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Concerto Performed...

I perfomed the Vaughan-Williams Tuba Concerto this evening. It went well and the audience responded enthusiastically.

I'll have to work out what to do with my evenings now I don't have to practice… hmm… how about reading my backlog of books starting with Searle's "Speech Acts", "Programming Erlang" and various Python related materials.

Too much to do but so little time…

Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto Programme Notes

On June 14th 2008 I'm going to be the soloist in a performance of the Tuba Concerto by Ralph Vaughan Williams. As well as preparing the piece for performance I've written two sections of the programme: a description of the piece and a short musical biography of myself. Both of these are reproduced below.

Tuba Concerto in F Minor - Ralph Vaughan Williams.

  1. PRELUDE Allegro moderato
  2. ROMANZA Andante sostenuto

Vaughan Williams composed his Tuba Concerto for the golden jubilee of the London Symphony Orchestra in 1954 with the orchestra's own tuba player, Philip Catelinet, as the soloist.

In the programme notes for the occasion Vaughan Williams wrote that the Concerto's form was "nearer to the Bach form than to that of the Viennese School (Mozart and Beethoven)". Consequently, whilst the three-movement piece is relatively short it still demonstrates Vaughan Williams' own harmonic and rhythmic style.

The Prelude is a brisk march that shows off the tuba's agility with little groups of fast notes and scalic passages. The middle section (in compound time) sounds like a grotesque cousin of "Nelly the Elephant" that eventually recapitulates back to the opening march. The movement ends with a florid cadenza that exploits the very highest and lowest registers of the instrument concluding with a series of wide leaps and a slow recall of the main theme.

The Romanza is a piece of lyrical beauty written to demonstrate the vocal quality of the tuba in its high register. The opening melody is in vintage Vaughan Williams folk-song style. The music is more agitated in the middle section where the main theme is ornamented before a climax that leads to a reprise of the meditative mood of the opening.

The Finale is a rondo "alla tedesca" - in the German style - clarifying that it is a traditional rondo in which an energetic main melody (consisting of rocket-like arpeggios and nimble trills) alternates with contrasting episodes. The sleeve notes for the first recording state that "the tuba romps amid the dancing strings, like Falstaff among the fairies in Windsor Forest" while the critic Michael Kennedy calls it "an elephantine romp, humourous and salty". Just as in the first movement, the Finale ends with a virtuosic cadenza rounded off with a wild cascade of sound from the orchestra.

Nicholas Tollervey

Originally from Nottinghamshire, Nicholas commenced his musical studies on the piano, organ and tuba when he was aged twelve. A scholarship resulted in him becoming a principal in the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain and a prize-winning soloist ultimately leading to a place at the Royal College of Music.

Whilst at the Royal College, he read for an academic (rather than performance related) BMus degree. Nevertheless, he won all the tuba performance prizes in each of his three years of study and played as both an orchestral and chamber musician in most of the major concert halls in the UK.

Upon graduation, Nicholas was a founder-member of the Capital Brass Quintet and performed on numerous occasions in concert, on the radio and on television. As a freelance musician he performed for a diverse range of recording sessions: from Ragdoll Productions (for the Teletubbies!) and pop artists with major recording companies to more conventional classical performances.

During this time Nicholas became interested in further academic study and gained Masters' degrees in Philosophy and then Computing, all the while supporting himself by teaching music.

Now living in Towcester, he currently designs and writes software for an investment bank in London but continues to play, "just for fun".

Whither AIMLBot 3.0?

The short answer: There isn't going to be an AIMLBot 3.0.

However, for the last few months I have been working hard on a new project that I'm currently calling Botkit (this name will probably change).

Botkit grew out of what was to be AIMLBot 3.0.

Put simply, I've raised the level of abstraction: Botkit is a framework for creating conversational agents in lots of different ways – in much the same way that ASP.NET can be used to create lots of different types of web-application.

To demonstrate this I'll be releasing a "reference" AIML bot (what was AIMLBot 3.0) as well as a few other types of conversational agent to show what Botkit it is capable of.

Its still early days yet but I'm making lots of progress and working hard on my trusty laptop during my daily commute to London.

What I can reveal is that:

  • It is written for the .NET/Mono platform.
  • The core library will be dual licensed under the GNU Affero GPL and a commercial license.
  • A free-to-use but closed source single user Windows/XAML based smart-client will be released so people can play with the core library and build their own agents. (There will be similar application written for Mono.)
  • There already is extensive developer documentation and reference material.
  • A closed-source commercial multi-user server version will be available to allow customers to deploy conversational agents to websites, IRC, IM and mobile devices.

I'll post more details soon.


I'm right in the middle of re-discovering my tuba and loving every minute of it. I'm to perform the Vaughan-Williams concerto in June so I'm playing most evenings (much to the surprise of my neighbours, the local cats and my children).

When I play the tuba I imagine I am singing and try to make the tone of the tuba reflect the character of the voice in the music I'm playing (and hearing with my inner-ear). I love being able to do this.

In addition, I love getting it "right": nailing a technically difficult passage that at first sounded wrong but revealed itself through repeated (often slow) practice and experimentation.

Finally, I just love the feeling of playing the tuba. The tuba is a very physical instrument in the sense that it takes a lot of physical effort to play, blow, hold and carry! I always feel like I've just been for a good session at the gym!

Interestingly, this re-immersion in all things tuba led me to Øystein Baadsvik who has only emerged as a tuba player since I left the tuba world for philosophy, teaching and computing. This video of him playing his own composition "Fnugg" knocked my socks off:

What most impresses me about his performance is the virtuosic ease with which he communicates his playful sense of fun and experimentation on such an awesome instrument. His audience are all undoubtedly die-hard tuba fans as a result. What a great performance.

As a result I immediately found and ordered a copy of the music over the internet! What I'm especially looking forward to is showing off some dijeridu based techniques (they're also tuba techniques, but I suppose most people associate them with the dij).

(In case you didn't know, I've been having a lot of fun on the dij after Mary had one shipped over from Oz for my birthday two years ago.)

AIMLBot Version 3.0 Roadmap and other projects...

I have some time on my hands in the evenings at the moment so I hope to do some extensive re-factoring and development on the AIMLBot project.

My most important aims and objectives are:

  • To update the library's API to make it even simpler, efficient and useful.
  • Get rid of all the "cruft" that seems to have built up around the project (all those bloated examples). I'm going to re-focus on the core library.
  • Write better produced documentation and code examples.
  • Re-license the whole project under duel licenses:
    • A free "open-source" license for free-software and educational use.
    • A commercial license (that will cost money).
  • Make use of some of the new features in .NET 3.0 (interfacing with the Windows Workflow Foundation, WCF and Cardspace).
  • Provide several "free" clients as:
    • A standard "stand-alone" Windows application
    • A click-one application
    • An ASP.NET/AJAX.NET custom control
    • A Silverlight application
    • A Vista client written in XAML that makes use of the new speech and voice recognition APIs.
    • A GTK/Mono client for Linux/Mac OS X
  • Build a set of commercial applications upon the core library:
    • An easy to use GUI for AIML editing and bot configuration delivered as either:
      • A standard Windows application
      • A click-once application
      • A web application (ASP.NET or within Sharepoint)
      • A Silverlight application
    • A scalable, high performance server to which the above applications can connect and configure.
    • A lightweight "mobile" stand-alone program AND/OR client
  • A set of commercially available extensions to mash-up with:
  • To add extensions to the basic AIML set (AIML will always be supported in "compatibility mode"), details of which will be forthcoming.

Finally, you may remember I was working on an HR application and expert system. Well, the HR application is now shelved for good. It was an excellent vehicle for me to learn about Microformats, REST and Ruby-on-Rails so was not without its benefits. The work I've done on the expert system will be incorporated into the Windows Workflow Foundation research I've been doing with a view to applying it to version 3.0 of AIMLBot.