New Metropolis Recordings: Documenting the Process

October 15, 2011 2:01 am 0 comments

Tanglewood's Ozawa Hall

Big news: Metropolis Ensemble is releasing two new albums—one for Nonesuch featuring works by Timothy Andres, and the other for Naxos with works by Vivian Fung. Both composers were presented in Metropolis’s latest Renderings concert at the Angel Orensanz Center on September 15.

Musicians got together for an intensive week of rehearsals, followed by a weeklong recording marathon at the Tanglewood studios in Massachusetts. Timo played piano for his own pieces: Homestretch (concerto for piano and small orchestra), Paraphrase on Themes by Brian Eno (for chamber orchestra), and Piano Concerto No. 26, “Coronation” (an adaptation of Mozart’s incomplete concerto). Vivian’s pieces—Dreamscapes (for prepared piano and orchestra), Violin Concerto, and Glimpes (for solo prepared piano)—were performed by soloists Conor Hanick on piano, and Kristin Lee on violin.

There are some pretty obvious factors that make recording sessions different from rehearsals and performances, but not all in ways that you might expect. Timo explains:

“Most of my job as composer was accomplished during rehearsals, where I talked about interpretation and mood. The recording session was about the fine details: balance, intonation, tempo. One thing that happens when you have different takes is you wind up with different tempos. It requires a level of precision that I find to be great for musicianship.”

Vivian had a much different rehearsal and recording experience than Timo, as she was hearing her pieces for the first time being played by musicians. “We were figuring out the kinks during rehearsal, like the tricky spots, tempo changes, coordination of Kristin’s part with everyone else,” Vivian explains. “It’s hard when you’re rehearsing the piece for the first time to get a handle on what it sounds like. You have to get familiar with the sound world.”

During the recording process, Vivian was sitting in the control room making notes on what needed to be worked on, adjustments to the dynamics, marking which takes were best; she even rewrote orchestra parts to make some transitions smoother. Vivian remarks, “It would be different if it were for a performance, but this was going to be etched in a recording forever! I wanted it to sound exactly how I meant for it to be.”

The whole process was a unique experience for the musicians to have the composers present for the rehearsals and recording session, offering minute-to-minute feedback and adjusting the piece as they played. Conor, who performed solo piano on Vivian’s Dreamscapes and Glimpses, commented on the experience:

“While we were rehearsing, Vivian sat next to me and wrote notes and suggestions. You definitely can’t cut any corners when a composer’s sitting next to you! It definitely ups the ante for playing the music as accurately and brilliantly as possible.”

Kristin, who played both the solo part of Vivian’s Violin Concerto and the orchestra part in other pieces, had to pace herself during the intense week. She compares her approach to the recording sessions and performance, which took place one week later:

“During the recording session, the priority was clarity of tone, exaggerated dynamics, clean playing—it was very focused on the technical aspects. The performance was more musical. I let loose and had a good time. I didn’t necessarily care if I missed a note, I really went over the top and was much more flexible with my interpretation.”

Despite the stressful rehearsal and recording process, Kristin comes out of it asserting, “It was really more fun than anything.” Conor also agrees that despite the grueling 9-hour recording sessions everyday, the group had an amazing time:

“The group was so positive and supportive that any time the attention span or enthusiasm dipped, there were people that brought us back. This was the smoothest sailing recording I’ve ever experience—it had a lot to do with Andrew Cyr being so organized, calm, levelheaded, and precise about what he wanted.”

The musicians and composers all agree that it was an exhausting, but totally rewarding process; Vivian shares a final reflection on the experience:

“I felt so good about the whole process because everyone was so invested in the project. For me, the pieces took on a life of their own; Conor and Kristin really owned the pieces. It’s like giving birth to a baby—it’s something that’s yours that grows into something that you share with other musicians.”

Be on the lookout for these two new Metropolis albums in 2012!

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