[sticky post] Love you for ever, LJ

Oct. 1st, 2012 | 02:23 pm
location: New York NY
music: Love Me Do

Dear friends on LJ (or ЖЖ), 

I've decided to move this blog to my newly redesigned website.
You can now continue following and commenting at http://Ljova.com/blog
All of the entries and comments have been migrated there.

Speak with you soon!


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Selling Out (second-guessing the audience)

Aug. 6th, 2012 | 06:54 pm
location: Upper Best Side

Last week, I took part in two events which featured my music, and did not sell out to capacity.

The first event - a 10pm concert by the Montréal-based string quartet Warhol Dervish, at the University of Toronto, featured my music, as well as pieces by Nico Muhly and Richard Reed Parry (of Arcade Fire).  Tickets were $26-31 (Canadian dollars), and included free food -- drinks could be purchased separately.

Earlier in the evening in Toronto, as part of the same festival, I caught an exceptional concert by The Nash Ensemble, featuring the chamber music of Franck, Ravel and Debussy.  It was a brilliant performance, and illustrated plainly just how much French music grew between Franck's time and Ravel's, how deeply the younger composers were influenced by jazz and gamelan music.   That concert was almost sold out, and received a standing ovation. Tickets were $26-54. The reasons behind an underwhelming turnout at the Warhol Dervish show were largely organizational -- I would rather not get into it now..

But two days later, my ensemble Ljova and the Kontraband played a show on Brighton Beach, at the Shorefront Y. Tickets were $17-25, and we were probably 50% sold, in a hall that seats 250.   In this case, everything was done excellently to maximize publicity -- there were posters and flyers plastered all over the venue, in English and Russian, and I made an appearance on Russian Television to speak about my work and plug the show. A video of our performance was shown at an earlier concert on this series, and there were videos on their website as well. There was a Facebook invite for the show, sent out to 2,000 people. (Did you RSVP?)  True, it was a 6pm show, on a Sunday evening. You can blame the start time, the weather, the location... however, in this case, I am more inclined to blame the appeal of our music to the community.

But should this count as my own failure?
-- Is it that I've failed to help promote this event? (No -- I emailed & tweeted about it as much a I could.)
-- Is it that I'm not well known enough in the NY Russian community? (Not really -- many Russians came out to our performances at Lincoln Center & Joe's Pub.)
-- Is it the price of tickets? (Possibly. Though if I were a bigger celebrity, ticket prices would never be a question.)

Could it be the music itself?  Should I learn from this, and change the music we play, to be more immediately appealing to audiences, from the poster or the description? Heart says no.

Ljova and the Kontraband has performed for a variety of audiences, as part of contemporary classical, world, Jewish, jazz and folk festivals, and as part of the Sundance Film Festival @BAM.  We've played on stage with films, dancers, and other wonderful collaborators. I feel that our music is a healthy blend of entertaining and innovative, blending elements from tango & Gypsy music with free improvisation, classical counterpoint and an intimate vibe.     By no means is this a checklist -- it's just a point of departure.

I fully realize that what we do is not classical enough, jazzy enough, avant, worldly or folky enough to satisfy any hardcore genre fanbase or funding criteria. We do not aspire to be "the future of" anything, but merely the reflection of where we are now as musicians, as a sound, as a set of hearts. If we have played at such diverse venues and festivals, it is all a testament to the many courageous curators who have booked us and took a chance.  (If there is anyone to single out, it is without question Bill Bragin, at Lincoln Center, who has championed our music strongest, from the very beginning.)

Sure, it would help if we played more covers, or I wrote more overtly Klezmer- or Tango-inspired fare, if we wore suits, or -- then again -- really hot jeans. 

The truth of it is that we do not actually serve the audience, or the box office, but the music itself.  The muses, their magic, and our evolution at their mercy.  I know this may sound arrogant, somewhat like a copout, like I've learned nothing from the experience, or that I don't take responsibility for the success of my own music. But it's the strongest defense I can give as a composer leading his own band.  It may be different for ensembles led by performers, those who choose to specialize in a particular genre or repertoire..

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Save Sibelius

Jul. 24th, 2012 | 10:47 am

Dear Avid,

My name is Lev Zhurbin, and I am a New York-based composer and performer.

Over the last decade, I have worked extensively with the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, the Kronos Quartet,  the rapper Jay-Z, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, as well as many independent musicians and filmmakers and people less well familiar.   

I have been using Sibelius since version 1, and am deeply disappointed to hear that future development has been halted.  The software has been a life saver for my music, my career, and the projects I have been associated with in the past decade.

Sibelius the people associated with its progress, have been monstrously instrumental in helping me achieve miracles on the fly, such as creating beautiful orchestral scores overnight, or producing transformative changes on an orchestral arrangement, and reprinting them in the middle of rehearsal within minutes.  Sibelius's features have improved my composition skills, and inspired many beautiful musical moments. Without a doubt, Sibelius software, and its friendly staff led by Daniel Spreadbury, has saved my life and career dozens of times, providing crucial response and support, often after midnight London time, and I am forever grateful to them.

I hate to thumb my nose at other people's finances, but if it is in fact true that Sibelius is profitable, and that the cost of continuing development on the project is smaller than the recent increase in Mr. Greenfield's salary, then I am not sure it is a raise I can support...  Sibelius is not only a powerful composing tool for me, but also a huge force in the music education field worldwide.  I want my children to learn Sibelius, and be inspired by the possibilities.   Without a proper notation program, our children will simply learn to write music by humming -- the equivalent of writing your emails by speaking to Siri.

There will always be more profitable, hotter markets -- but that does not diminish in any way the need for a professional notation program that not only provides basic notation options but also keeps up to date with supporting the latest computers and technologies. That is what Sibelius is today -- just like ProTools, Sibelius is a vital source for musicians and educators.

In closing, I'd like to offer you some links to my work, notated in Sibelius:

Featuring cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Silk Road Ensemble:


Featuring the Kronos Quartet:


Featuring Ely Guerra and Alondra de la Parra and the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas:


I urge you to reconsider your decisions and keep Sibelius alive.

Thank you!



Lev 'Ljova' Zhurbin

Web: http://www.Ljova.com

Listen: http://www.Ljova.com/demos

Watch: http://www.Ljova.com/videos

IMDb: http://imdb.me/Ljova

Follow: http://twitter.com/ljovadotcom    

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"kind of"

Jul. 1st, 2012 | 11:44 pm
location: Upper West's Best
music: sketches

The composer Nico Muhly has recently written a blog post broadly discussing genre, which prompted me to respond by asking -- 

"What kind of music do you make?"

This is a question that composers and performers get asked all the time, and, if you're anything like me, the ideal answer is a diversion. "Well -- at our last show, everyone was given complimentary ice cream, and everyone lost five pounds just by listening!" That'll pique some interest.  It's just as dishonest as saying that what I make is a mix of "classical, jazz and world music" -- it's none of those, yet borrows from all.

For years, I've avoided verbalizing the answer to the genre question, hoping that at some point, a great writer will come up with something I can use. For example, the very first review of my debut album, "Vjola: World on Four Strings", was by Steve Smith in Time Out, who declared that "Ljova mixes rustic dances and evocative soundscapes, all crafted from little more than the gorgeously grainy purr of his fiddle."

Exactly that, Sir, thank you! - but can you imagine me saying that much?  "The kind of music I make is a mix of rustic dances and evocative landscapes, which I craft from little more than the gorgeously grainy purr of my fiddle...." If I had to say this myself, I would surely redact all adjectives, and end up with the bland "I create dances and landscapes on a fiddle."

In recent years, I've began to answer this "kind of" question with another diversion, by alluding to the fact that I've written pieces for Yo-Yo Ma and arrangements for Jay-Z, among others. Both musicians have funny names, are universally well known, as well as very open-minded and courageous in the kind of sound they explore, in their choices of collaborators. I am so humbled to have had a chance to work with them both. Mentioning Ma and Z gives me instant street cred in classical and hiphop worlds, but it also makes me somewhat uncomfortable -- these are huge shoes to fill.

The truth is that my biggest influences have been my parents (my dad is a composer; my mom a writer/singer/poet), my wife (a singer), and brilliant violinists like Mark Feldman, Carla Kihlstedt, Charlie Burnham, Culai Neacsu, Johnny Gandelsman, and Iva Bittova.  These are equally brilliant but less familiar names. I'm influenced by music from a variety of musical cultures and how they communicate love through sound, and my personal obsession is the suspension of groove.   I notate, but wish I didn't have to; I can fake proficiency in several styles, but my specialty is a semi-studied brew of leanings that I claim as my own.  At least, that's where I am today. 

"My name is Ljova, and I play fiddles. The music I write is very personal, and keeps evolving -- I really hope it will connect with you, too. Come to our next show!" That would be my ideal line, my elevator pitch. Would you come?

Speaking of which -- on July 7 (raindate: July 8), my group Ljova and the Kontraband is performing on Governors Island at 1 and 3pm. The shows are free! Bring your own ice cream -- or hula-hoop -- whatever works. Here is the info: http://Ljova.com/schedule

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how Z100 ruined my life

Mar. 20th, 2012 | 06:29 pm
location: New York

Age is just a number, and you’re only as old as you feel.  Though my dad has recently celebrated his 65th birthday, he is still acting 20.

But me? I have not aged since sixth grade.

It was in sixth grade “art” class at Columbia Middle School, that I -- a 12-year old scholarship student freshly arrived from Russia with very limited English -- and my classmates, were asked to vote on a radio station to listen to during class. Everyone wanted to listen to Z100  -- everyone but me.

That very moment has remained in my memory for ages, and is easily the root of my dislike of all things pop. I am still that kid, the sole person in the room who wanted to listen to the classical station, instead of Z100.  (This was 1990 -- we didn’t have internet or web radio, but we did have WNCN. )

My understanding of pop music hasn’t matured much since then. To be sure, I’ve heard things that I’ve loved forever -- The Who’s Tommy, The Beatles, King Crimson, Björk’s Vespertine, even some songs by Billy Joel -- but on the whole, I’d sooner listen to Webern’s Bagetelles or Mahler's Symphonies than whatever latest pop thing people can’t get enough of.  

Almost every time I go into a store, I hear muzak and promptly put on headphones, load the SimplyNoise app and pump up my favorite jam - “brown noise”.  The SimplyNoise app has saved me from a good deal of Michael Bolton and Rod Stewart’s greatest hits.

Clearly, I should listen to more music and try harder. But finding good pop music is even harder than finding decent “new” (contemporary, classical, Q2-type) music.  The stuff that plays on commercial pop radio is certifiably horrific, whereas the music on classical/contemporary/jazz/college radio is at the minimum listenable. There’s a certain conception that pop music must be “bad” (as in 80s bad).. perhaps that’s what makes it un-classical.  

My sixth-grade education is holding me back. I crave things that are challenging and cheeky, complex but not poppy.  If there was a genre tag  called “un-poppy”, I would own the entire collection.

To be apprehensive about pop is to be forever socially awkward; to embrace pop is to admit that cooties are healthy (when we all know that they are gross); to stand idly, as I have ever since sixth grade, is polite but ineffective. If listening to pop music scares me, then writing something in that direction scares me even more.  At this point, there’s no way that I can write a straight song in 4/4.

And yet, I feel that it is wrong to hide behind “Classical”, “World Music” and “Jazz” labels. We should all strive to write “pop” music - music that is personal and expressive, creative and current, music that communicates and infects the listener.  It doesn’t have to be pop in the Lite-FM sense, the Z100 sense, or underground sense.  It just has to be good. Smart. Not in the 80s sense.

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talking my way out of a Whole Foods paper bag

Jan. 24th, 2012 | 01:18 pm

Dear Whole Foods,

My name is Lev Zhurbin, and I'm a dad of two boys, living on the Upper West Side with my wife.
We shop at Whole Foods often -- it's very convenient for us - and we find that the prices, for the most part, are reasonable -- some items are more expensive, and some are cheaper than a competing super market - but overall, the quality is much better.  And you make the best diapers.

However, I take issue with the lack of plastic bags available at the register.  I am not a packaging advocate, and if there were such a choice, I wouldn't use any bags at all.

You have to realize, that unlike most other places where Whole Foods operates stores, the overwhelming majority of Manhattan customers, like myself, do not drive. We either walk, take public transportation, push a stroller, or bike. We do not wheel a shopping cart into a parking lot and stack our bags into a trunk.  In that we don't drive, Whole Foods shoppers in Manhattan are already a lot more "green" than others nationwide.

Whole Food Market's insistence on paper bags place Manhattan customers at a disadvantage. 

Here's why:
-- the handles of a paper bag routinely break - especially if you're holding more than one in the same hand. 
-- paper bags get wet in the rain. If you are walking home from Whole Foods on a rainy day, your products will get wet and ruined.
-- if you put a paper bag onto a wet surface, while waiting for a bus, or on a slushy subway platform, the products will also get ruined

In contrast:
-- you can use plastic bags to take out the trash -- and save on buying other "garbage" bags. they are small enough to go down the compactor (trash) chute with a whole day's trash.
-- plastic bags can be used to pack up liquid waste, household dust, and other products.
-- plastic bags can be cinched up pretty tight at the top.
-- plastic bags are smaller, more durable, and have more uses.  As such, plastic bags are more reusable than paper.

Yes, the reusable bags you sell are fine - but they are also bulky, and I would not want to walk around with them all day, just to make a trip to Whole Foods on the way home.

I urge you to consider giving Manhattan customers the option, and offer plastic bags at your checkout registers.  Paper or plastic should be a choice. (Trader Joe's offers just that.)


Lev Zhurbin      

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hooked on ack!

Jan. 10th, 2012 | 10:58 pm
music: Simplenoise Brown

One of the least gratifying aspects of my experience as a father has been an increasingly cumbersome sense of OCD.  Never leave home without a phone charger, checking all the faucets, checking the lock twice, and so on.

Perhaps it's not fatherhood's fault -- it's just that, if you're a guy shopping for gadgets, you want to be 100% sure that you bought the right thing.  Luckily, there are many stores that support you in this quest, by offering 7-day, 15-day or 30-day return policies. Some stores (Bed Bath & Beyond, for instance) let you return items even 5 years later. (I wish they sold more gear!) Some stores charge restocking fees, some don't. 

However, retail shopping "your local neighborhood" mega-chain-store is limited to the selection at hand - and we all know that the best selection and prices in the world are at Amazon.com -- why would you ever want to spend $50 on an HDMI cable at Best Buy when you can buy it on Amazon for about $3?

Still, Amazon has its downsides -- primarily, you can't touch your product until it's arrived. You can't have it same-day. And, unlike taking the item back to BestBuy, you have to mail it back and, in most cases, pay shipping costs.  Pay? just for trying something? Excuse me, why would I do that? 

So it is with this predicament, and my dose of OCD, that I set out to buy headphones, one pair for myself, and another for my wife.  As a composer and performer who has released three albums on my own, I have heard my share of rough mixes, pre-masters, finals, and I know what a good record sounds like -- therefore I should deserve better than the earbuds that came with my iPhone.  (Though, the thinking goes, it should sound at least half-decent on the iPhone earbuds, as half the world is listening through them anyway.)

I saw people on the subway with the "Beats By Dr. Dre" phones, people who are not musicians, but who clearly care about sound.  However,  in testing, I could not bear to carry the bulk.  Those things take up half the bag, and the mid-range is muddy. I didn't want in-ears. I wanted something light, collapsible, packable, and something that sounded good. Something that preferably had a microphone, so I could take calls in the rain. 

And then, an epiphany - neckband (a.k.a. "Street style", a.k.a. "behind the neck") headphones were my ticket, because then I could wear a winter hat on top.

For the next week or so, I obsessed over neckband headphones, checking out the stock at B&H, Apple Store and Best Buy, any store that had a favorable return policy.   I tried out the Sony MDRG45LP (not collapsible, no microphone, but very cheap), the New Balance NB464B (collapsible and with a microphone, but terrible construction, design and sound for the price), and the Sennheiser MM100, which I returned because they are bluetooth, and that meant charging them every few hours.  

Eventually, I settled on the Sony MDR-G75LW, which have excellent sound and a zippy retractable cord, and only cost $30. I then reasoned that I could get the now-discontinued Audio Technica AT-MP100 Music Phone Headphone Adapter, which would let me convert any headphone into a headset by adding a remote control and a microphone in a cable...

But as I was trying all of this out, I realized -- my head is too wide for all these neckbands. I was getting a headache just from trying them out.  And I couldn't get my winter hat to fit over them. (Should I buy a new hat?)

For me, the lesson here is that the iPhone earbuds are a good compromise.   I'm not a guy who actually listens to music on the go -- I most frequently listen to the SimpleNoise App, to something called "Brown Noise", so as to drown out the music around me, and think about my own.  

Still, if Brown Noise sounds medicore on iPhone headphones, just imagine what it would sound like on those Dr Dre's...  I'd have to give that a try... with the discontinued headset adapter, just to take calls in the rain.  After all, I'm a musician, and I need to listen to things as close to what the artist intended.  Except, please give me a break.  

DISCLAIMER -- if you buy anything using the Amazon links above, I will get some sort of a measly commission. It won't go a long way towards paying our rent, but every penny helps.. especially after all this "research".

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January 15, 2012 -- Alexander Zhurbin and Irena Ginzburg at Joe's Pub

Dec. 29th, 2011 | 12:43 pm

(Русский текст ниже)

Alexander Zhurbin / Irena Ginzburg 
with special guests Inna Barmash & Ljova (a.k.a. Barmaljova)
Sunday, January 15, 2012 at 9.30pm

425 Lafayette Street
New York NY 10003
Tickets: $15 in advance / 20 at the door - buy online or call 212-539-8778

Alexander Zhurbin is Russia's pre-eminent composer of musical theatre, film soundtracks and popular song. His career launched overnight in 1975, when he wrote Russia's first rock-opera, "Orpheus & Eurydice", which went on to be the longest continuously running theatrical production in Russia, after 2500 performances.  Since that day, he has written scores to over 60 films, 6 operas, 45 musicals, symphonies, ballets and concert works.  Thanks to his wide-ranging output and activity, he has often been compared to the "Russian Leonard Bernstein".

Together with his wife, Irena Ginzburg-Zhurbin, they have been co-writing songs and performing internationally for over 30 years -- Alexander at the piano, and Irena singing. 

For this extremely rare New York appearance, Alexander and Irena will be joined on stage by their son Lev Zhurbin (better known in New York as Ljova, leader of his ensemble Ljova and the Kontraband), their daughter-in-law Inna Barmash, as well as special guests.

Александр Журбин, Ирина Гинзбург-Журбина
Лев Журбин и Инна Бармаш (Бармалёва)
15 января 2012 года в 21:30
Joe’s Pub

425 Lafayette Street
New York City
Билеты - 15 долларов, возможно бронировать online, или по телефону 212-539-8778

Александр Журбин - известный российский композитор, автор многих произведений в жанре музыкального театра, саундтреков для кинофильмов, популярных песен.
Его карьера началась в 1975 году, когда он написал первую советскую рок-оперу «Орфей и Эвридика», и, как говорит пословица, «на следующее утро проснулся знаменитым». “Орфей и Эвридика” оказался самым долгоиграющим проектом за всю историю музыкального театра, эту оперу играют и сейчас в том же коллективе, через 36 лет после премьеры. С тех пор Александр Журбин написал музыку к 60 фильмам, 6 опер, 45 мюзиклов, симфонии, балеты, концерты. Благодаря необыкновенному разнообразию и разножанровости его творчества, многие газеты мира называли его «русским Леонардом Бернстайном».
Вместе с женой, Ириной Гинзбург-Журбиной, Александр уже более 30 лет пишет песни, и они вместе исполняют их по всему миру.

15 января в Joe’s Pub произойдет крайне редкое событие: Александр Журбин и Ирина Гинзбург-Журбина будут исполнять свои произведения, а также в концерте примет участие их сын Лев Журбин ( известный в Нью-Йорке как Ljova, создатель ансмбля “Ljova and the Kontraband”) и его жена Инна Бармаш, a также специальные гости.

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the Autogate Strollergate

Aug. 7th, 2011 | 01:51 pm
location: New York

Dear fellow commuters,

My wife and I are parents of two young kids, and we find the elevators in the subway system to be a real blessing in getting around the city with a stroller.

What we don't find nearly as pleasant is the way of getting into the subway system itself. Presently, the "correct" way is to wait on line for the station agent, show them that you're swiping a fare, turn the turnstile while they're watching, and then the station agent will open the gate for you. That's the theory.

In practice, this always works out differently - sometimes, there's no station agent present, sometimes they're on the phone and could care less to open the door; sometimes they don't pay attention as you're turning the turnstile, and act as if you didn't pay your fare. Most of the time, the gate is open anyway, and even by the time you show the station agent that you're going to pay your fare, they're on to something else. To be honest, it's less frustrating when there is no station agent present.

I notice that many stations have a special entry for the "Autogate" Metrocard, which is only usable by the handicapped. The trouble is, strollers & people with heavy luggage outnumber handicapped persons in wheelchairs in the subway system by [uneducated guess] a margin of at least 1000:1. In the last two years, I think we've barely seen one or two wheelchairs in the subway system.

Why can't the MTA open the AutoGate access to everyone? Putting the Autogate system together must have cost a huge fortune, and no doubt it was paid for with grants and tax dollars. By letting everyone with oversize items (strollers, suitcases, contrabasses, etc.) use the Autogate, this would let the station agent focus on other customers, and make life less frustrating for the rest of us.

While we're at it, is it possible to get rid of the emergency exit noise, the one that happens when you try to open the service gate? Everyone ignores that sound, just like the car alarms of 10 years ago.

How can we make this a reality? Should we start a petition?

Thank you!

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Sibelius 7 musings

Aug. 2nd, 2011 | 01:46 pm

Sibelius, the dear notation program that I love and spend many hours of the day writing arrangements and orchestrations, released a new version last week, Sibelius 7. It may be the first time I won't rush for an upgrade.

Check out the new features for yourself here:

The immediate feeling I get is the same feeling I got after the release of Sibelius 5, which also came with many gigabytes of fresh sounds.

Almost every new version of an Audio/Video sequencer these days comes with one or two DVDs of fresh sounds, but sounds are not for me -- when I make demos, I prefer that they do not approximate the sounds of real instruments closely, so that more can be left to the imagination of the listener, and real players are not expected to sound like a synth mockup. I hardly if every use sampled instruments in a project, so as a result, all of these gigabytes of free sounds are sitting on my shelf.

While every one of these audio programs gives you many options for playing with these sounds and exporting them, Sibelius's own Audio Export features are painfully underdeveloped.

With Sibelius 7 (on a Mac), you are only able to export to an AIFF file at 48khz. You cannot export at another sample rate, or in another format. The file that Sibelius exports is super quiet - you'll need to take it into another audio program, normalize it, and only then you'll be able to hear the sound.

And the audio does not start at 00:00:00 but at 00:00:05, meaning that if you're trying to sync your sound to a film, you'll be half a second behind, unless you erase that half-second time in another program.

The sync is an issue critical to film composers; the ability to export to other formats is of concern to professional composers & students alike, who simply want to export a quick mp3 demo, with the ID3 tags all filed in.

I have been mentioning this to Sibelius for a few years, and it's a pity this still hasn't been fixed.

The other updates in Sibelius 7 seem to contain a complete redesign of the User Interface, which makes it look more like Microsoft Office. If you like Office, you may like the new "ribbon" interface, but if you're a user of OpenOffice/NeoOffice, you may find it initially confusing. I can't judge whether it's better or worse - having used Sibelius for over 10 years, navigating the menus has become second nature, and re-learning where things are will slow me down for no necessary reason.

Sibelius 7 now runs natively in 64-bit mode, which makes it run faster, but, to be honest, I always thought that Sibelius runs fast enough. Everything is always immediate, even when working on a 200+ page orchestral score.

There is a nice new feature that's helpful for automating the extraction of PDF parts & scores. This is very useful - but is it worth the upgrade?

I love Sibelius and may upgrade simply to support the program that has saved me years of time on countless projects, but there's little in this upgrade that's for me. Jean Sibelius didn't get to finish his 8th Symphony - let's hope that Sibelius 8 is not too far away.. and an iPad version, too.

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