“Beautiful, engaging, and wonderfully presented, The Orchestra is a joy.”£9.99
One of the great joys of reviewing apps is that every so often one comes along that is so brilliantly conceived, so well thought-out, and so beautifully executed that there’s little to be done other than revel in its glory and spend several happy hours in its company.
The Orchestra is one such app; whether you’re a classical music enthusiast or have little more than a passing interest, there’s something here for you.
The Orchestra comprises of eight pieces of music spanning a period from 1761 to 2009. Among the composers whose work is featured are household names such as Beethoven, Berlioz and Stravinsky. All eight pieces are conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen and performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra.
To launch the app and choose a piece of music is to immerse yourself in a world of violins, clarinets, and horns. In the default view, around two-thirds of the screen is occupied by a rolling curated score, which shows notation for only those instruments that are playing at any given time, and displays a picture of the instrument next to its notation. At the tap of a button, you can choose to display the full score. Tap another button and the text and notation size is reduced, so you can see every instrument on screen simultaneously. But that’s just the start.
Above the score are four more views. Three show video of the orchestra; one camera on the conductor and two more on different sections of the orchestra. The fourth view is a graphical representation of the orchestra, with coloured dots representing the instruments. Each section – be it brass, wind or strings – has its own colour, and the dots pulsate in time with the music being played by their section.
Tap on the dots and the score disappears, allowing the dots to occupy more of the screen. Tap again and the view is enlarged further. Tap a third time and it occupies the full-screen. Why do that? Because in the Beethoven piece, you can drag your finger over the dots to hear each section individually. To do the same for the other pieces, you’ll need to invest 69p each in an In-App Purchase, but it’s a small price to pay for a wonderful feature.
You can enlarge the video footage in the same way, so you could, if you wanted, fill the screen with footage of the conductor.
There are commentaries on each piece of music too, from both the conductor and the musicians. You can choose to listen to audio and hear Salonen or a musician discussing the piece. Helpfully, the musician whose voice is heard is named, along with the instrument he or she plays in the orchestra. Alternatively, you can choose to read subtitles while you listen to the music.
Finally, there’s a written history of each piece and its composer, along with video footage of Salonen discussing conducting the piece.
The Orchestra is a joy. Along with the sheer volume of content, navigation is simple enough to pick-up very quickly, and experimental tapping on the screen is richly rewarded.
You’ll need a pair of decent headphones or speakers to get the most from The Orchestra; the iPad’s own speakers just don’t do it justice.
Some may balk at the £9.99 asking price, others at the fact that there are ‘only’ eight pieces, and one or two will complain about the size of the download. In the face of what is a unique and wonderfully enjoyable app, we’d argue that those are churlish criticisms.
Whether you’re a classical music aficionado or have little more than a passing interest, The Orchestra will engross and delight in equal measure.
At a time when truly unique apps are becoming harder and harder to find, The Orchestra stands like a beacon, shining brilliantly in the winter gloom.