Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

Cadenza: You play, and a full orchestra plays with you

Dream of playing along with world-class symphonies? Now, a Harvard-backed app heads to your mobile device to give you instant portable orchestral backup that adjusts to your playing in real time.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
Leslie Katz led a team that explored the intersection of tech and culture, plus all manner of awe-inspiring science, from space to AI and archaeology. When she's not smithing words, she's probably playing online word games, tending to her garden or referring to herself in the third person.
  • Third place film critic, 2021 LA Press Club National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards
Leslie Katz
2 min read

Video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

You're at home playing your violin and imagining the day when you'll grace the stage of the world's greatest orchestras. Wouldn't it be nice to have symphonic accompaniment as you nurture those Itzhak Perlman dreams? A number of apps provide musical backup, but Cadenza out of Harvard goes a step further, automatically synching a recording of a full live orchestra to your style and tempo in real time.

"As you begin playing your instrument, the app listens to each note you play and the rhythm and speed in which you play them, calculating and recalibrating a prediction model for when you will play the next note," the Cadenza site explains. "These meticulous adjustments happen every millisecond."

Slow down in the first movement for a moody beginning, for example, or speed up for an exhilarating finish. Your full symphony orchestra will follow your lead.

The app emerged from Sonation, a music startup based at the Harvard innovation lab. The software is already available for the Mac with a library of 50 classical works from composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, and Vivaldi for violin, viola, cello, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, French horn. But it's now making a run on Kickstarter with an aim of becoming a free iPhone and iPad app as well.

Compositions come with the solo part missing. That's for you to fill in. Sonation

What's more, Cadenza can now synch to singers (watching this video seriously reawakened my own youthful musical-theater dreams; it's like karaoke, but with a full, live orchestra for backup). Sonation has already licensed a large catalog of pop songs, show tunes, Disney songs, and classical voice compositions.

Sonation has tested Cadenza with musicians from such prominent institutions as Juilliard, Interlochen, and Berklee College of Music. The Kickstarter campaign for the "orchestra in your pocket" version offers rewards such as free music tracks in Cadenza, and lessons with musicians from the NY Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera. The campaign has a few thousand dollars more to go before it hits its $25,000 goal, with eight days left. So head over to the Kickstarter page and get your tux and black gowns ready.