As I mentioned last week, we here at BBC NOW HQ are in the midst of a recording session marathon. Last week was the glitzy TV stuff (more Atlantis, and the Doctor Who Christmas special), and this week we have been recording for both Radio 3, and also for commercial release.
First up, and rather apt after our Americana series, were three rather obscure American works. We were working with American conductor Edwin Outwater who is a very pleasant character, so that, along with the copious amounts of chocolate consumed by our section, made for a very pleasant few days.
We recorded works by Lou Harrison, Henry Cowell (no relation to Simon), and Charles Loeffler’s Le Mort de Tintagiles - obviously not a particularly cheerful work! The Loefller is definitely worth keeping an ear out for (although I rather liked the Cowell also), as it features our own Viola Principal, Goran Frost, in solo mode on the viola of luuuuurve. Or as it is better known in more proper and academic circles, the viola d’amore.
I love the sound of the viola d’amore, and it looks very cool too. It normally has 14 strings - seven that you play on, and seven that are resonating, ‘sympathetic’ strings. In other words, it takes a long time to tune.
During the 17th century the tuning of these strings was dependent on the key of the work being performed, but after a century of messing about with this rather impractical approach, tuning the instrument to a D major chord was settled upon (from the lowest string up: A - D - A - D - F# - A - D).
To be honest, players probably got so annoyed by having to retune 14 strings every time they played a different piece that someone must have convened a summit meeting around 1760 or so and said, ‘Right lads, enough of this nonsense, let’s stick to one tuning. D major is pretty nice. Any objections?’
The second part of this week was given over to working with cellist Raphael Wallfisch and conductor, William Boughton for Nimbus. Keep an eye on Raphael’s website for further details of this recording to be announced.
While recording is a massive and very important part of an orchestra’s work, there are times in a long recording patch like this when you begin to go a little bit stir crazy. Consciously or unconsciously, you begin to miss the thrill of live performance, because frankly, that is something that nothing can replicate or replace.
So, just at that point in this marathon of obedience to the studio’s red recording light, we received the welcome news that our recording of Parry’s Works of Chorus and Orchestra with Neeme Jarvi for Chandos has been nominated for a Grammy!There is a lot of stiff competition in our category (Best Choral Performance), but it is a massive honour to be nominated, especially in our wonderful chorus’ 30th anniversary season. It also brings me some consolation as I missed watching Ulster play in the Heineken Cup Final at Twickenham as the recordings clashed with the match (I had a ticket and everything!). Granted Ulster lost, but that is not a fact we should dwell on.