CHICAGO, August 18, 2014 – Apple recently treated the world to a stylized glimpse into the world of composer and conductor Esa Pekka Salonen, opening a window onto a musical world that most westerners are very unfamiliar with. On the heels of this smart and engaging campaign comes the “The Orchestra” app for the iPad by Touch Press. Packed with features, information, exciting imagery, and some of the greatest music ever written, it is a literal steal at just ten bucks.
An introduction to the orchestra, orchestration course, and multimedia experience all packed in to one, “The Orchestra” provides users with a plethora of options and customizable choices. From the opening screen, one can select the “sections and instruments” area, where every major instrument of the orchestra may be sampled. For instance, the user can select “Horn,” and come to a screen describing the instrument.
Displayed beneath the description are the tonal range of the instrument, several video samples from the repertoire (Debussy and Mahler respectively for this instrument), the instrument’s written range, and a keyboard displaying the instrument’s range. The keyboard is fully playable, allowing users to sample notes across the range of the instrument.
To the left of this area is a fully rotatable and zoom-able picture of the horn, beneath which sits principal hornist Katy Woolley, ready to give an engaging presentation on her instrument at just a tap.
For instruments without a definite pitch, such a certain percussion instruments, the menu options change slightly. The cymbals, for instance, present the same screenful of information, along with a ready presentation by percussionist David Corkhill. But instead of a playable keyboard, users are given buttons in order to sample loud and soft crashes, short crashes, dome strikes, and a rolled crescendo.
Users may also sample a selection of masterworks from across the history of the orchestra’s repertoire, beginning with Haydn and ending at Salonen’s own engaging Violin Concerto. As they listen to each work, performed by the dynamic Philharmonia Orchestra, users are presented with a scrolling abbreviated score that can be expanded into the full score at the touch of the button.
There are also numerous performer screens, allowing users to view the pre-recorded actions of the conductor, prominent sections, as well as a “light-show” style diagram of the orchestra, which highlights an instrumental section whenever it is playing.
Those who cannot read music can switch to a midi-style piano roll view, where small lines represent note lengths and pitch. Each work also includes written program notes and conductor and musician commentaries. For Salonen’s Violin concerto, there is also a full commentary from violinist Leila Josefowicz.
While an engaging music education tool for anybody seeking to learn more about the orchestra, even seasoned musicians will find things to enjoy in “The Orchestra” app. It’s fantastic for children as well: the author’s three year old son spent hours gleefully sampling percussion instruments, and repeatedly returns to watch the finale of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony while also beginning to explore other sections of the orchestra.
Not a tool for actual music composition but an excellent, in-depth introduction to the world of orchestral music, “The Orchestra” is accessible to virtually all age groups and packed with wonderful information. It may just be the best educational musical app yet created.
(Below: Philharmonia Orchestra’s brief preview video for “The Orchestra.”)
Rating: **** (4 out of 4 stars)