Putting It Together

Classic Arts Features   Putting It Together
What goes into making a recording of a performance?

Can long hours, intense pressure, and numerous details result in a performance that lasts indefinitely? Yes, if you record the performance, as the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is doing during its three-weekend "Rachmaninoff Festival" April 22-25, April 29-May 1, and May 6-9.

"Recording is your legacy, a benchmark showing where you are at a certain time artistically," says Dallas Symphony Music Director Andrew Litton. With the experience of more than 60 recordings under his belt, the director likens recordings to "the rings of a tree, really. Because music is ephemeral art, there is no other way to preserve it. Recording is how we preserve it."

"Probably at least 95% of the classical music that people hear today is from recordings," says pianist Stephen Hough, who is performing with the DSO during its "Rachmaninoff Festival" and has more than 40 recording to his credit. "So if any artist or orchestra wants to have a hearing outside of the small number of (wonderful!) people who attend concert halls, they need to record. But even for those who hear the orchestra in the concert hall, it is nice to be able to relive that experience in the car, the bathroom, the gym."

Folks listening to CDs may ponder what goes into making a recording. The planning process begins months before the performance, says Simon Perry, director of Hyperion Records Limited, which is producing the Rachmaninoff piano concerto recordings.

"It is important first of all to consider whether the world needs a recording of a particular piece of music," says Perry. "We rely on certain musicians or musicologists whose judgment we trust, to source the music and play it through to see whether or not the music merits a new recording."

The next steps are somewhat obvious: An engineer comes to the venue‹in this case the Meyerson Symphony Center‹to set up microphones and rig the control room. Then comes the exciting part: the music itself.

"Something about setting a performance down on CD from a 'live' concert is exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time," says Hough. But when asked about whether rehearsal is any different, he replies, "Not really. The trick is to be as little conscious of the process as possible during the performance itself. It's a bit like driving quickly on the highway: Don't look around you, just concentrate on the road!"

Says Litton, "The biggest challenge as a conductor is that rather than merely guiding the performance and thinking ahead, you have to spend time thinking of what's been played and whether it's good enough for the recording. It's a big difference."

The real work for the record company begins when the musicians leave the stage.

"The producer is the most important part of the recording process after the artist, of course," says Perry. "It is a producer's job to make sure that every bit of the recorded work is covered. If there are noises, mistakes, and anything that could spoil the final recorded performance the producer will mark the precise point in a score and ask the artists to re-record that bit." Filling that role for the Dallas Rachmaninoff sessions will be the award-winning British producer Andrew Keener, a frequent collaborator with Litton.

"Of course, having done so many live recordings in Dallas we've had our share of distractions," says Litton. "We had some intervention during the end of the Mahler Eighth when a pager went off in the most beautiful passage and it was ruined. We couldn't use it. It's a risk you take when you record live. It's amazing to think of how much noise we can make when we are supposed to be sitting there being silent: coughing, unwrapping candy, cell phones. Beethoven would be shocked at cell phones in his performances."

And that becomes a challenge to the producer and editor during the patching sessions, working to put all the different recorded 'takes' onto an editing system. "They are then put together much like a jigsaw but in a straight line," Perry explains. "The producer will have what is called an edit plot. The score will have been marked with comments and take numbers, which are then put into the appropriate order."

An editor will spend about 40 hours to put a full disc together, then the producer will send it to the artist and/or conductor for approval. They will suggest any changes, then the disc will be reedited until everyone agrees that they've achieved the best product. Once a final edit is approved a master is created and sent to Hyperion. "We send the master and booklet file information to a pressing plant," says Perry. "The pressing plant creates a glass master for pressing the discs and sends the print information to a printer to make the booklets."

The average time frame from recording to issue is about nine months to a year, says Perry. Copies of the "Rachmaninoff Festival" will be available in November 2004.

Tickets to these concerts are available by calling 214-692-0203, or visiting www.DallasSymphony.com or the Dallas Symphony Patron Services Center.

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