Category Archives: Technical

Launch of new-look website

Members at today’s music session got a live preview of the re-designed web site I’ve been working on over the past few weeks. The original site design has served us well for several years, but had become rather tired and old and out-of-date. I’ve been thinking of a re-design for a while, and decided at the beginning of the month that it would be appropriate to have it up and running for the new year.

Front Page

The image above shows the new home (Schedule) page. It’s dramatically different in appearance, but there are also some refinements above and beyond what was there before. For starters, I’ve added a list of each month’s anniversary dates for ease of reference. Also, there’s a new What’s On section which pops up from the bottom of the page, as shown below.

What's On popup

The functionality of this page remains the same as members are accustomed to: mouse over the JAN, FEB, MAR … list to view the schedule for each month, now including that month’s anniversary dates. Also as before, the Schedule page will default to display the current month as the year progresses.

These changes are not merely cosmetic: The new implementation makes updating much easier and quicker than it has been, and it will even be possible for someone other than the webmaster to make changes online. This will be thanks to a shift away from our present hosting providers, who didn’t really cover themselves in glory during the recent hacking experience. The new-look site will be hosted by Adobe as part of my monthly subscription to their Creative Cloud. The annual collection will go towards offsetting part of this subscription rather than meeting our present-day hosting costs. There will be an overlap period during which the old site will continue to be hosted as before, and some of the new pages will link back to there. This is necessary because I still need to implement a tie-in between the Presentations database and the web-design software I’ve used for the new look, and it will take some time to sort out the technical problems involved. The link will be seamless however, and members will be presented in the interim with the Presentations information in the way they’ve been used to.

There will also be a cross-over period with regard to the photo galleries of the group trips abroad during the time it takes for me to change all the galleries to the new approach demonstrated on the pages for Paris 2001 and Berlin 2010.

I welcome feedback about the re-design. To be able to do that, though, you need to know where to find it. So here’s the link to the new web location.

Further progress with weblog rescue

Things are looking up on the weblog front. We will unfortunately have to do without images and photos and the like which were originally part of some entries (thanks to Mr Hacker and his deletion spree), but I’ve now managed to get the weblog system to talk to the existing database. That means that all our content is still available to view and search and comment on.

I’ll work through those entires which are showing ugly spaces where photos/images should be, and I’ll tidy these up. After that, I’ll see what I can do about sourcing a more interesting and colourful theme (hopefully one which will tie in with the rest of our web site).

Almost a rescue

Our nasty-minded hacking visitor made things extremely difficult for me when it came to rescuing our weblog.

He rather beat me to the punch and was busily deleting material while I was trying to copy it to my hard drive. So what survives is rather lacking in photos and other images, and I’ve had to use a different look to be able to make sense of the existing posts.

At any rate, there’s something back here now for you to turn to. I haven’t had time to go through all the posts to see which ones are affected by yer man’s antics. At this stage I was mainly concerned about having a tidy first page for you to ooh and aah over — and even at that there’s some basic functionality missing, for which I apologise.

Back again!

I couldn’t believe it three weeks ago when I opened our weblog and saw that we’d been hacked by some sniveling ne’er-do-wells in Saudi Arabia. Like I said in the email I circulated at the time, I cannot understand the mentality of people who do this sort of thing. I put them in the same boat as the useless little gurriers who deface buildings with their graffiti and their tagging nonsense. A good dose of the birch or the cat-o’-nine-tails — that’d do them good, I reckon (but then again I’m probably not supposed to advocate that sort of thing in these nanny-state times).

Anyway, enough of the Grumpy Old Man rant. I’ve now managed to sort out the problem, and our Weblog is back up and running, fit and hale and hearty again. Those of you familiar with how things were before the ****ing hackers got their filthy little paws on it will immediately notice that things look very different. This is because, as part of the recovery process, I upgraded the WordPress software which does all the magic to the latest version, and the theme we used to have is no longer supported by the latest WordPress. Anyway, perhaps the new look can be seen as a new beginning — and let’s hope the ****ing hackers leave us alone this time.

One final word of warning: the new version of WordPress is like a new toy that I’ve been given to play with, so it’s more than likely that I’ll be tweaking the Weblog from time to time, refining the look and adding changes and improvements. Indeed, there’s every likelihood that the basic look will change again — but I promise I’ll warn you when and if it does.

Downloads, downloads, downloads

I am fully aware that I’m ploughing a lonely furrow about all this, but I’ll keep plugging away nonetheless just in case there may be some conversions, in which case there will at least be some information here in a readily accessible place. Anyway, the reason for yet another blog entry about musical downloads is that, hot on the heels of the last one, two much-admired recording labels have joined the fray and are now offering their catalogues as downloads.

The first (within days of my discovery of Qobuz) is Hyperion the great British independent label. Visiting this site has long been part of my download experience anyway, since Hyperion already provided the best background details about their recordings of any label, including full booklet notes downloadable as PDFs. So I would combine an iTunes download of a Hyperion album with a visit here to obtain the booklet. Now, without any hype or any flashing banners on the site, simply by a restrained addition of a new menu item and an option to ‘Show download options’, Hyperion has become a one-stop shop — and an excellent one.

As I said, the Hyperion site was already a good one, remarkable for its attention to detail and its inclusion of much more information than is usual, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that they’d do something special when they decided to provide a download service. This is most certainly what they have done: do something special. For starters, they provide both MP3s and lossless versions to download. The lossless format is FLAC, an open-source, lossless encoding method which reduces file size but still reproduces true CD-quality sound when played back. Providing lossless files is becoming more and more the norm at download sites, but what’s very, very different about Hyperion’s approach is that they provide the lossless version at no extra cost. This is a big thing! (I’m still glad to have found Qobuz, but things have become less attractive there since the end of their special offer which made lossless downloads available for the same price as MP3s. Whereas both download qualities were previously available for €9.99, the price of a standard lossless download at Qobuz has now increased to €12.99!)

But a surprisingly generous pricing policy is not the only thing which is good about Hyperion’s implementation of downloading. Every aspect is well thought out, very user-friendly, and excellently done. A nice touch is that three levels of download are available: (1) complete album; (2) complete works within an album (e.g. on a CD consisting of, say, a number of string quartets, each quartet is available to download as a separate entity); and (3) individual tracks. Finally, Hyperion already offered bulk discounts on purchases of physical CDs, and they have extended this to downloads also. The bottom line is that I will no longer use iTunes for my Hyperion downloads. From now on it’s straight to the mother ship!

The second label to recently join the download band-wagon is Dacapo Records. This is another site which has long been on my bookmarked list, one which I visit at least once a month to check new releases. My most recent visit was last night, and that’s when I discovered that Dacapo have also launched a download facility. They’ve done it much more dramatically than Hyperion did, with a completely re-designed site immediately signaling that something has changed. It took me a moment to realise what the change was, but once I did I spent far too long browsing and then far too much adding things to my virtual basket and finally pressing the Buy button.

I have to say, though, that I can’t see myself buying much direct from Dacapo. Their pricing policy is a bit crazy, quite frankly. As with Hyperion and Qobuz, Dacapo offer their downloads in alternative formats. As well as MP3s, they provide CD-quality lossless, and in some cases also go one step further and include what is becoming known as Studio Master quality (basically, the original digital files from which their CDs are produced: these are better than CD quality, but are also sunstantially larger files than either MP3 or CD-quality lossless). This is where the problem arises. Dacapo immediately get off on the wrong foot by asking €11 for an MP3 download of a single album, as opposed to the €9.99 which has more or less become the industry standard thanks to iTunes. Unlike the wonderful guys at Hyperion, Dacapo then pile insult on injury and ask higher prices for the other formats: €14 for CD-quality lossless, and a whopping €20 for Studio Master!

Dacapo’s download facility was launched at the beginning of December, and they’re celebrating with a range of special offers during December — all downloads are half price for the entire month, and there is also a 3-for-the-price-of-2 promotion which applies right across the shop, whether Downloads, CDs, DVDs, SACDs or Boxed Sets. It is only because of the half-price promotion that I added some stuff to my basket and pushed that dreaded Buy button. As I said, I doubt I’ll make a habit of buying here, especially when most of the Dacapo catalogue is available in the iTunes Store. I’ll still check out the site for new releases and to obtain the liner notes which are now being provided for the first time. Still, even if Dacapo have decided to price themselves out of the market, the very fact that they’ve joined the download bandwagon is significant.

Concertgebouw Orchestra offers free downloads

In honor of Bernard Haitink’s 80th birthday, the Dutch broadcast networks AVRO and Radio 4 are offering free downloads of the conductor leading the Royal Concertgeobouw Orchestra. Each weekday from March 9 to 15, one recording will be available at www.radio4.nl. (Repertoire has not yet been announced.)

Being the download junkie that I am, naturally I followed that link straight away to find out more (the link, incidentally, brings up a Google translation of a Netherlands Radio 4 news item — not a bad translation, as it happens, and certainly good enough to get the message across).

I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve marked this on my calendar and I’ll definitely follow it up. If you follow that link above you’ll find a further link which explains that this is the second time for Radio 4 to offer free downloads. At the end of last year they gave away a series of ten live Symphony recordings by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra to celebrate their (the orchestra’s) 120th Anniversary. More than 600,000 downloads resulted. Of course, I downloaded all ten, and I’m really glad I did, since it’s a bit of a treasure trove of fine conducting and orchestral playing. The earliest recording is of a 1979 performance of Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ Symphony led by Kiril Kondrashin. The others are: Mahler 1 (Bernstein, 1987), Dvorak 8 (Giulini, 1990), Schubert ‘Unfinished’ (Harnoncourt, 1997), Beethoven 2, Brahms 2, Franck Symphony in D minor (Jansons, 2004), Saint-Saëns ‘Organ’ Symphony (Myung-Whun Chung, 2005), Bruckner 8 (Haitink, 2005), and Sibelius 2 (Jansons, 2005). I haven’t had time to listen to everything yet, but what I have heard is pretty wonderful (highlights so far have been the Bruckner and the Sibelius).

Anyway, I know I’m pretty much out on a limb when it comes to music downloads like this, but at least you can’t say you haven’t been told. One thing to be aware of if anyone does decide to hop on the download wagon: you first need to register with the Radio 4 site in order to download anything.

Berlin Philharmonic goes hi-tech

The Berliner Philharmoniker is one of the world’s greatest orchestras. But for the world to experience it live has – until now – required a visit to its home in Berlin or a trip to one of its tour venues. Beginning on 18 December 2008, there will be another way: the Digital Concert Hall. This new internet platform will enable music fans all over the world to see and hear the Philharmonic’s concerts – live or on demand.

Thanks to state-of-the-art technology, which guarantees optimal picture and sound quality, and thanks to the generous support of Deutsche Bank, it has been possible to realize this unique, innovative project. Since the beginning of the 2008/2009 season, top-flight video directors and recording engineers have been filming all of the Berliner Philharmoniker’s appearances with high-definition cameras. These concerts will be available either as a live stream or as video-on-demand. The offering will be accompanied by documentation of the orchestra at work. A newsletter, to which you can already subscribe, will keep you informed with latest news and important new developments.

On 6 January 2009, the Berliner Philharmoniker under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle will make their live debut in the new Digital Concert Hall – with works by Antonín Dvo?ák and Johannes Brahms. But the Digital Concert Hall is already open to all interested music lovers. The way to get there is through this website. The red “Live” button on the Home page is your “door opener”. The Berliner Philharmoniker will then be right there. Anywhere. Anytime.

That’s the blurb on the Berlin Philharmonic’s web site. I’ve checked it out, and must say that it all looks very promising. I’ve registered so that I’ll be in there ready and waiting when the first live concert is on offer on 6th January. In the mean time, some concerts recorded in November are already on offer in the Archive section which I may well check out.

As the blurb mentions, there’s a big red button on the BPO’s home page which leads to the Digital Concert Hall, or you can bypass all that and use this link instead. Happy exploring, and happy viewing.

Met Opera putting audio and video online

The Metropolitan Opera plans to introduce an online service providing video and audio recordings of its operas. The service, Met Player, is scheduled to begin on Oct. 22. It will allow users to hear 120 audio recordings and watch 50 full-length operas collected from the Met’s archives, with more to be added in subsequent months. For a monthly subscription fee of $14.99 or an annual cost of $149.99, users will have access to the entire service. Individual videos and audio recordings can also be streamed for small fees. A preview of the service is available at metplayer.org/preview.

I’ve tested the preview and it looks pretty amazing, especially full-screen. You’ll need to install MetPlayer first, but this shouldn’t cause any headaches. I did find that it was happier with the Firefox browser than with Safari, which is the standard for the Mac. The actual preview consists of a six-minute video showing bits from several Met productions (some with the most amazing staging — watch out for Tan Dun’s The First Emperor!).

Refinement to web site

I’m repeating here what I’ve already notified by email, just so there’s somewhere permanent where the info can be accessed.

I’ve added a refinement to the Presentations section of the Music Group web site. What this does is isolate our Concert programmes from the normal presentations, so that they can be viewed separately.

To see this in action,

1. Open the web site at http://dublinmusicgroup.com
2. Select the ‘Presentations’ item
3. Select ‘Presenter’ from the ‘View by’ options on the right-hand side
4. Click on the dropdown menu (where it says ‘Most recent’)
5. Select the newly-added item ‘Concerts’ from the menu list

6. Sit back in amazement as the screen displays only the Concert programmes (most recent first).

Okay, it isn’t ideal, since it probably isn’t immediately obvious that you need to look under Presentations > View by Presenter in order to find Concert details, but this approach was the easiest to implement, and I’m afraid I settled for the easy option.

I still don’t much care for the narrowness of the Comment column which details who chose what, but improving that is another day’s work. For now, having this information conveniently at hand will hopefully prove to be a helpful reference for future Concert impresarios.

Weblog problems

OK, so I’ve worked out a stopgap way of returning functionality to our weblog. Things are working fine again as a result, and all posts, comments and pages can be accessed once again.

What has changed, though (as the observant among you have no doubt already spotted), is that the actual web addresses which control this access are different from what they were before. Because of this, I won’t provide direct links to specific weblog posts in any emails until the problem is resolved on our hosting provider’s server. I’ll keep an eye on things and let you all know when things are fully back to normal.

UPDATE, 3rd September, 9.00 pm:  Well, I take back some of my criticism of our hosting provider. They seem to have sorted out the problem which was affecting our weblog. We’re now back to normal.