Performing For An Empty Room
7 Feb 2011
Inside the Classics

In an era when most American orchestras either aren’t making new recordings at all, or have taken their recording operations in-house (in other words, self-releasing CDs rather than working with a major label,) we’ve been lucky enough to spend the last seven years working with the Stockholm-based BIS label, which produces hands down the best-sounding classical albums I’ve ever heard on a shockingly consistent basis. The advantage to working with recording pros instead of doing everything yourself is that you have years of expert experience guiding you through a process that is completely different from what we normally spend our weeks doing.

To be honest, a recording week is no musician’s idea of a good time. Endless takes and retakes of the same few bars of music (often because just one or two players who can’t hear each other at all have yet to align themselves perfectly on a single eighth note or some such) are grueling enough, but even the constant breaks for playback in the control room throw off your equilibrium something fierce. It’s a lot easier to just sit down and play for a couple of hours than it is to constantly be starting and stopping, standing around for 15 minutes and then trying to pick up where you left off.

Osmo has to walk a difficult tightrope during these weeks, too. He’s still our boss, but for the purposes of the recording, he’s not really the final authority – that honor goes to BIS ├╝ber-producer Rob Suff, who is far and away the most exacting human being I’ve ever met. Rob and Osmo have worked together for a couple of decades now, both here and in Europe, and they have a finely honed good-cop-bad-cop thing going as far as the orchestra is concerned. (Rob’s the bad cop. Osmo pretends to be on our side.) The goal, of course, is to keep everyone engaged and alert enough to get through the process without any part of the recording sounding tired or sluggish.

Anyway, we’re not doing any recording this week (our next sessions are in June, when we’ll record what I fully expect to be my favorite MN Orch CD ever – Sibelius’s 2nd and 5th symphonies,) but BIS has posted a beautiful video segment documenting our last big project with pianist Yevgeny Sudbin, and it also contains many gorgeous shots of what our city looks like in the non-permafrost months, so I thought I’d share.

For those of you wondering why Jorja Fleezanis and Sarah Kwak are credited as the “leaders” of the orchestra, that’s how concertmasters are referred to in Europe, and they’re generally listed on promotional material alongside conductors. Since BIS is based in Sweden and our CDs are technically imports to the American market, they stick with the European terminology. Jorja and Sarah both get credits in this case because this particular CD was recorded in two different years, and Jorja had retired in the interim.

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