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Capturing the North Carolina Symphony: More Than Just Hitting 'Record'

The North Carolina Symphony is recording its performances of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony this weekend at Meymandi Concert Hall, using the talents of Symphony cellist Nathaniel Yaffe (pictured)…on stage and off.

With a double major in Cello Performance and Audio Recording from the Cleveland Institute of Music, Nathaniel is looking forward to both playing and recording the performance of such an iconic piece of music.

Recording an orchestra has to take into account a number of factors. Nathaniel says that it is all about trying to recreate something that showcases a balance between the instruments, a sense of spaciousness that highlights the physical size of the orchestra, as well as a three dimensional tone from the concert hall. As he puts it, “I don’t like the idea of playing for a recording; I think that the recording should capture a great performance, so that’s what I’m trying to do. I think that our music director Grant Llewellyn is doing a great job getting the orchestra to sound great, and I am doing everything I can do to be ready to capture it as best I can on the weekend.”

As an undergraduate, Nathaniel worked as a production intern with the Telarc International label, and worked with producers and engineers in recording Boston Baroque and the Cleveland Orchestra when they did a production for PBS. The North Carolina Symphony’s recording of Beethoven’s Fifth will take place at concerts in Meymandi on Friday and Saturday nights, with a “patch session” held after the Saturday concert.

The microphones have been set and tweaked at rehearsals this week, and so Nathaniel, along with Grant and Symphony VP & General Manager Martin Sher, will listen to Friday’s recording, discuss any issues, and immediately after Saturday’s performance, identify areas to work on and start the patch session, which allows the orchestra to capture and fix particular passages if needed.

After the patch session on Saturday night, Nathaniel will confer with Grant and Martin, and will create an “edit map.”  As he says, “I’ll say, ‘Friday night I want from here and here… Saturday night I want this measure here’… and then I’m going to go home and put all of that together.

I will be mixing and mastering and editing and that will take a handful more hours – I expect to spend about 10 hours or so on that.”

Grant is thrilled about the recording and working with Nathaniel on the project. He says, “The opportunity to try and capture the orchestra in this sound space, which is an absolute jewel of an acoustic, in one of the great masterpieces of all time…always has a bit more octane than if you were playing in a recording studio into a microphone. And of course now, we have Nathaniel within the orchestra who can bring his extra expertise to the recording project. It really is a unique opportunity.” 

The recording, which is not for commercial release, came about through the generosity of Symphony supporters and past Symphony Foundation trustee Edward Woolner and current Symphony Society trustee Darliene Woolner. Mr. Woolner approached Symphony CEO Sandi Macdonald last year with the idea of creating a “calling card” for the State of North Carolina recommending that we work with the Commerce Department on the distribution of the CD. The Symphony has been working with Secretary Susan Kluttz of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources and Secretary Sharon Decker of the N.C. Department of Commerce to include this recording of the state symphony in materials that are used to attract new businesses and jobs to the state through the strength of the arts and culture of North Carolina.

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is one of the most recorded pieces of classical music, and Grant shares that everyone has to be on their toes because of its very conversational nature. “The narrative that gets passed around from section to section is all over the orchestra, and to nail every single one of those myriad entries is a challenge for any orchestra in any concert,” he says. “And of course the danger is that people start playing safe if they know there is a recording. To get the thrill, the danger, the white hot quality that is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, is going to be the challenge.”

For those lucky enough to have tickets to performances tonight in Southern Pines, Friday and Saturday in Raleigh, and Sunday in Chapel Hill, they will witness not only Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, but Mozart’s astounding Piano Concerto No. 25 with guest artist Irina Zahharenkova, and also Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for Strings, Op. 47, featuring Concertmaster Brian Reagin, Elizabeth Phelps, violin; Samuel Gold, viola; and Bonnie Thron, cello. Audiences will notice that Grant has moved the orchestra quartet behind him in order to further showcase their performances – a decision made after rehearsals were underway – which will be an exciting way for folks to experience Elgar and this amazing solo quartet from the Symphony.

In other North Carolina Symphony recording news, the Zuill Bailey: Cello Symphony & Sonata CD, recorded in February with Music Director Grant Llewellyn and the North Carolina Symphony, will be released on January 14, 2014.

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