Category Archives: recordings

artemis quartet – check them out!

I have loved the Artemis Quartet (based in Berlin) for quite some time, and their new Beethoven cycle recording is phenomenal. Here’s a little taste:

new recording by the oregon symphony

Well, it’s actually not officially for sale until February 1st, but if you want to pre-order, you can do so by contacting the Oregon Symphony’s ticket office by calling 503-228-1353 or 1-800-228-7343, Monday–Friday, 10 AM – 9 PM. You can also pre-order at a variety of online outlets, but if you want the maximum amount of dollars to go back to the orchestra, buying directly from us is the best bet. It’s like buying from Powell’s instead of Amazon.

At the risk of tooting my own horn, it sounds fantastic. The Copland Third Symphony, in particular, is remarkable given that it was largely recorded in one live performance last spring. There was a patch session afterward to take care of extraneous noise and a few other blemishes, but that is par for the course with all ‘live’ recordings, and to do this particular symphony in this little amount of recording time, in the words of Carlos Kalmar, is “virtually unthinkable”.

Yeah, we’re bad ass.

Antheil’s A Jazz Symphony also gets a gutsy performance, with kudos to keyboard player Carol Rich (also featured prominently in the Copland and Piston works along with Yoko Greeney) for her virtuosic playing. Piston’s Suite from The Incredible Flutist benefits from the world debut of violinist Ron Blessinger in his role as ‘The Dog’.

You can hear samples of the recording at Pentatone’s website.

It’s a recording to be proud of, and hopefully the third in a growing series of recordings that will spread the musical reach of the Oregon Symphony around the world. Many thanks to the Pentatone label for their faith in all of us at the Oregon Symphony.

things heard & discovered – part I

I don’t normally do a lot of listening to recorded music, with the exception that I often use recordings as a way to prepare for upcoming performances. Every so often, however, I do happen to purchase recordings out of either curiosity to hear something I’ve never heard before, or for the sake of hearing something I know well done (hopefully) in a new and interesting way. With that in mind, here are a few recordings that have crossed over my transom during the past season, and my thoughts on them.

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I was once part of a viola quartet called “The Four Violas” (an hommage to The Three Tenors) that played some really incredible arrangements done by our fearless leader Joël Belgique. There were, at the time, not too many works written especially for the unusual combination, aside from works by York Bowen, Ichiro Nodaira, et al. Into the breach comes the most noteworthy item on this excellent disc of the music of west coast composer Paul Chihara, his work for four violas entitled Concerto Piccolo, a brief work in four movements. Excellently played by four Los Angeles violists (Paul Coletti, Ben Ullery, Gina Coletti, and Zach Dellinger), it is one of those rare upbeat works that features the viola. It displays lightness, humor, and virtuosity – descriptors not always on the tip of the tongue when one talks about the viola! The remainder of the disc features previously written works of Chihara’s for the viola with other instruments – Redwood, for viola and percussion; theViola Concerto, with the Colburn Orchestra (conducted by Yehuda Gilad); and the Sonata for Viola and Piano. All are beautifully played by Colburn faculty member Coletti and his fellow musicians, and well worth a listen, especially for violists. Currently, only the sonata and Redwood are published and available for purchase.

 

patch sessions and live recordings

No, not that patch.

No, not that patch.

We’ve had a busy couple of weeks here at the Oregon Symphony. In addition to two programs which are quite challenging technically and mentally, we’re also recording them for good measure. And we’re recording them for two different purposes. Three of the pieces – Piston’s The Incredible Flutist suite, Antheil’s Jazz Symphony, and Copland’s Third Symphony, are being recorded at the performances for an upcoming CD release. The entirety of the programs are being recorded for radio broadcast at some future date.

So, what does this mean for the guy/gal in the trenches? Well, for one thing, it means that there really isn’t any moment to let anything slide, especially if you’re a solo or otherwise prominently featured voice in the orchestra. Now, lest you think that we are letting things slide all the time, we’re not, but music is an ephemeral presence: the notes sound, reverberate (if you’re lucky), and decay. Then they’re gone. If little flubs happen, someone in the audience might notice, but in reality, they’re already listening to what’s happening right now (as opposed to the poor performer, who is berating themselves for the error and playing what’s happening right now at the same time). But when a performance is being recorded for broadcast, and especially for CD release, those moments might be immortalized forever. Luckily for us, the three performances of each series are being recorded and they will be edited together to make a largely blemish free recording. There are cases where there this isn’t enough – for example, audience noises that inevitably happen in quiet passages (including laughter at Ron Blessinger’s dog bark in the Piston suite). For these spots, there is a special post script to the performance process called a ‘patch session’. This is a period of up to an hour after the hall is cleared in which we try to clean up as much as we can in as little time as possible. Then, we just have to let the chips fall where they may.

So, why do it this way? Couldn’t we just record in ‘studio’ fashion in an empty hall and get everything perfect? Well, we could, but first of all, the presence of an audience does lend something to the entire process. We’re playing for people, not for the microphones (at least not entirely), and there is a vitality and energy to a ‘live’ recording that is often lacking in most studio recordings. Secondly, studio recording rates are substantially higher than the live recording rate, which is all that is enabling many US orchestras to continue to make commercial recordings these days.

oregon symphony’s “this england” release gets another rave

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This is as fine an English album as I can think of, but even beyond the concept the individual performances are exquisitely rendered. Coming after the wild and wooly No. 4, RVW’s Fifth Symphony is a model of studied English pastoralism in its best sense; arching melody and stirring but sparse climaxes make this a work to enhance serenity and enable the emotions to achieve an even keel. Kalmar steadies the lines marvelously, and gives us as rolling an account as ever the gentle mists of the English shore has experienced. … Who knew Oregon could sound like this? PentaTone should hold on to this bunch as long as they can, and explore as much repertory as they can handle. Great sound, performances, and production! – Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition

Read the complete review here.

autonomy, money, then what?

[Warning: this is a rambling post, but not a rant. Do not read expecting logical cohesion. That is all.]

I have been puzzling over this question for the past few days. What do we musicians want? I suppose I should clarify by what I mean by the musician label. We are, after all, not a monolithic bloc. I suppose that my question should be more appropriately phrases as “what do unionized musicians want?” Because I really have not so much of a clue anymore. Why? Well, I’m not entirely sure myself, but let me just put out there some of the inconsistencies that swirl around many conversations about organized musicians and the organizations to which they belong.

First on any list would probably be artistic satisfaction. I know, the more cynical among you are thinking that money should’ve been first. But let’s give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, shall we? Artistic satisfaction is so hard to come by for a couple of reasons. First, most of the time, as a musician in an orchestra, you have very little control over the overall artistic outcome (and yes, I am avoiding the deeply unfortunate term being used these days to describe artistic output: product). You can control how you yourself play your part – and if you have a major solo wind part, for example, you then have a pretty big effect on the overall sound of the piece – but if you’re a galley slave (i.e., string player) then you are lumped into a great herd of other string players, and you cannot control how they play, just yourself (if you’re lucky). Second, we don’t pick what we play. We might love a particular piece, but never get to play it due to the budget constraints of the organization, the musical tastes of the music director (or the shadowy figure who pulls lots of behind-the-scenes repertoire strings, the artistic administrator), and the tastes of the patrons on whom the whole shooting match depends.

Second on the list is money. We are professionals, which means that we get paid to perform. But there is this seemingly endless pursuit of monetizing everything and anything to do with playing our instrument, especially as regards media streams. Basically, the argument boils down to this: if anyone can conceivably profit from a sound or video/sound going out onto the airwaves or digital distribution channels, then the musician(s) is/are owed some sort of recompense. I understand where this comes from. As the age of recording dawned, orchestras were amongst the first groups to take advantage of the new medium. As the profits (yes, they made profits on recordings back then) grew, the musicians grew concerned that they were not seeing any return on their hard work, even as albums were reissued and reused. As the union grew stronger, those musicians in the leading orchestras developed contracts between the union, the orchestra managements, and the record companies (and film studios) that governed how the musicians would be compensated for each use of their recorded material. So, if an orchestra recorded Barber’s Adagio for Strings, they would be paid fees for the actual recording of the work, and would receive subsequent royalties for reuse of the work in different forms, as well as for the sales of the original use. That way, when the movie Platoon came out, they would see some of the action from the wildly successful soundtrack (assuming that theirs was the recording used for the soundtrack).

But now the recording landscape is vastly different. Most non-classical acts don’t make much money off the recordings they make, and most, if not all, orchestras must find angel donors to subsidize the costs of the recordings they make these days. Considering that a best-selling classical album on the Billboard charts can sell as few as 500 copies to make it there, this is no surprise. Recognizing this, the AFM and the record companies developed new language that would make it possible to record albums under a certain set of conditions that would control costs and ensure that recordings weren’t just a giant black hole vanity projects. However, there still seems to be the notion that there is secret money to be made via recording that management isn’t telling the musicians about, and that even if they aren’t making actual money, the publicity has to be worth something, and therefore the musicians must be paid. I suppose the fact that we all profit – pardon the expression – from marketing and publicity doesn’t really count. Just give us our money, please.

So, we have money and artistic autonomy (or we don’t, that’s the point). What do we do to remedy this? Two words: chamber music.

No, we don’t form a chamber music series as part of our orchestral CBA. That would link directly to autonomy and money. Instead, form a chamber group and play a concert. Plan your own repertoire, book your own venue, sell your own tickets (or do a free concert). This is valuable for several reasons. First, see my post on playing string quartets. Second, it shows one how difficult it is to pick repertoire, book an appropriate venue, and then convince patrons to buy your tickets. And third, assuming you make your event(s) admission free, or affordable to most everyone (under $10), it shows that you aren’t greedy, money-grubbing, elitist, musicians. You’re giving back to the community that has supported your organization through the times good and bad. Finally, it gives you the opportunity to play music that is nearest and dearest to your heart, with people that are likewise important to you, and for those patrons that fulfill those requirements as well. It’s a win-win-win situation.

close, but no cigar

 

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Well, the Oregon Symphony didn’t win a Grammy® award tonight, but it truly was an honor simply to have been nominated. Perhaps our sophomore release with Carlos Kalmar, This England, will earn a nomination next time around.

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