Wales

After two wonderful concerts with our new principal conductor, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales is currently spending a little bit of studio time with him, recording music for Radio 3 with several of the BBC's New Generation Artists.

We do a lot of different types of recording sessions - soundtrack work, radio drama work, radio jingles, commercial recordings - but on this occasion, we are recording individual works for broadcast on Radio 3. Which thankfully means no click tracks (regular readers of this blog will know I am no lover of the click track, not least because I fear the unhygienic stickiness of our studio headphones).

After Tuesday afternoon's concert, I was feeling rather drained. It sounds a bit pathetic, but I really was. The Kalinnikov was truly quite a play, and, much as I love Prokofiev, his music is just so naughty! Seriously, switch off for one second, and you'll have put in an embarrassing spare, missed a tempo change, or committed some other unpardonable musical sin.

Thus, Wednesday morning was not a joyous one for me, and it was only with the help of two strong coffees that I managed to even get out of my pyjamas, never mind into the studio and compos mentis enough to be allowed to operate a viola!

Between Wednesday morning and Thursday afternoon, we will have recorded:

  • Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 1
  • Britten Phaedra
  • Franck Symphonic Variations
  • Verdi Othello (Act 3, Scene 7)
  • Verdi Macbeth (Act 3, Scene 1)

That's a lot of notes. More importantly, that's a lot of page turns. Which brings me to another recording studio issue that many may not have thought we would have to worry about. How does one quietly turn the page when one's music does not want to, and quite simply refuses to, stay open on the stand?

There are many pit falls to orchestral page turning, and in the recording studio with its unbelievably sensitive microphones, you face two main enemies. These enemies do not apply on stage where you can turn pages with a flourish and look vaguely good, so long as you don't flourish the music into the first few rows of audience.

Enemy Number One: old parts. This music is old, crinkly, often held together with sticky tape, and WILL NOT turn quietly. This is the one most like to have the producer announce over the speaker: "I think someone has a noisy page turn at Figure 30".

Enemy Number Two: new parts. There is a very specific type of new part that simply does not like to be opened out, and will gradually close over as you play, no matter what you do to it.

Us string players have it lucky. At least we share parts. Goodness knows what the wind and brass do with dodgy page turns. I imagine feet, and any other unused body parts, are employed in the turning of, and keeping open of pages. Perhaps it is best not to ruminate on that thought for too long!

The BBC National Orchestra of Wales will explore the music of the Camberwell Composers Collective at BBC Hoddinott Hall on Friday 26 October – for more information, visit the Orchestra’s website.

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