Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Orchestra App on iPad

The Orchestra is one of the coolest music, education, and entertainment applications I have ever seen. It is what multimedia was meant to be - an intimate exploration of 8 pieces of classical music, conducted and explained by Esa Pekka-Salonen, with the Philharmonia Orchestra. It is made specifically for the iPad and makes great use of the touch interface and the large screen.

Basically, there are 8 short pieces of classical music (most are excerpts), from Haydn to modern, played by the orchestra while the score scrolls and videos are shown of Salonen conducting and of sections of the orchestra. There is also a diagram of the orchestra where each active instrument "lights up." All of this is perfectly synchronized with the music, and is adjustable in various ways (e.g., piano roll display instead of music notation for the score).There is also optional commentary by the conductor and select orchestra players.

There are also brief video interviews with the conductor on special aspects of each piece, text information about the history of each piece, and a fantastic tour of all the orchestra instruments, with a brief video comment and demonstration of each one.

I enjoy a lot of classical music, but as a largely self-trained musician, I have often felt that I am missing a lot of what is going on. So i have sought out books and software to help me with this over the years. When CD-ROM arrived in the early 90's (pre-Internet), some of the first multimedia programs were musical explorations similar to this. I remember having one by Microsoft on Mozart's "Dissonance Quartet." That was good, but not nearly as interactive and instructive as this new app.

So far I've explored two of the pieces (Debussy and Haydn) and some of the orchestra and background features. There is much to see, do, and learn here.

Two small complaints. It's expensive by app standards at $13.99, but compared to a music CD or DVD, it is a fantastic bargain. There is so much artistry and work in this product. And with the exception of Debussy's brief but complete "Faun" prelude, all the pieces are excerpts. This is because as a self-contained app, all content must fit in 2 GB, the iOS app size limit (the app is 1.8 GB). They apparently made a choice to showcase multiple works from the 18th century to now, rather than choosing one complete work to analyze. I think that was the right choice. If you explore these excerpts, I think it will greatly increase your appreciation and understanding of the complete works, and of other music as well. I have already learned things I never knew about conducting and orchestral instruments.

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