, engravers and educators a workable alternative to Sibelius and Finale. Of the two, however, my guess is that Avid’s Sibelius has most to fear. Avid purchased the software in 2006, but in 2012 closed the London office where Sibelius was developed, an action that alienated many users. Avid has continued to develop the software, though at a noticeably slower rate than before, the Sibelius 8 update being very thin, especially for Mac users unable to benefit from new touchscreen features. Happily the core of the fired Sibelius London team were hired by Steinberg and given the task of building a new score writing package, which eventually became Dorico.

 

Dorico’s main difference as compared to Sibelius is that it separates five stages of music engraving into setup, writing, engraving, playing and printing. This is a novel approach that, I can imagine, will have both advantages and disadvantages. There is, of course, a certain amount of separation in Sibelius, especially as regards the setup and printing elements. But the core functionalies—writing, engraving and playing—occur in the same place, an approach that feels pleasingly unified. The danger then is that these elements will become too separated. I think, for example, many composers will want to listen to a score in the same place as where they are writing it, not flip to a graphic representation of it.

 

Despite this, a level of separation could have advantages. A dedicated playback screen might give much better granular control over how a score sounds, without having to resort to adding cumbersome text commands into the score itself. And, when it comes to parts, better separation without complete disconnection (i.e. extracting parts) is long overdue—it’s too often the case that in Sibelius altering either part or score has a deleterious affect on the other. And apart from the general workflow, there are also things that Dorico can do that are not available in Sibelius. For example, it is possible to enter notes into a score without barlines. Anyone who has tried typesetting more advanced contemporary music, which often requires a good deal of preplanning and the creation and hiding of bizarre time signatures, will be able to appreciate how this might be advantageous.

 

Steinberg have been at pains to point out that Dorico is a work in progress, whilst saying that its critical mass of useful features means that it is ready for release. Surveying the list of exactly what is missing one wonders whether Steinberg would have done better to have waited a little longer—there are no chord symbols, volta brackets, piano pedalling, cues, fingering and, unbelievably, transposition. This has led some to suggest that Dorico might better be described as beta software. So why buy it?

 

Well, first of all, if you are a Sibelius or Finale user Steinberg are offering time-limited ‘crossgrades’, that is you can pick up the software for a reduced price. The full version of the software is €559, the cross grade €279, less if you are an educational user. Whilst this sounds like good value, it looks less generous when you consider that Avid offers a non time-limited crossgrade from four different programs for just $199. And that is for a mature piece of software. Steinberg has, however, promised that updates to the software will come swiftly. Here, indeed, lies the most compelling argument for getting on board with Dorico.

 

In Sibelius’s early days there was a considerable level of interaction between the development team and its user base. Not only was it relatively easy to get support, but one sensed that the team listened to and implemented requests from users for forthcoming releases. The Dorico team, fronted by the extremely affable Daniel Spreadbury, give the impression of being keen to listen to feedback from users, and keen to tackle the problems that lie ahead. In this sense one feels that this has the potential to mature quickly into a compelling piece of software. 

 

Whatever the future of Dorico its mere presence in the market is a positive development. Competition leads to improvement. And with Dorico snapping at the heels of other software packages it will force the competition to keep developing. 

 

Some useful links

 

A full review of Dorico

 

Dorico Website

 

Daniel Spreadbury’s Blog, Making Notes

 

Dorico in a Minute, 12th October

Dorico Preview Video with Daniel Spreadbury, September 27th

A much fuller presentation, May 19th



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26 Oct  

I have already posted summaries of two major festivals in November: the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and Wien Modern. Another worth checking is the Cambridge Music Festival in the UK (8th–24th). It includes a Steve Reich at 80 concert on 8th, with the composer in attendance; music for cello by John Metcalfe, Nitin Sawhey and Joby Talbot on 11th; and the keyboard sextet Piano Circus play works by Steve Reich, Julia Wolfe and Graham Fitkin on 18th. 

 

Talking of Reich at 80, there is also a major event dedicated to his birthday celebrations at the Barbican on 5th and 6th. There will be a video installation responding to his work Tehillim (1981), a lecture by Alex Ross, several concerts and an open rehearsal and talks with the LSO. Some of these events are already sold out, so don’t hang about.

 

Also at the Barbican, London on 27th is a BBC Total Immersion Day dedicated to the music of Richard Rodney Bennett, who died in 2012. The day begins with a film, Murder on the Orient Express, for which Rodney Bennett provided the music, at 10.30; chamber music performed by student from Guildhall School at 1.15; a talk at 3pm; a concert of orchestral music at at 4.30 that will include a world premiere; Jazz in the Foyer at 6pm; and an evening concert featuring vocal music and a performance of his Third Symphony. 

 

Premieres to look forward to this coming month include, at the CBSO Centre on 11th, Kevin Volans’ String Quartet No. 12 and Piano Concerto No. 4 played by the Signum Quartet and Barry Douglas (piano); Philip Moore’s Requiem on 18th at St. Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge with the BBC Singers; Alexander Goehr’s Manere 1, 2, 3 played by Ensemble Modern at Wigmore Hall on 25th; and, also at Wigmore Hall, the following day the Arditti Quartet give the first performance of Hanna Kelunty’s String Quartet No.6. There is also one major European premiere at the Barbican on 28th: a concert performance of Gerald Barry’s opera Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. Barry views this as the ‘next logical step’ following his brilliant The Importance of Being Earnest. It will be performed by the Britten Sinfonia, with Barbara Hannigan as Alice and Thomas Adès conducting.



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25 Oct  

Congratutations to all the composers shortlisted in this year's British Composer Awards, the full list being available here. And, I hope he doesn't mind me saying, a special mention for CT's very own David Bruce, who is shortlisted in the stage category for his opera Nothing alongside Harrison Birtwistle and Tansy Davies. Bravo!



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25 Oct  

You can now follow C:T on Twitter! Just follow this link, or search for our Twitter handle: @compCTtoday. We'll be tweeting stories from C:T, other arts news and promoting the work of our members. Be sure to follow us so we can follow you back and help to promote your work! 

Can you, by the way, name all the composers in our Twitter profile picture (above)?



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23 Oct  

A sequel to the 'I had the time of my life' spoof of the second presidential debate, Danny Elfman adds a rather more sinister backing track...



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23 Oct  

Something a bit different for half term. If you are in the area, why not pop along to the Manchester Science Festival (ends 30th October), where a robot orchestra will be performing alongside human musicians. And on Wednesday is the chance to hear a Concerto for Flute and Robots by Camden Reeves. It will be played three times throughout the day, with the composer introducing it in the afternoon performances. The event is designed for children and is free to attend.



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22 Oct  

Conductor Martyn Brabbins has just been appointed Music Director at ENO, the latest attempt to stabilise the troubled opera company (for more thoughts on this from me, see here).

 

From the ENO website:

 

English National Opera (ENO) has today, 21 October 2016, announced that British conductor Martyn Brabbins will become Music Director of the Company with immediate effect.

 

An inspirational force in British music, Martyn Brabbins has had a busy opera career since his early days at the Kirov and more recently at La Scala, the BayerischeStaatsoper, Lyon, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Antwerp. He is a popular figure at the BBC Proms and with many of the leading British orchestras, and regularly conducts top international orchestras, returning to the Royal Concertgebouw, Tokyo Metropolitan and Deutsche Sinfonieorchester Berlin this season.

 

Known for his advocacy of British composers, he has conducted hundreds of world premieres across the globe. He has recorded over 120 CDs to date, including prize-winning discs of operas by Korngold, Birtwistle and Harvey. He was Associate Principal Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra 1994-2005, Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Flemish Philharmonic 2009-2015, Chief Conductor of the Nagoya Philharmonic 2012-2016, and Artistic Director of the Cheltenham International Festival of Music 2005-2007. He has this season taken up a new position as Visiting Professor at the Royal College of Music.

 

The appointment runs until August 2020, and Brabbins will plan the 18/19 and 19/20 seasons together with ENO’s Artistic Director, Daniel Kramer. We are delighted that he will already be able to conduct one opera production (title to be announced) in 2017/8.

 

Martyn Brabbins joins English National Opera’s Artistic Director Daniel Kramer and CEO Cressida Pollock to complete the Company’s Executive Team. The appointment was made following a review of all available talent by a panel led by ENO Artistic Director Daniel Kramer, supported by ENO’s Orchestra, Chorus and Senior Management Team.



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22 Oct  

The programme for the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, summarised by Artistic Director Graham McKenzie:

 

This year’s Festival is undoubtedly characterised by the bringing together of often quite disparate forces, to create new sounds, new experiences, and new approaches to music making. Perhaps this is best evidenced in the pairing of roaring saxophonist, and the founding father of European free improvisation, Peter Brötzmann, with German new music supergroup Ensemble Musikfabrik. Elsewhere, avant-garde composer and  lmmaker Jennifer Walshe leads the dance with the renowned Arditti Quartet, while Claudia Molitor continues to offer new insights into the creative process, and non-conventional approaches to composition – creating large-scale works, rich in layers and depth – often constructed from fragments of sound. Equally inventive yet surprising is American saxophonist Colin Stetson’s re-imagining of Gorecki’s classic Symphony No 3 – drawing on noise, drone and even dark metal to transform, and provide fresh insights to a heralded masterpiece.


The true purpose behind these musical experiments of course is to continue to push boundaries, to break down barriers, and (mis)conceptions about music. American critic Ben Ratliff in his recent book Every Song Ever writes ‘What does it mean to listen in the digital era? Today, new technologies make it possible to roam instantly and experimentally across musical languages and generations, from Detroit techno to jam bands to baroque opera. As familiar subdivisions like “rock” and “jazz” matter less and less and music’s accessible past becomes longer and broader, listeners can put aside the intentions of composers and musicians and engage music afresh, on their own terms’.

 

I am also pleased to welcome Georg Friedrich Haas to Huddersfield as this year’s Composer in Residence. Anyone who was present at the UK premiere of in vain (hcmf// 2013) could not fail to be profoundly and deeply affected by the sheer power and force of this music. Now based in New York to take up a position at Columbia, Haas is artistically at the height of his powers. Yet, unlike many of his contemporaries, his academic position has not turned his artistic practice to look inwards – but rather the opposite – to reach out and engage with the very real issues facing the world today. This is certainly true of the works he brings to Hudders eld. Hyena deals with the trauma of addiction, with a powerful text and performance by Mollena Lee Williams-Haas, while I can’t breathe is the composer’s response to a Black Lives Matter march going past his  at, in memory of Eric Garner, and in solidarity with the protesters.



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