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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Alternate Visions opera excerpts at Opera America a success

I attended, with librettist Genni Gunn and director Pauline Vaillancourt, the performance of an excerpt from our opera Alternate Visions on Friday night May 10 as part of the Opera America / conference "Opera Out of Bounds". The performance by the Vancouver Opera Young Artist Ensemble was great! Singing and acting were just perfect. They conveyed the characters, and the humour and pathos of the scene with great conviction and wonderful voices. Congratulations to all! We were very happy to hear the work in this conference context and to discover how well the piece works, even with just piano and singers. We haven't heard the work since the first performance in 2007. What a joy to find the material just as fresh six years later!

We can't help but observe that the stories chosen by the majority of creative teams are historical: few deal with contemporary situations and topics. Most operas also choose a love story at the core of the plot. We're no different in that respect. Ours is a love story, like many opera plots, but there's a difference between being entirely engaged in the situation of a story, such as happens when the context is contemporary, and feeling more like a spectator to a historical situation where the love component is the main thing that touches the audience. In the latter, the audience feels like they are being educated by the history and then they may be pulled in by the love story; in the former, the entire situation rings true and the audience is pulled in by every aspect of the production, ideally.

For more information about the Opera America Conference, visit their site.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Pyatt Recital Hall at Vancouver Symphony Orchestra School of Music a gem

On Sunday morning at 11 am I heard the excellent Oberon Guitar Trio perform a one-hour program of mostly Canadian new music at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra School of Music's Pyatt Recital Hall. This is by far the best-sounding recital hall for classical guitar in Vancouver. One can hear the complete dynamic range of the guitar; you can hear a pin drop. And when the flamenco techniques start up and the big chords come, they sound really big.

The Oberon played a perfect set. Their choice of music creates a wonderful flowing and satisfying program from beginning to end. Their Alice in Wonderland piece by Claude Gagnon is their signature piece, available on their "Music of Our Time" CD. They played it with verve. The new works by Nicolella and Sasquoia were welcome additions to the guitar repertoire, the Nicolella being particularly effective, with some hallucinogenic density-building chord progressions. The Beauvais was great too.

Not intending to write "a review" of the concert, I really wanted to emphasize how welcome the Pyatt Hall is to Vancouver for classical guitar and also to congratulate VSO School of Music Guitar department director (and excellent guitarist) Daniel Bolshoy on programming a great "Guitar Day" as part of MusicFest Vancouver. I wish I could have spent the whole day there to here fellow-guitarists Ed Henderson, Celso Machado, and Daniel (playing with another Vancouver treasure, cellist Ari Barnes), but 'twas not to be…

So look out Vancouver for more chamber music concerts at Pyatt Hall at the VSO School of Music.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Sibelius notation software: people plus code equals success

A little background on why I wrote an Open Letter to AVID about their plans for Sibelius software.

AVID had announced that they still fully supported Sibelius software, even though they were "letting go" of the staff in the UK that developed the code and has maintained a continuous and excellent dialogue with users (customers). In a second communication on their blog, titled "Dear Sibelius Community," AVID wanted to assuage criticism of their plans and reinforce their commitment to the software. Customers of the software, whose livelihoods depend on the excellent continued development of the software and the ongoing relationship with the developers, are very nervous the software that has enriched their creative work may lose its focus and excellence. Analysis and speculation by customers of the possible outcomes is widespread. 

I was particularly moved to write my previous blog entry (August 1) after reading the following comment written by John Murdoch  in response to the second communication referred to above, written by Martin Kloiber, VP, Product & Solutions, Audio, Avid Technology, Inc.

"… your balance sheet includes an entry for the value of the asset that is the source code to Sibelius 7 and related products. Your balance sheet does not reflect the value of the knowledge and memory of the software designers/developers who understand those lines of source code and all of the nuances of how they were developed. 

Want the bad news? Even though you count the source code as an asset, the real value is in the people. Lose them, and the source code is worthless. 

Don't believe me? Here's a list of software products that held overwhelmingly dominant market share: Ventura Publisher, WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3, Lotus Notes, dBase III, Paradox. What distinguishes them all? Each was acquired by a group of MBAs who bought the source code--but didn't keep the developers. And every single one of those products disappeared. (Call your colleagues at Corel--ask 'em how sales of Ventura Publisher and WordPerfect are doing.)

Not convinced? Try a thought experiment. Name a single significant software product where the original source code was handed over to a third-party out-sourcer to continue development that actually worked. 

Yeah. None."

Read the original post and comments here:

In my view, these concerns are expressed convincingly and AVID would do well to address the concerns raised.

John Oliver

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Open Letter to AVID, parent company of Sibelius

An Open Letter to the board of directors of AVID, the parent company that owns Sibelius music notation software.

Dear AVID Board of Directors,

My name is John Oliver. I am a professional freelance composer. I have been commissioned to write music for the Canadian Opera Company, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, National Arts Centre Orchestra, St. Lawrence String Quartet, and others. I have been using computer music notation software since 1989.

Your dismissal of the Sibelius software development and support team from Finsbury Park UK, and your lack of appropriate response to the outpouring of complaints from Sibelius customers sends a message to me that you do not have plans to continue the investment of time, energy and imagination to keep this software great.

By displaying a lack of interest in the thoughful and mindful shepherding of Sibelius software into the future, you do a great disservice to professional, educational, and amateur music makers around the world.

Here is the impact that your decision will have on me. I came to rely on Sibelius software for all of my professional notation work about a decade ago, after holding out with Logic Pro for over a decade, and rejecting Finale because it seemed to be designed for publishers, rather than composers. In 1989 I bought my first computer, an ATARI STe, and used "NotatorSL", the precursor to Logic Audio and Logic Pro software on the Apple Mac computer. I used the notation component of that software to write my first opera, as well as all my music in the 1990s, including 4 symphonies and three concertos. I innovated a number of specialized workarounds to get the notation I needed. When Apple bought Logic Audio in 2002, the very first thing they did was to focus on audio production; the notation component became stagnant. Where Logic had become too limited in its possibilities, Finale software was aggravating in the workflow and interface design. All that changed with Sibelius.

As soon as I adopted Sibelius, writing music became almost as easy to get from the imagination to the music paper as in the past with pencil on paper. Sibelius offered me, as a professional composer, the means to create professional materials with ease, yet with sophistication and depth. The software developers clearly understand the needs of professional composers and publishers and, significantly, designed their software so that both composers and publishers could concentrate on their respective tasks with the software. Sibelius allows for the best workflow, version management, score development, intelligent layout, professional delivery of parts to orchestras with easy replacement of parts when changes are made during rehearsals, incredible plugin architecture and community of developers who have contributed much-loved additions to Sibelius (notably Bob Zawalich).

But it's not just the software alone that I admire and that keeps me using it as the principal tool for music writing. The presence of Daniel Spreadbury and other experts on the Sibelius Forum, who were always there to help with issues that would arise with this very complex software, kept my faith and kept me upgrading. When an issue was a serious one, Daniel would always respond in a timely fashion with depth of knowledge and customer service that was astonishing in content and excellence.

Due to this combination of excellence in programming and customer support, I have been a vocal advocate of Sibelius software since I began using it. Sibelius is the core software that enables me to maintain the highest standards of excellence in my own professional work as a composer.

When AVID attacks the very foundation of Sibelius software success - the combination of excellent programming and stellar customer support - I feel as though AVID is attacking my profession.

I urge the AVID Board of Directors to consider the serious negative impact your decisions around firing the staff at Finsbury Park will have on thousands of professional lives, the customers of your software. I am not alone in informing you that my own faith in Sibelius software disappears with the staff who have been let go. I will no longer be able to recommend Sibelius software to my friends and colleagues. I will not purchase any more upgrades because I do not believe that your decision will result in the coherent continued development of Sibelius.

To maintain any position of respect in the field of professional music, AVID would do well to consider the impact of their decisions on the professions that they service with their products. As a corporate strategy, I can see no financial long-term success resulting from the current plan with regard to Sibelius software. If anything, your blatant disregard for an entire professional sector cannot bode well for your repectability in other sectors. The music producers in Hollywood will not be happy with the grumblings of the composers and arrangers coming in to a recording session with ProTools.

There are only two courses of action that would restore my dedication to Sibelius software:

1] reinstate the design and support team in the UK;
2] sell the software back to the Finn brothers or, failing that, to consider any public offer that serves the interests of music in art and education, and to do so before the development team have all gone to other employment.

Sincerely yours,

John Oliver, D. Mus.
past Composer-in-Residence: Canadian Opera Company, Vancouver Opera, Windsor Canadian Music Festival, Music in the Morning.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

John Oliver explains the spirit behind his 9/11 composition Give Us Peace.

After reading this Nation of Change article, I felt a need to explain the reasoning behind my own 9/11 musical composition.

I just want to clarify, for those who may not know, that the CBC commissioned a piece from me to commemorate the 1st anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It is called "Give Us Peace." It is a work composed entirely of sampled and prerecorded sounds (an electroacoustic work). I created the work to memorialize those who lost their lives on that day. But I believed that these attacks were a criminal act and should be investigated. I never believed that these events could justify the declaration by the United States of war against any country. As I began to read about the science behind what happened at the World Trade Center, I became suspicious of the entire event. Nothing to date has convinced me that the World Trade Center buildings fell because they were hit by aircraft. Building 7 was not hit by any aircraft at all, but it fell to the ground in a controlled demolition on that day. So for those who disapprove of any work of art that considers anything to do with 9/11 and are suspicious of the motivation of the creators of such work, I simply want to clarify that my creation of the musical composition "Give Us Peace" was a genuine attempt to comfort those who feel injured in body or spirit by the events of that day.

You can listen to an excerpt from the piece here. Some may find the opening of the piece disturbing. (An association with Edvard Munch's panting The Scream is appropriate.) I certainly found the events themselves disturbing, as I did most of the ideas and actions that emerged in United States foreign policy during the year after the events.

Friday, April 29, 2011

BP daily dose

British        monarchy

Iraqi        cradle

Tar        nicotine

Fish        net

Take        all

© Copyright 2010 John Oliver

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pumpin Oil premiere set for this Friday February 25th in Long Island City

What a crazy world! We're all so connected through computers these days. In October 2009 I received an email message from an ensemble whose email list I had signed onto that said:

Dear Friend,

We are thingNY, a collective of composer-instrumentalists based in New York City. On Saturday, December 19, 2009, we will be presenting a concert called SPAM, based on responses we get to this very email. Congratulations! If you're reading this email, you've been selected to write us some music - even if you've never written music before. It could be a few words, a notated score, a set of instructions, a drawing, a video of your dog, your favorite photo of Leonard Nimoy, or anything else you can imagine. It could even be something that takes a second or two to perform. 

I thought "that's a cool idea" and promptly forgot about it. Then a reminder message came two days before the deadline and I just sat down and created CLIMATE CHANGE in a matter of 6 hours. And sure enough, thingNY selected and performed the piece. (It went on to be performed again by thingNY, and more recently by the Swedish group ARS NOVA.)

So when the second call came for SPAM V. 2.0, I just sat down and created another theatrical piece, this time called PUMPIN' OIL. You can imagine what that's about…

Creative minds the world over are coming up with great events and find unique ways of generating new music and programming. Kudos to thingNY for inspiring composers of all ages from around the world to contribute to this cabaret-style event. 

Date: 2011-02-25
LaGuardia Performing Arts Center 
31-10 Thomson Ave
Long Island City, NY 11101 US
(718) 482-5151