Buzz

Follow up on previous blog post, re: recording
5 Sep 2009
Expressing the inexpressible...?
We finished the recording sessions a few days ago (that is something quite different from saying "we are finished with the recording" - there is a lot of editing for the producer and engineer to do, and of course there are the various commercial aspects of issuing the actual CD), but it has taken me a few days to recover and get to the blog.  Among other things, I want to respond to the comments made in response to the last blog post. 

First, I can tell you I am very eager and excited to see how it all turns out.  Stefan Jackiw played absolutely great, and I felt good about my end of things.  Producer Steve Epstein and Engineer Todd Whitelock were fabulous - the sound quality is amazing (makes me feel bad now for ever listening to anything on an Ipod or over my car stereo) and Steve was really helpful with directing our efforts towards the best possible final result.  I think it is basically a good thing that neither Stefan nor I have a deep knowledge of the technical aspects of recording and editing.  We just prepared as if we were going to play a concert, and we will let them figure out how to edit things together in to an "ideal" performance.  (I don't want to re-address the issue of whether or not recordings are somehow dishonest - see the previous blog post for a little on that).  The hardest part was probably getting energized for each and every take.  In the end, I think we did four complete takes for all but one of the 10 different movements of Brahms Sonatas we recorded.  The first take tended to be fresh and energetic, but after that first playback we inevitably heard things we wanted to do differently - maybe changing tempos, pacing, balance, color, articulation, etc.  The second take was usually a bit more self-conscious as we worked on improving those aspects of the 1st take we didn't like.  The third take was often the best one - we felt we were "covered" for most of the technically problematic passages and we had clarified our musical ideas, so we were able to "just play," without worrying too much about the end result.  The fourth take was similar, but at this point we were definitely feeling mental fatigue. 

I can only imagine how difficult it must be to be a film actor, who may need to film an intense scene of the movie over and over for a whole day, and somehow be enthusiastic and fresh about it every time. 

Following that last take, we usually did a number of spots that for some reason were not "perfect."  For me, there were two passages in one movement that I literally needed to do over 10 times before I got them right.  For Stefan, there were little things that no one can hear in a concert hall, but the very sensitive microphones (like microscopes) pick up things that no one even in the first row of Symphony Hall would hear. 

That is yet another reason that recording is not exactly like performing (see the previous blog post for more on that).  When we play on the stage of any concert hall, we need to project what we are doing to the very last row.  My teacher, Patricia Zander, reminded me repeatedly of the need to listen to myself from the "back of the hall," so to speak.  In concert, we sometimes need to exaggerate musical ideas to convey them over large distances, and we need to play with at least a certain minimum of sound, even if the music is intended to be quiet, or else we won't be heard at all.  With a microphone, however, we can play *extremely* quietly, and musical ideas can and should be somewhat more subtlely expressed.  There are many passages in the Brahms Violin Sonatas which I have played somewhat clearly articulated (in order to "cut through" a reverberant concert hall acoustic)  but which sounded too dry when I listened to my playback at the recording sessions. 

With those things in mind, I think it would be safe to say some people are better "live performers" than "recording artists," and vice versa.  Of course, a great musician does their best to adapt themselves to whatever circumstance they are in, but nevertheless I am sure all of us have our natural strengths and weaknesses.  (I am in the planning stages of a course that I may teach at Boston Conservatory in the future, on Great Artists and their Recordings - at least one or two classes would be focused on comparing the same performers playing the same pieces in a studio recording and in a performance that was recorded live - for example, I have at least two recordings of Richter playing the Mussorgsky "Pictures at an Exhibition," one live, one in a studio, and they are vastly different!). 

Now, in response to the comment from my Dad: just speaking for myself, I do listen to "live recordings" differently than I do to "studio recordings" ... and also differently than I do to a live performance.  I think I would say that, yes, there is a certain excitement to a live recording, that is akin to the excitement of hearing a person live.  On the other hand, since it has been released as a commercial recording, I also have a certain expectation of technical security - otherwise, why would the performer to consent to the performance being released as a recording?  So I think I agree with exactly what you said. 

I have never had a performance recorded and released as a commercial recording, but I have had dozens of performances recorded that were later broadcast on radio and/or internet (after, of course, I had signed something allowing them to be used for this purpose).  I always hope that people hear it with the understanding that the performance was live (i.e. please forgive me for a few wrong notes!). 

Chris, you know, I think I spoke a bit hyperbolically about never listening to whole CD's at a time.  But it is true that I don't listen as well to a CD as I do to a live performance - something about the performer actually being there in person makes me feel that, as a courtesy, I should pay close attention.  This is true for performances on all levels - if I hear Richard Goode in concert I am totally focused on his wonderful playing, but on CD my brain occasionally wanders, not because of his playing, but because of the (unconscious) awareness that I could always go back and listen to the CD again another time; and it is the same with a student auditioning for me on CD or DVD versus auditioning in person.  Maybe if I had a room in the house which was just for listening to CD's, with perhaps just a comfortable chair and a remote control, no kids running in and out, no birds by the windows, no piles of papers silently asking me to sort them, no nearby Blackberry with blinking red light telling me about the emails and Facebook messages I had just received - then, I could really listen with full concentration to a CD at home. 
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Beethoven: Concerto for Piano no 5 in E flat major, Op. 73 "Emperor"
Mendelssohn: Concerto for Piano no 1 in G minor, Op. 25
Barber: Concerto for Piano, Op. 38
Brahms: Variations (11) for Piano on an Original Theme, Op. 21 no 1
Schumann: Papillons, Op. 2
Schoenberg: Little Pieces (6) for Piano, Op. 19
Kirchner: Pieces (5)
Bartók: Out of Doors, Sz 81/BB 89
Bartók: Romanian Folkdances (6), Sz 56/BB 68
Bartók: Sonata for Piano, Sz 80/BB 88
Bartók: Rondos (3) on Slovak folktunes for Piano, Sz 84/BB 92
Bartók: Allegro barbaro for Piano, Sz 49/BB 63
Bartók: Mikrokosmos, Sz 107/BB 105: Book 6
Bartók: Dance Suite for Piano, Sz 77/BB 86
Ravel: Concerto for Piano in G major
Beethoven: Sonata for Piano no 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27 no 2 "Moonlight"
Dvorak: Trio for Piano and Strings no 3 in F minor, Op. 65/B 130
Rachmaninov: Concerto for Piano no 2 in C minor, Op. 18

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