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.


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.