We can now, with our ultra low-noise digitally-mediated sample libraries, attain a huge dynamic range in our midistrations. But .......... do most listeners really want or need that?
I think not.
Those ultra-quiet little details in a composition - do they tend to add to or detract from listeners' engagement? I say the latter. What have we learned from the past century of sound recording, if not that listeners love to be spoilt by a great mix in which their ears don't have to expend too much effort in adjusting between different levels of loudness? One might say, "well that may be true of popular entertainment but we're talking about classical music here." Ok, but be honest: who except perhaps your doting grandma is likely to want their ears to be put hard to work nowadays, just because you think it should be so since that's the real nature of orchestral music? Not many, I'd bet.
Yes of course we need a broad range of expressive possibilities if we're to make our music engage listeners. But let's not forget, the vast, overwhelming majority of music today is listened to via electronic media, not at a concert house - sad though that may be. To be sure, you can specialise in mimicking the sound of a live orchestral concert, if you're ok with making little or no money from it. But what about the big commercial media markets? Isn't there a huge difference in style of sound presentation, compared to an orchestral concert hall?
Let's get down down to brass tacks. It's a simple matter to modulate pure loudness, but does that always artfully convey an emotional difference? Or is it just a blunt, attention-seeking short cut? Most musical instruments can convey human expression other than by merely modulating loudness, and in live performance this is where musicianship really comes in. In practically all serious musical instrument sample libraries nowadays we find at least some means of modulating intensity of feeling without having to rely on simply volume-up, volume-down.
I could go on but I think you get the point. So let me offer an extreme audio example of taking a very familiar instrument - the piano - (well this is actually a very special virtual piano: the VSL D-274), and finding what happens if we take away most of its ability to modulate pure volume. Is it still expressive? Oh yes, without a shadow of doubt! Have a listen to the audio file attached below. It's the first 8 bars of Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto, reproduced twice in succession:- the first pass being pretty normal Synchron Piano; the second pass being very deeply compressed in order to reduce the volume range as much as possible without wrecking the original sound quality.
Yes, yes, but that's a VSL virtual Steinway - many, many thousands of samples were precisely played and recorded in order to do unprecedented justice to its superb velocity-dependent expressiveness. What about other kinds of orchestral instruments? True, those other sample libraries don't have the same huge velocity-expressiveness as a Steinway, and hence other means are needed to eke out their expressiveness. Fortunately, VSL's Vel XF and Timbre Adjust controls help enormously, and yet it's still also very much a matter of artfully finding ways in both the composition and the orchestration to convey human expression without resorting to pure volume. But that's another story.