Performing To The Red Light
The antics of pop musicians in the recording studio are the stuff of legend. There are articles and books based around studio experiences - who stormed out, who came to blows or how long it took to put down one bar of a song. Maybe we hear so much about pop musicians because the studio is often a place where they come to compose and experiment.
But classical solo artists don't usually use the studio for this. For them, recording is a process of reproducing music which is already composed and, in many cases, has been recorded hundreds of times before. This puts huge pressures on them - and very few people who listen to the end result on CD will have had a clue about what it took to make it.
I'd not really been aware of the demands that recording makes on classical musicians until Terence Curran got in touch with me last year. He's studied how they cope in a studio situation and his initial findings were fascinating. People he'd spoken to talked of the need for stamina because they might have to do 10 takes of the same difficult octave passage. Some felt a loss of control because they had to take instructions from a producer and some couldn't get used to being without a live audience.
Both Terence and I felt that the subject would be a fascinating one to explore in more depth and we were thrilled when Radio 4 commissioned two documentaries. We drew on Terence's original research and widened it, talking to a range of performers and producers.
It was also crucial for us to get to an actual session, to see at first hand how performers cope in a studio environment. We were allowed in to record the pianist Kathryn Stott and cellist Christian Poltera, who were working on sonatas by Saint-Saëns. We were also able to tape the Takács Quartet as they recorded some Schumann. To watch players of this calibre doing retake after retake to get a phrase just right was an inspiring experience.
We also recorded a newcomer to the recording process - the soprano Ilona Domnich, who was making her first CD with a varied programme of songs and who learned quickly to get used to hearing herself back in the control room.
There were so many new questions that kept arising. How much of a performer's breath does the producer leave in? What happens when soloists play chamber music and each prefers a different take? What happens when it's the last hour of a session and a performer is having an off-moment. And do musicians listen to their own recordings?
If you want to find out the answers, then do tune into Performing to the Red Light on Radio 4 , on Tuesday 2 June and Tuesday 9 June 1.30pm.
If you've had experience in a recording studio yourself leave a comment and share your thoughts.
Note - Ilona Domnich's album Le Secret has now been released on the Quartz label. You can find out more at the Quartz Music website.