The past three days have been an amazing and rewarding experience. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales played so musically and internalized all of this new music and the styles incredibly quickly. It was immediately apparent how well they listen to one another; when one section or Nick Whiting (the very fine Leader of the first violins) would play a certain way, the others would follow and match accordingly. It flew by quickly, and I wish we had more time together. The orchestra was friendly and receptive to these new works, and let me know what I needed to give them in order that they could play at their best. The pace and intensity of recording is quite different from preparing for a concert. Each minute of rehearsal is recorded, and we do some longer takes which are more performance-like, and then go back to redo trouble spots. Things can sound quite different in the sound booth than in the hall, so we must rely on the phenomenal ears and experience of producer Phil Rowlands, who directed us on which passages needed extra attention.
It is challenging to maintain the intensity throughout smaller chunks, to match the musical ideas of the previous takes, and to maintain the same tempos throughout. Furthermore, it is an additional challenge to know that on a recording with many microphones picking up each detail, technical precision may be much more apparent than in a live performance, so we must accommodate our playing to perfectly line up with each other while also playing musically and with flexibility.
Day 1 – Beethoven9, Symphonic Remix
This was brand-new for the orchestra (although it had been performed several times by other orchestras), and the first time I conducted it. In some ways, it was the most technically demanding work on the record, and we jumped right into the thick of it from the get-go. The rhythmic complexity of the first movement is exacting. But there is also incredibly powerful and fun music in this piece, and Gabriel’s imagination in transforming the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth into a much more modern interpretation resonated well with the musicians. Even with the virtuosic demands placed on the musicians, I think it was a very successful day and the result will be quite exciting.
Day 2 – Sonata for Orchestra, Op. 30 No.2b
Having conducted this work several times before (and co-authored the transcription), I knew where the pitfalls lay, and knew that this version stands up to inevitable scrutiny. I also was quite aware of some of the technical demands that a Beethoven Sonata presents (even though there are also famously difficult passages in his symphonies and Fidelio) especially as a result of taking some of the keyboard music and arranging them in the strings or winds. I believe we achieved a convincingly musical result, and the second movement was especially poignant with these fine musicians. In the orchestrated form, I was also very happy with how the third movement turned out, because I think you can get so many colors and articulations from an orchestral palette that is so much more varied than a violin and piano duo. The very end (the coda) of the last movement is very powerful in orchestral form. I hope that the haunting and immediately arresting misterioso opening of the work comes across on the record as it did in the hall.
Day 3 – Triumph of Love: Symphonic Suite from Fidelio
In some ways, this was the elephant in the room. I had led a reading/workshop with students from the University of Michigan when I completed the arrangement several months ago, but no one outside that room had heard the piece and knew if it worked. And I can confidently report that the takeaway was incredibly positive. This music absolutely stands on its own and should deserve a place in the repertoire. The score is most closely Beethovenian of the three on this album, and the selections that I used are among the most symphonic in the opera. The music is dramatic and beautiful, and highlight the symphonic sound of the opera. Some people have said that Fidelio as an opera is like “a symphony with words.” Well, soon, you will be able to hear just the opposite, and I think you will agree with me that this music is incredible.
Again, I am very grateful to all the supporters who helped to finance this project. I am also grateful to the experience and ears of Phil Rowlands, who knows exactly what is necessary to make a great recording, and who is a great friend and a perfect working partner. To the fine musicians and staff at BBC NOW, bravi tutti! Things came together extremely fast, and I appreciated the insight and help from the experienced musicians who were musical and supportive throughout, even with a young and unknown conductor on the podium.
The editing and mastering will take place over the summer, and I will write updates about label and release information!