Table of Contents

 

The Producer by Harold Lawrence

Some Moments with Janos Starker by Harold Lawrence

Monteux's San Fransico Years by Ronald Penndorf

Charles Mingus by Richard Brown

Bernstein in London, a Personal Memoir by Harold Lawrence

The Art of Classical Recording unkown

Harold Lawrence Interviews Derek Sugden

The Recording of Paris 1917-1938 by Harold Lawrence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Producer

by Harold Lawrence

 

 

In 1888, when Hans von Bulow visited the Edison laboratories to record a Chopin Mazurka, there was no record "producer" on hand to direct the proceedings, only a technician, a wax cylinder phonogram and a large horn. By any standards the sound coming from the the rubber playback tube was atrocious. But even the slight resemblance to a real piano was enough to cause the great German musician to swoon on the spot.

The term, producer, had not yet come into being when Edison's invention was taking the world by storm, but the producer's role existed even before musicians began making the trek to Edison's studio in West Orange, New Jersey. Someone had to select the artist to be recorded, invite him/her to record, negotiate a fee, choose the repertoire to be recorded, schedule the actual sessions, and recommend the number of cylinders to engrave in the initial production run - all of which have been functions of the record producer for over one hundred years, except, of course, for changing recording techniques.

In the days of the cylinder, producers and artists did not enjoy the benefits of mass production. A singer in the 1890's had to record the same song numerous times to satisfy commercial demand. A "master" could yield only about 25 duplicates before the wax cylinder gave out. Even using five cylinder recorders simultaneously, a single "take" could result in only 125 cylinder copies. The expression, "limited edition," had real meaning in those days.

When Enrico Caruso made his first recordings with orchestral accompaniment in 1906, the producer was faced with an interesting challenge. Because of the narrow frequency response of the acoustical recording process, it was impossible to pick up the entire ensemble through the pre-electrical horn device. So the musical forces had to be reduced. The producer had to decide on how many musicians he could fit into the studio and, more important, how many could actually be "heard".

The first thing he did was to re-orchestrate the accompaniments. Parts scored by the composer for the more delicate-sounding instruments were assigned to louder musical species, or dropped completely. In solo recording, violins posed no problems for the producer, but within an orchestral context, they were inaudible. Rather than replace the violin with another instrument, he used a Stroh violin, an odd-looking musical contraption in which the sound box is replaced by an amplifying horn. Cellists and wind players sat on high chairs, and the whole group was squeezed into a tiny room.

In a 1910 photograph of a band recording in a Parisian studio, a long-coated be-capped technician is seen getting ready to lower the stylus on the cylinder while the producer looks on and the burly bearded conductor is about to give the downbeat. Contemporary orchestra musicians who complain about crowded working conditions in the recording studio should examine this photograph.

It took nearly half a century before the term, producer, was used to describe the person responsible for what went on in the recording studio. Goddard Lieberson (1911-1977) was the first to bill himself as a producer.

President of Columbia Records, Lieberson was a trained musician and a brilliant entrepreneur who built a classical catalogue second to none in the industry in the Fifties and Sixties. Probably his greatest achievement was to persuade Columbia's board of directors not only to seek exclusive rights to record "My Fair Lady", but to invest in the show itself. He then produced the recording and saw to it that the profits from the album sales and the stage production accrued to the benefit of the classical division.

Thus it was that "My Fair Lady"- and many of the 71 original-cast albums produced by Lieberson between 1947-1976-financed some of the label's most important classical recordings. These included an ongoing series of contemporary American works, a survey of the music of Igor Stravinsky, and a number of superbly produced and documented multi-LP sets, such as the Civil War package, among others.

Composer, writer, television personality and extremely astute businessman, Lieberson was also one of the top recording producers of his time. His partner in sound was the experienced engineer, Fred Plaut. The Lieberson-Plaut team operated in a deconsecrated church on 30th Street that Columbia had transformed into one of the best recording halls in the world. Apart from installing a large control room, "30th Street" basically was left unchanged and provided Lieberson with exactly the right combination of clarity and spaciousness.

Finding and capturing the right "sound" is one of the producer's chief responsibilities. Under ideal circumstances, he selects the recording site, decides on the microphone setup to be used (minimal, multi, or somewhere in between), and chooses the engineer. For a work like Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, should he opt for the sound of a large concert hall, warm and lush, or a tight sound, stark, dry and sharply defined? Sometimes a sense of distance can be marvelously appropriate, as in Ravel's Rapsodie Espagnole . In piano recording, the producer must achieve the perfect ratio of direct-to-reflected sound. Too close-up and the hammers can be heard pounding the strings. A too remote pickup will blur the articulation of rapid passages.

Approaches to sound vary enormously from one producer to the next. Edward Cole, director of MGM's classical division in the Fifties, felt that room acoustics got in the way of the music. To obtain the most direct sound possible, he placed all his microphones close to the source. The result was that a blindfolded listener could always recognize an MGM classical recording, although he might not enjoy its dry, relentless quality. In visual terms, it was almost like a portrait photograph shot with a fish-eye lens.

Deutsche Grammophon's orchestral recordings in the Fifties and Sixties, on the other hand, reflected German tastes in audio at the time. Presence was shunned in favor of a softer, long-view perspective with a large-hipped bass.

Outside the recording studio, the producer can make a lasting contribution to the musical world by helping to launch or enhance the careers of outstanding artists. The legendary Walter Legge was a case in point. As artist and repertory director of EMI (then His Master's Voice), Legge put the full resources of his powerful classical label behind artists who were neglected or just emerging, such as Herbert von Karajan, Victor De Sabata, Guido Cantelli, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, whom he later married. Taking a page out of the life of Sir Thomas Beecham, he created a symphony orchestra in London, named it the Philharmonia, and appointed Karajan its principal conductor. With a guarantee of a steady stream of recordings commissioned by EMI, the orchestra had a solid financial base on which to build. Under Legge's direction, it quickly earned the reputation of England's finest orchestra.

Using the Philharmonia as bait, Legge was able to attract Paul Hindemith to London to record for EMI. He also induced Wilhelm Furtwängler to record with the Philharmonia - with spectacular results.

Legge's recording output was prodigious. Largely self-taught as a musician, he nevertheless inspired respect, even awe, from the artists he recorded. In a tribute to Legge on the occasion of his death in 1979, producer John Culshaw wrote that there has been no comparable artistic force in the history of the record industry.

Some of the many artists who recorded for Legge might have described him as awesome. Culshaw put it this way:

If, before Legge, Madame X chose to sing out of tune or to mispronounce her words, then generally she would be allowed to do so; but with Legge, Madame X would either get it right or receive a lesson on how to get it right. What's more, she would go on doing it until she got it right.

In view of the producer's out-of-studio activities, his work in the recording hall might seem anti-climactic. But when all is said and done, this is where it all comes together, the culmination of months and often years of planning.

The following session is a case in point. It took place in May 1964, in a New York studio in the Great Northern Hotel, a few hundred yards from Carnegie Hall. The recording "Broadway Marches" (Mercury Living Presence SR 90390), was the brainchild of Frederick Fennell, then under exclusive contract to Mercury Records. Fennell had commissioned John Krance to arrange marches from some of Broadway's most renowned musicals. Krance was a logical choice; his association with Fennell dated back to 1952 when he played French horn in the Eastman Wind Ensemble. For the session, Fennell assembled his own wind, brass and percussion ensemble from among New York's most talented studio musicians.

Fennell arrived over an hour before the start of the session. Perched on a stool in the empty Studio A of Fine Recording, he pored over the large manuscripts spread out before him on the music stand. From time to time, he would toss out a cue to an invisible player, hammer out a cadence, and scribble notes to himself in the score.

Inside the glassed-in control room, I reviewed the microphone setup with engineer George Piros. The copyist had just delivered the parts for the session and John Krance was hurriedly making the inevitable last-minute corrections.

Technicians moved into the hall through the forest of microphone booms and scratched the microphones while we verified the inputs on the board.
Everything had been made ready for the musicians, including the placing of ashtrays beside nearly every chair. The musicians now began to file in. Bob Swan, the session's contractor and former percussionist with the Eastman Wind Ensemble, gathered the corrected instrumental parts from Krance and distributed them to the players. Soon the hall filled up with the pleasant chaos of tuning that the 18th century English music historian, Burney, called a "Dutch concert".

At the official starting time, Swan counted noses. He spotted an empty chair in the trumpet section, looked around the hall, and blanched. A quick telephone call revealed that the player had left town, probably because he had double-booked himself - one of the risks of heavy studio dating. Swan and I went into a huddle, along with Fennell, Krance and composer Alec Wilder, who was attending the session as our guest. Wilder came up with the name of a player and all of us agreed enthusiastically that he was our man. The call was placed and he could make it in thirty-five minutes.

Five minutes past session time. By now the din was overpowering. An acrid pall of smoke hung over the players. I cupped my hands over Fennell's ear. "Fred, start rehearsing without the trumpet. We'll use the time to set our mike balances."

Fennell slipped his baton under his arm and clapped his hands. "All right, gentlemen, settle down, please! We'll start with 'Strike Up The Band.' "
All 14 microphones were set to a cardioid pattern and fed to three-track half-inch Ampex tape machines, the same used for Mercury's Living Presence classical recordings. I assigned trombones, one percussion, traps, double bass, frets, accordion, and organ to the left channel; French horns, one percussion, tuba and reeds to the center; and the trumpets, one percussion, and the remainder of the reeds to the right. Trumpets and trombones were placed on platforms, for better visual communication.

Telefunken U-47's picked up percussion, reeds, accordion, French horns and organ; RCA 44's covered the frets and the rest of the brass; an RCA BK-5 was on the traps; and, for the double bass, an RCA 77-D.

The sound coming from the three Altec loudspeaker systems mounted above the control room's glass panel belied the fact that only 22 musicians were playing. The group's rich sonorities lay in the scoring, as well as the mike setup and the bright acoustics of Studio A. Krance's use of doubling made the ensemble sound larger than its actual size. The first wind player, for example, handled piccolo, flute and B-flat clarinet; the second played flute, oboe, B-flat clarinet and alto saxophone; and the third switched from two clarinets (B-flat and E-flat) to baritone saxophone.

During the run-through of the Gershwin, everything seemed out of kilter. The piccolo was too piercing; an overly close pickup of the French horns caused intermodulation distortion in thickly-scored passages; the double bass was dull and thumpy; and trombones lacked resonance.

Where to begin? I asked Fennell to conduct another run-through. While the second test take was in progress, microphones were adjusted and levels were altered on the board. Not all the imbalances were due to levels and microphones; some could only be rectified in performance. And here, teamwork among the producer, conductor and engineer would be essential.

Gradually the sound began to fall into place. Order was brought out of chaos. By the time the missing trumpet arrived, we were ready for our first "legitimate" take.

copyright 2002 by Harold Lawrence, RECOLLECTIONS


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Moments with Janos Starker

by Harold Lawrence

 

After the last notes of the Bach Allegro had faded, Janos Starker rose from his chair in the ballroom of the Great Northern Hotel Studio A of Fine Recording, where many of Mercury's Living Presence chamber music recordings were made in the 1960s.

Starker gently laid aside his Lord Aylesford Stradivarius 'cello, inserted a fresh cigarette into a long holder, and walked swiftly toward the control room.

He entered just as the engineer was rewinding the tape. Above the garbled sounds emanating from the three Altec Voice of the Theater monitor loudspeakers, he asked, "What was the timing of this movement ?" "Three minutes and fifty seconds", I replied. Lifting his dark, expressive eyebrows, Starker said he played it slightly faster these days. "It sounds lighter this way... and it dances."

Having cued the tape, the engineer pressed the start button. The magnificent sounds of the Lord Aylesford filled the room. Starker mentally ticked off the details that required adjustment: a stronger accent for the top note of a phrase, a wolf tone that needed replacement, a 32nd note figure that could be clearer, an A-string that was a bit sharp. . .

In rapid fire Hungarian, Starker discussed balance problems with his colleague, pianist Gyorgy Sebök, then turned to us for a final consultation before returning to the hall for the next take.

The atmosphere at a Starker recording session is one of efficiency -sotto voce. No stranger to the recording process, Starker began making records right after World War II, when he not only played the 'cello, but supervised the sessions and edited the tapes. He performed all these tasks not because he aspired to become a musical Orson Welles, but simply because the small company for which he worked lacked the necessary staff.

The fact that Starker seems absolutely at ease in the recording studio might be regarded as a sign of an easygoing personality. Between takes, he responds with charm and wit to people around him; he is a vivid raconteur: and he loves nothing better than to engage in a brisk and lively exchange of ideas on politics and contemporary literature.

But it's fascinating to observe Starker switch instantly from the entertaining social companion to the intensely concentrated performer. Before we were through chuckling over a particularly amusing anecdote, Starker would already have stubbed out his cigarette and left the control room for the studio, leaving behind him a set of suggestions for the next takes. A record producer has got to be on his toes at a Starker session.

 

My first recording with Starker began on the morning of July 6, 1962 at Watford Town Hall outside of London, acoustically one of the finest recording spaces in the world. The work was Dvorák's Concerto in B Minor, with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Antal Dorati.

A favorite haunt of the Mercury Living Presence recording team, Watford Town Hall was the site of over 150 Mercury sessions between 1956 and 1965, including dozens with Dorati, who had a long term exclusive contract with the label. Dorati was also a regular guest conductor with the London Symphony and was largely responsible for the orchestra's rise to recording prominence in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Dorati was therefore familiar with the Mercury modus operandi. He knew that his job was to start rehearsing while the recording team listened intently in the control room for instrumental definition and balance between soloist and orchestra, made adjustments to the three Telefunken 201 microphones set up on the wooden floor of the auditorium, and checked constantly with the engineers in the recording truck parked outside in the courtyard to ensure that the tape and magnetic film recorders were in good working order.

There was a lot of traffic going on between the control room and the halls; doors opening and shutting, cables unraveling, microphones being lowered, raised or angled, canvas being spread on the floor here and there for critical dampening. But neither Starker nor Dorati seemed distracted by these intrusions. When the time-consuming procedure was over, I made my announcement to the musical forces that we were ready for a level check. The principal oboist played the 'A', the machines in the recording truck began to roll, "Stand by, please" sounded over the monitor loudspeakers in the hall, and Dorati conducted the orchestra in what was the loudest and densest portion of the score.

Out in the recording truck, meters were carefully noted as the Dvorák fortes poured out of the three Ampex reference amplifier-speakers suspended on hooks above the dashboard and the steering wheel. In a few moments, chief engineer Bob Fine told us he was ready for a take.

Dorati tapped his baton and Janos Starker and the eighty-five musicians of the London Symphony settled down to wait for the "slate"-the announcement of the first take. In many ways, the first take at a recording session can be the most critical of all. Musically and technically, it provides the artists and the recording team with a blueprint of the work to be done.

After the run-through of the first movement, Starker and Dorati, accompanied by members of the orchestra, crowded into the control room for the playback. It was clear that alterations were needed: there was not enough woodwind sound generally; the timpani lacked crispness (should the player use hard sticks?); the upper strings of the solo 'cello seemed slightly off focus. . .

Bob Fine and the technical crew were already on their way to the hall. Moments later, stagehands added a six-inch riser to the wind section and the 'cello platform was moved a few inches toward the center microphone. Critical adjustments were made in placing the "outrigger" microphones (left and right). Meanwhile, in the control room, I compared "notes" with the soloist and conductor.

Like his friend and long-time collaborator, Antal Dorati, Starker is meticulous but not fussy. He strives for consistency of expression rather than merely achieving "the best takes". Unlike some other recording artists, Starker has a conductor's view of the orchestral score and attempts to integrate his part into the overall fabric. If a passage is designed strictly as an obbligato to an orchestral melody, he never insists it be given prominence. Years of playing inside orchestras in Budapest, Dallas and Chicago nourished this broader perspective.

Beyond an awareness of how his solo part dovetails with the full orchestral score, "I make it a point to relate each work I play to the total output of its composer", Starker said in an interview I had with him last summer.

Janos Starker often has been called a musician's musician. Commenting on this description, he said; "I've always felt that my music-making was not for mass consumption. My appeal will never be truly for the casual concert-goer, but rather for the more knowledgeable music lover".
To discophiles, however, Starker's appeal is worldwide. His recorded output of more than one hundred recordings is distinguished by a high level of excellence.

 

 

Born in Budapest into a musical family, Starker began to study 'cello soon after he was six. He was already teaching the instrument at the age of eight. With his two violin playing brothers, he explored the basic works of the chamber music repertory. At ten he made his solo debut, and four years later he was assigned to his first orchestral post.

After graduating from the Franz Liszt Academy, where Sebök was a fellow student, he became principal cellist with the Budapest Philharmonic and Opera Orchestras. Between concerts and rehearsal, he practiced furiously, building up his large repertory. For income-and amusement-he played in jazz bands and Gypsy ensembles. He recalls the potted-palm pieces he often played in Hungarian cafés and still performs some of them for his friends, using a wide vibrato and soulful slides.

At the war's end, Starker went west to seek a more secure livelihood. He settled in Paris where, faced with a scarcity of jobs, he once worked as a movie extra. At a certain point, he took time out to reassess his artistic and technical achievements. During the winter of 1946, he isolated himself in Cannes on the French Riviera to work and study. He began to make his mark on the European musical scene when, two years later, his friend Antal Dorati offered him the post of principal cellist with the Dallas Symphony. After Dallas came first chair posts with the Metropolitan Opera House Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony, both under the baton of the great Fritz Reiner.

Starker gave up orchestral work in 1958, going on to create a legendary career both on the concert stage and in recording halls of several continents.

copyright 2002 by Harold Lawrence, RECOLLECTIONS

photos copyright 2002 by Mary Morris.

 

Harold Lawrence joined Mercury Records in 1956 as music director. During his twelve years with the label, he was music supervisor, editor, and later producer for over 300 Living Presence recordings, including eleven LPs with Janos Starker. In 1967 he was appointed general manager of London Symphony Orchestra, after a decade of association in the recording halls with that orchestra.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monteux's San Fransico Years

by Ronald Penndorf

 

In January 1936 Pierre Monteux arrived in San Francisco to become conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

Although he had been hired, largely to rebuild an orchestra that was in sorry disarray, he remained here for seventeen years. In that time he not only rebuilt the orchestra, he brought musical culture to the Bay Area. Under Pierre Monteux the San Francisco Symphony became a great symphony orchestra, and a fine and responsive musical instrument. Recordings show us that of all the orchestras he conducted, the San Francisco was most his own. It was an orchestra that clearly reflected his tastes, and whose sound was exactly what he wanted. (To be fair Monteux's own favorite was his Paris Orchestra of the Twenties.) It was also an orchestra with which he made many records.

Monteux's commercial recordings with the San Francisco Symphony were made for RCA Victor's Red Seal Division in roughly three groups. The first recordings were done in 1941 and 42 and were originally released as 78s. The second group was made between 1945 and 1947, also originally as 78s, and the last group was done from 1949 through 1952. These were released as 78s, 45s and monaural LPs. In 1960 a final recording with the symphony was made in stereo.

As much as symphony programs, these recordings give us a sense of Monteux's repertoire. Naturally, Monteux's upbringing and training gave him a love of the French composers and this love is reflected in the many recordings he made of their works. The 1940s Red Seal Catalogues are filled with Monteux records of d'Indy, Franck, Berlioz, Chausson, Debussy and Ravel. Particularly powerful and moving is his LP recording of the Berlioz Symphonie fantastique, a record that rightly won the Grand prix du disque. Monteux was also at ease with the German symphonists as is shown by his recordings of some Beethoven symphonies and a few works by Johannes Brahms. Of these, the Brahms Alto Rhapsody with Marian Anderson is especially touching. He recorded other German composers, among them Bruch, Mahler, Wagner and Strauss. And some of his most colorful recordings are of the Russians; Rimsky-Korsakov and Igor Stravinsky.

All of these records offer us a remarkable portrait of Monteux's personal orchestra. It is an orchestra that reflects his ideal, and one that is keenly responsive to him; an orchestra of light string tone and quietly colorful winds, of raspy brass, and of delicate texture and timbre. It is above all an orchestra of great variety.

These recordings also allow us to hear Monteux's "absolute sense of the score". They reveal his familiarity with every phrase, their relation to each other, and finally their part in the work. The recordings show how Monteux artfully builds a work from parts that magically become a whole.

Finally, the commercial records demonstrate how Monteux uniquely brings 'program music' to life, and how he makes even very 'abstract' music, very human.

What these commercial recordings do not show us is how extremely well the orchestra played. For that we must look elsewhere. We must also look elsewhere for examples of Monteux's broader repertoire and for the many great performances by the symphony's famous guests.

On Sunday October 21, 1926, the first radio broadcast of the San Francisco Symphony was produced. This series of radio concerts was made possible by a grant from the Standard Oil Company of California and these and subsequent concerts became known as the "Standard Hour".

By the time Pierre Monteux became conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, the "Standard Hour" had become part of the cultural tradition of Northern California. These programs brought fine music to anyone who had a radio and who wanted to listen. The regular Sunday evening broadcasts were anticipated and much loved.

Air-checks of these concerts had been made since the mid-thirties. Although the Symphony performances were held at the Opera House, these air-checks were fed to the NBC studios on Taylor Street and there were cut into transcription disqs. The early disqs were 78 RPM, 16" acetates and were made on a Presto Cutter. Glass disqs were also used at this time. Later, in the forties, vinyl disqs were introduced and these were cut at 78 RPM and 33 1/3 RPM. Generally four sides were used to make one broadcast.

Many of these transcriptions have survived, and now most of them reside at the San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum. For playback convenience and ease of storage the original transcription disqs have been transfered to DAT tape. This was done by the staff of the San Francisco classical radio station KKHI with Mike Weakly as the transfer-engineer. The Library tape copies are archival ones, and no effort has been made to improve the original sound. Though often the disqs show surface noise from chemical deterioration over the years, the sound underneath is always very good.

The first transcription that the Library has of Pierre Monteux and the San Francisco Symphony, is from the February 27, 1941 broadcast. The "Standard Hour" was assembled with the same care as a regular concert program and they all show good variety and balance. But because of their short length, programs contain some excerpted works. This programing of excerpts however, gives the listener a chance to sample more music, and it seems deliberate.

Of course the broadcasts reflect Monteux's taste and so emphasize French music, yet an important German or Russian work is almost always included. Many concerts include a new work by a contemporary composer.

The Library's first "Standard Hour" program with Pierre Monteux and the San Francisco Symphony is representative. This is the February 27, 1941 concert program.

 

EGMONT OVERTURE Ludwig van Beethoven

SYMPHONY NO. 2 IN C SHARP MINOR: MOVEMENT NO. 3 AND NO. 2 Sergei Rachmaninoff

LA GOLONDRINA Fred Preston Search

LAKME: ACT II Leo Delibes

MINUET Giovanni Balzoni

CAPRICCIO ESPAGNOL Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov

 

Unique during these broadcasts, is the liberty Monteux takes with one of the works; the Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2. He intentionally puts the 3rd movement before the 2nd, apparently feeling that if only these two movements were played, this order is "better". The arrangement is unusual, but surprisingly musical. Since the composer was in San Francisco at the time, perhaps he suggested it. The Rachmaninoff performance is dreamy and introspective, and yet at the same time is a very romantic one. Delibes' Lakme is evocative, and the program's finale, Capriccio espagnol, explodes in color. The orchestra, then under Monteux's direction for five years, plays well and the sound is excellent, about the same as a 78 RPM studio recording.

The Rachmaninoff symphony was performed in honor of the composer's second appearance as piano soloist with the Symphony. On February 7th, 1941 Rachmaninoff played his Piano Concerto No. 3 with Monteux conducting. It was performed as part of an all Rachmaninoff concert.

As conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Pierre Monteux has many important visitors. During the Sibelius Festival in early 1942, Thomas Beecham guest conducts the orchestra. The festival is held to celebrate the composer's 75th birthday and on January 3rd Beecham plays Sibelius' Symphony No. 7.

In January two years later, Pierre Monteux gives a very special performance. The January 23rd, 1944 "Standard Hour" contains the jewel of all "Standard Hours"; Chabrier's Habanera. Grove's Dictionary Third Edition describes this dance-form.

The performers opposite to each other, one of either sex, dance . . . while the most voluptuous movements of the arms, hips, head, and eyes are employed to lure and fascinate each other and-the spectator. The dance, if well done, can be extremely graceful; but even in its most classic form is bound to be indecent, vividly recalling the 'Danse du Ventre' of the Algerian Café.

Pierre Monteux's performance, I believe, suggests that danse. Though the performance is certainly not indecent, it is sensual and provocative. It must be heard. Following the Habanera in the program, is Beauty and the Beast from Ravel's Mother Goose. Monteux's imagery here is so vivid that the listener is taken from a world of whirring 78 RPM ticks and pops and pinching head sets, and is perfectly transported into the fairy tale. The concert ends with a romp through Enesco's Rumanian Rhapsody No. 1. The orchestra, now under the direction of Monteux for eight years, plays very well, with a particularly fine rapport between sections.

In February 1945, perhaps unbelievably, Arnold Schoenberg comes to San Francisco and conducts the San Francisco Symphony in his Verklärte Nacht. It was performed for the Ballet Theater's production of Tudor's Pillar of Fire.

Also, during the February 18, 1945 "Standard Hour", pianist Witold Malcuzinski plays the entire Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2. The performance of the first movement is especially memorable, and is a stormy and passionate one. Yet, the unforgettable part of the broadcast is three movements from Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique. The Maestro conducts: Dreams, Passions; A Ball; and March to the Scaffold. The Symphonie fantastique is certainly a piece that Monteux knew well. He made four commercial recordings of it, and played excerpts at least twice for the "Standard Hour". Monteux's interpretation is overwhelming, with a particularly terrifying March to the Scaffold. The mood the Maestro sets is one of complete, absolute, fright. Listening to it is much like savoring one's favorite childhood Halloween Prank.

This concert illustrates the qualities Monteux uniquely brought to live performance. The interpretation is enormously expressive and is so with an improvisation-like freedom. The musicians seem to be creating the music, not just playing it. The music is fresh. Dreams is very dreamlike. The Passions are very passionate. A Ball is filled with dance, and the March to the Scaffold is truly terrifying. Monteux also beautifully senses the moment, and does so by playing with the music's ebb and flow. Most of all, he reveals the continuity of the score, through 'a rightness of interpretation'. He is in concert more creative, more idiosyncratic, more varied, freer, and more energetic.

The San Francisco Symphony now seems very much Monteux's own, and unlike many of the other American orchestras, has understandably developed a French tone. This at a time when most American orchestras sounded like Middle European ones; an inevitable influence of their mid-european conductors and members

Though a fine orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra is isolated from the center of classical music in America, for it is thousands of miles from the Eastern United States. Outside California, the San Francisco Symphony and its conductor are known to lovers of classical music only through the 1941-42 records.

Wisely, more records were made in 1945, and in March of 1945, Monteux's friend, Stravinsky, performs some of his own works with the Symphony. They include Firebird Suite, Scherzo á la Russe, Scènes de Ballet and Symphony in Three Movements. Another acquaintance of Monteux, Bruno Walter, agrees to conduct three special concerts before the 1946-47 symphony season. They are an all-Beethoven concert, an all-Brahms concert, and a concert of works by Wagner and Richard Strauss. These concerts are fondly remembered.

The orchestra now plays like a truly great one, and fortunately this can be heard in the "Standard Hour" broadcasts. The finale of the February 24, 1946 "Standard Hour" consists of three dances from de Falla's Three Cornered Hat. The Maestro gives an unusually colorful performance, but more importantly the orchestra plays with a precision perhaps never before achieved. Its ensemble playing is 'perfect'. The different sections blend harmoniously. And it is docile and quickly responsive. Ten years after Monteux assumed leadership, the orchestra has become 'truly great'.

In March 1947 the San Francisco Symphony under Pierre Monteux, embarked on a seven week tour of the U.S. and Canada. The tour includes 56 concerts in 53 cities and is made possible by a grant from Standard Oil Company of California. These concerts are well received and well reviewed. One New York critic writes; . . ."Pierre Monteux and his San Francisco Symphony [came] to Carnegie Hall last night. They came, they played, they conquered. . . The audience was moved to cheers". The symphony receives praise from even Arturo Toscanini and Serge Koussevitzky.

The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra's 1947 tour was certainly a success, and the "Standard Hour" broadcasts in the years before it, and the one year after it, show a great orchestra, playing under a brilliant leader.

On the April 11, 1948 "Standard Hour", Pierre Monteux conducts Debussy's Nuages and Fêtes. Although the concert featured the soprano Jennie Tourel, it is Monteux's conducting of these two movements from Debussy's Nocturnes that shows pure genius. In Nuages, Monteux so completely captures Debussy's drifting cloudscape that for some moments the music seems to stop, replaced by a warm summer afternoon and a sky filled with drifting puffywhite clouds. After these quiet moments, Fêtes seems intrusive with its dances and its atmosphere of celebration. Nuages is one of the most completely absorbing performances of music I know.

Sadly, judging from the "Standard Hour" broadcasts, the orchestra fell rather suddenly back into disarray by the 1949-50 season.

But then there is the William Kapell concert. During the April 23, 1950 "Standard Hour" Maestro Monteux conducts two movements from the Mozart Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A Major, K. 414. William Kapell is soloist. The movements played are the second, the Andanté and the Allegretto. Where Kapell gives us a beautifully melodic Allegretto, the Andanté is, serene and reverent. So too is the Maestro.

In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 1980 Martin Cooper writes: "Monteux was never an ostentatious conductor; preparing the orchestra in often arduous rehearsal and using small but decisive gestures to obtain playing of fine texture, careful detail and powerful effect, retaining to the last his extraordinary grasp of musical structure and a faultless ear for sound".

He was that and more.

 

 

 

The staff of the San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum have been extremely helpful during the preparation of this article. They have been generous with their time and their facility.
I would especially like to thank Kirsten Tanaka, Head Librarian, for her assistance. Without it, this article simply would not have been possible.



copyright 2002 RECOLLECTIONS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles Mingus

by Richard Brown

 

In the jazz ferment of the late 1940s through the early 1960s, loosely regarded as the "bop" and "post-bop" eras, certain musicians have attained, retrospectively, a pre-eminent stature. These few conjure up sharply defined musical images: Charlie Parker's prodigious, lightining-like angular melodic improvising; Miles Davis' "cool", long-lined trumpet style and modal compositions; Thelonius Monk's quirky rhythms, harmonics, and eccentric piano technique.

Of no less musical stature than those others, but somewhat less widely appreciated, Charles Mingus, too, evokes a general 'sound image'. It is the raucous, emotionally raw sound of collective improvisation; the swelling, now angry-now comic sonic turbulence emitted by his many "jazz workshop" groups. The music sounds primal, unique in tone and accent, often based in blues or gospel roots, and yet exhibits sophisticated compositional structure. Mingus' bass playing also has these qualities. His is not the fluid, elegant "walking" style that is practically a jazz cliché. He pulls at the strings, makes sudden register leaps and glissandi at wild tempi, emits a booming tone, and generally yanks his instrument into the melodic foreground. Having said all this, Mingus has also written and played many hauntingly lyrical compositions, of a delicate, even ethereal nature.

Mingus (b.1922­d.1979) had a rather long and protean musical career. As personal and iconoclastic as his music sounds to us, he did embrace a few well-defined musical antecedents and did leave a distinct influence for succeeding musicians. As Brian Priestly succinctly states in his critical biography of Mingus:

No one, until Mingus, had taken what Ellington achieved with New Orleans and swing musicians and tried to apply it to the more rigid and complex language of bebop, and to the more insistent virtuosity of its players.

Also, as with Ellington, whom Mingus revered and acknowledged throughout his life, his music was worked out in symbiotic alliance with his various workshop groups. This method of composition and presentation defines the characteristic textures and sonorities we associate with Mingus; the imprints of a forceful personality who paradoxically managed to provide musical settings which enabled his sidemen to be completely themselves.

Mingus did have a genius for associating, in his various groups, called "jazz workshops", with musicians of highly unique approach that he managed to weave into distinct expressive units. A list of some of the longer-tenured workshop musicians (Danny Richmond was the primary drummer and the musician who stayed closest to Mingus) reveals an array of individualized and idiosyncratic styles, and many composers in their own right.

Piano: Mal Waldron, Jacki Byard, Horace Parlan, Roland Hanna.
Brass: Jimmy Knepper, Thad Jones, Johnny Coles.
Reeds: Jackie McLean, Booker Ervin, Roland Kirk, Eric Dolphy, John Handy, Charles McPherson.

How did Mingus-a passionate, obstinate, volatile man and musician-forge an intensely personal body of work with aggregations of various sizes and personnel, and structure works which somehow embraced the best improvisatory capabilities of many first-rate musicians? How did he merge avant-garde flirtations with dissonance and atonality within somewhat conventional structures, many blues and gospel based?

For someone as emotionally unstable as Mingus was-he was not averse to haranguing audiences, threatening critics, and punching out fellow musicians-he seems to have had a focused and consistent idea about his music. He started his first jazz workshop in the 1940s and continued its incarnations into the 1970s. There also was a composers workshop at various times. The one essential development in this methodology, excepting the commissioned compositions, was a general lessening of notated structure. As he put it in liner notes to Mingus Ah Um:

First, jazz composition as I hear it in my mind's ear-although set down in so many notes on score paper and precisely notated-cannot be played by a group of either jazz or classical musicians. A classical musician might read all the notes correctly but play them without the correct jazz feeling or interpretation, and a jazz musician, although he might read all the notes and play them with jazz feeling, inevitably introduces his own individual expression rather than the dynamics the composer intended. Secondly, jazz, by its very definition, cannot be held down to written parts to be played with feeling that goes only with blowing free. . . My present working methods use very little written material. I 'write' compositions on mental score paper, then I lay out the composition part by part to the musicians. I play them the 'framework' on the piano so that they are all familiar with my interpretation and feeling and with the scale and chord progressions to be used. Each man's particular style is taken into consideration. They are given different rows of notes to use against each chord, but they choose their own notes and play them in their own style, from scales as well as chords, except where a particular mood is indicated. In this way I can keep my own compositional flavor in the pieces and yet allow the musicians more individual freedom in the creation of their group line and solos.

Into this modus operandi are introduced didacticism and emotionality; Mingus drenches us in personal, social, and racial commentaries, concerns, and passions. The music is unabashedly angry, tender, romantic, paranoid, declamatory, ejaculatory and comic by turn. Yet it is totally singular, and unmistakable; there is a wholeness to the body of work, a relentless, raw honesty.

Such a unique sound, such a versatility of early musical roots. He had formal musical training, first on trombone (many Mingus small groups featured trombone-not trumpet-and Mingus had a long, fertile association with Jimmy Knepper), then cello, and finally, at the suggestion of Buddy Collette, the bass.

He studied classically, but gradually as a teenager moved over into jazz, fueled in no small part by the musical revelation of Duke Ellington. From first listening, and ever afterward, Ellington was, for Mingus, an ideal and an inspiration. As a young professional musician, however, Mingus served a variety of apprenticeships. He played long stints with, first, Kid Ory's New Orleans Revival Band; then, Lionel Hampton's big band; and, subsequently spent a year with Red Norvo's "cool" jazz trio. Almost a history of jazz in microcosm.

In 1951 Mingus moved to New York City and joined the "bop" scene, coming under the ubiquitous influence of Charlie Parker. Mingus recorded, for his fledgling Debut label, the famous Massey Hall Concert of 1953 (Debut 2 & 4), the quintet of which consisted of Parker, Gillespie, Powell, Mingus and Roach, the summa cum laude bop lineup. Already, however, Mingus was evolving his own workshops and starting to move away from the be-bop idiom. By 1954 and 1955 he was recording, for Debut and Savoy, compositions and arrangements that bear his imprimatur unmistakably, such as "Gregorian Chant" (Savoy 12059 [1956]), "Chazzanova"(Debut 12), and "Haitian Fight Song" (Fantasy 6009[1963]). Especially interesting is his version of "Body and Soul" on Savoy MG15050 (1955). Hauntingly beautiful as it borders on dissonance, this jazz classic is personalized, bent, and sanctified.
Mingus' most fertile and realized period falls, I think, between the years 1956 and 1964. He was playing and recording frequently, his personnel were particularly sympathetic and first rate, and some of his greatest compositions were conceived, or at least given classic performance. That is why my select discography largely covers those years. Subsequently, various personal problems kept him relatively inactive until about 1971, during which he recorded an excellent large-aggregation album for Columbia (KC31039 [1971]), Let My Children Hear Music.

Thereafter he entered another creative period with essentially new personnel, except for drummer Danny Richmond. Prominent at this time were sax players George Adams and Charles McPherson and pianist Don Pullen. There resulted several good albums on Atlantic (notably Changes, vol.1 [Atl 1677] and Changes, vol.2 [Atlantic 1678]) and some notable concerts, especially a 1976 Carnegie Hall Concert that was fated to be almost a last hurrah.

Mingus contracted amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, slowly deteriorated, and died in Mexico in January, 1979.

Few musicians have put themselves so relentlessly and uncompromisingly before the public and in music. There is much style, but no stylization, in his live and recorded work; only a volatile dialectic of emotions and ideas. Mingus' visceral sonorities and complex musical textures, strangely new-sounding but never far from the roots of jazz, are a personal vision of consummate passion, honesty, and beauty. Listen up.

 

 

SELECTED DISCOGRAPHY

1. Charles Mingus Sextet, Savoy 15050 (1954). The first recording date that sounds unmistakeably Mingus; flirtations with dissonance, and collective improvisation.

2. Pithecanthropus Erectus. Atlantic 1237 (1956). Wonderful for at least three reasons: tremendously sympathetic and capable lineup; the archetypal title composition, which is a perfect example of how Mingus composes and executes; the liner notes.

3. Tijuana Moods. RCA LSP2533 (1957). "The best record I have ever made," said Mingus. Good it is: musical impressions of a Mexican trip recollected in tranquility and brought to a boil in the studio.

4. Blues & Roots. Atlantic 1305 (1959). Mingus works on the blues, the group organized like a gospel choir. Dictated lines, but structure and orchestration emerge spontaneously. Planned chaos

7. Oh Yeah! Atlantic SD 1377 (1961). Yawps, grunts and laughter. Mingus takes a comic turn.

8. Money Jungle. United Artists UAJS15017 (1962). Three giants work out: Ellington, Mingus, and Roach. Check out Mingus' bass work on "La fleurette africaine."

9. The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. Impulse AS35 (1962). Perhaps Mingus' most successful long composition; an Ellington-like tone poem. Notes partly by Mingus' psychologist!

10. Mingus At Monterey. Charles Mingus JWS001/2 (1964) (reissued on Fantasy Records). Seminal live performance, esp. "Meditations." Avant garde sounds in controlled form.

11. Changes One, Atlantic SD 1677 (1974). Mingus' last long-running aggregation in an assured performance. Contains Mingus' moving last tribute to his idol, the beautiful "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love".

 

Finally, because the man and his life were also a work of art, I recommend his autobiography, Beneath The Underdog. Not to be swallowed literally, but his passions and ideas ring true. Mingus the personality is welded with Mingus the musician; they inextricably inform each other.

copyright 2002 Richard Brown, RECOLLECTIONS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Bernstein in London, a Personal Memoir

by Harold Lawrence

 

 

Lawrence's association with Leonard Bemstein began in 1967, after Lawrence was appointed general manager of the London Symphony Orchestra. It continued in New York when Lawrence became manager of the New York Philhannonic in 1973.

In January 1968, a few weeks after I had taken over as general manager of the London Symphony, I phoned Leonard Bernstein. The LSO was without a principal conductor and it was my job to help the orchestra find a successor. A number of conductors were being approached, musicians with whom the LSO had a special relationship. One of these was Leonard Bernstein, whose association with the orchestra included highly successful concerts and recordings.

"I'm deeply honored," Bernstein said. "But I've promised myself that when I retire from the Philharmonic after next season, I will not accept any more titular positions. Please tell the boys how touched I am. (The London Symphony was then an all-male ensemble.) "But we'll be working together again, hopefully in '69," he added.

One of the projects we talked about for his next visit was the Verdi Requiem. It took the following twenty months to make the arrangements for the visit, which turned out to be a multi-media extravaganza, including concerts, a CBS recording, and a television production. Fitting the dates into Bernstein's schedule was like solving a jigsaw puzzle. Lining up world-star singers was even more difficult.

The great day finally came. On February 18, 1970, Bernstein arrived at London's Heathrow Airport with his charming wife, Felicia Montealegre. It was the start of a momentous ten-day whirlwind visit. After settling into the Savoy Hotel, Bernstein held a press conference at the Royal Festival Hall, directly across the Thames from his hotel suite. After the expected queries about his London musical plans, reporters barraged the conductor with questions about the Black Panthers party that had taken place in his home a few days before he left for England. Characteristically flamboyant and passionate on every subject he turned his attention to, Bemstein was deeply concerned about social issues. The Black Panther party had caused the American writer, Tom Wolfe, to describe the Bernstein New York lifestyle as "Radical Chic." In a flash, the clever phrase had crossed the Atlantic. The newspeople's questions and the maestro's answers were still flying around the room when I called a halt and escorted Bernstein to the first of seven scheduled rehearsals for the Verdi Requiem.

The session took place at St. Pancras Town Hall, an unattractive building with reasonably adequate acoustics. Bernstein embraced "old friends," including one of his favorites, soprano Martina Arroyo, greeted the orchestra, and got down to business. It was apparent from the start that tenor Franco Corelli was not in his best form. During a break, Bernstein commented privately that the Metropolitan Opera superstar didn't really seem comfortable with his part. It was a sign of things to come.

Corelli walked out before the rehearsal was over-and never returned. His manager phoned us the following day to say that the tenor had taken ill. Bernstein and I met in his smoke-filled dressing room to review our position. We already had been informed that Placido Domingo was available for the CBS recording sessions. But who could we get for the rehearsals and the concert at such short notice?

With Bernstein standing by, smoking in more ways than one, I phoned singers' representatives around London, checking off names on Bernstein's approved list, and recormmending others to the conductor.

Our hopes lifted when we learned that Tenor 1, high on Bernstein's list, was across the Channel in Belgium, actually performing the Requiem. The trouble was that the concert was scheduled on the very same evening of our own performance. Tenor 2 had "lost his voice...hadn't sung for a month." Tenor 3 was in Italy, could fly to London for the dress rehearsal, but couldn't make the concert. (Of course, he would be available for the CBS recording.) Tenor 4 was somewhere in the Bahamas, unreachable. Tenors 5, 6 and 7 were unavailable. Even Peter Pears, Benjamin Britten's friend and Aldeburgh Festival collaborator, was called. He laughed when I phoned, saying he hadn't sung the Requiem in 20 years.

Tenor Robert Tear wasavailable and said he would be happy to stand by. "But we need you now, Bob," I said. Tear explained that he was speaking to me from Kingsway Hall, where he was in the middle of a recording session. He would drive directly to Hammersmith after the session, but would miss the start of the rehearsal.

Meanwhile, Bernstein announced that he had lost his score. "Of course, I can manage without it. But I've scribbled down all of the thoughts I ever had on the Verdi Requiem over I don't know how many years!" At the Savoy earlier that morning, he had hunted everywhere for it before heading for the rehearsal. Felicia even crawled under the bed to look for it, but without success.

As our previous rehearsal had taken place at St. Pancras, we phoned the hall janitor. "You're in luck," he said. One of the cleaning women remembered finding a score after the musicians had left. She'd put it away behind the footlights, along with a lone music stand. But there was a snag. A Labour Party conference was in progress and the British Prime Minister was standing just in front of the score. We persuaded the janitor to retrieve it somehow, which he did. Then we asked him to describe it. Bernstein confirmed it was his, and his chauffeur drove us down there. When we returned, Bernstein was overjoyed, rewarded us with bear hugs and kisses.

About forty minutes into the rehearsal, Tear arrived at the hall with a screech of brakes. Bernstein called a break and spent spent twenty minutes with Tear in private rehearsal before going back into the hall.

On the night of the concert, 7,000 people crowded into the Royal Albert Hall: 6,000 in their seats and 1,000 standees. The hall had been sold out within two days after the concert was announced. Bernstein, the soloists, and the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus received a sustained, ear-splitting standing ovation.

CBS had chosen the Royal Albert Hall as the site for the recording-an unusual choice. Record producers avoided working there. One English engineer described it as "a big old barn." Bernstein was not unhappy. He had grown accustomed to the acoustics and to the placement of the musical forces. A staff CBS producer was dispatched from New York for the quadraphonic recording. ("Quad" was enjoying a brief fling, resulting in some misguided audio productions, of which the Requiem was an unhappy example.)

Bernstein was in exuberant spirits. His conducting was emotional but under firm artistic control. He lavished meticulous attention on every measure of the score, mouthing the words to the chorus, opening his eyes wide for a brass attack, clutching his baton two-handed in "Dies Irae" like a musical Jimmy Connors. He spent twenty minutes rehearsing the opening bars of the the first movement while the producer nervously watched the clock. I had never heard the muted cellos played with such quiet, hushed intensity.

CBS had converted the Artists Bar of the Royal Albert Hall into a control room, shoe-horning its massive electronic gear into the small space. During a break, Edward Heath made an unexpected appearance. Leader of the Royal Opposition, member of the Board of Trustees of the London Symphony, and future Prime Minister, Heath was an accomplished pianist and organist. Heath and Bernstein were good friends. The conductor greeted his guest with "Tedward! Would you like to hear a playback of 'Dies Irae?"

After the final take, champagne was served all around. But it was Bernstein who really provided the effervescence. He lingered on the podium, creating an orgy of affection. He seemed to want to draw in everyone in sight who had any connection with the recording. He wanted to love and be loved. Everyone in that hall felt swept away. He made that kind of magic.

In mock derision, Felicia called her husband "The Love Machine."

A few days after his Albert Hall triumph, Bernstein conducted a special performance of the Requiem at St. Paul's Cathedral for an invited audience. London Weekend Television produced the event as a TV spectacular.

On February 27th, the Bernsteins flew to Paris, leaving behind an exhausted but exhilarated LSO general manager, orchestra and staff. His visit was like a shot of adrenalin. But it was no different from any one of the hundreds of appearances he made all over the world during the couse of his extraordinary career.

Nearly twenty years after Bernstein vowed never again to accept a titular position with an orchestra, he agreed to become the London Symphony's president. Outside of his beloved New York Philharmonic, there probably was no orchestra he felt closer to than this cooperative, self-governing orchestra.

One LSO player recalled his first concert with Bernstein: "I expected something pretty personal, and that's exactly what I got. I found the experience deeply moving and spiritual." I was not an intimate friend of Leonard Bernstein. But, like all those who had the great fortune of working with this musical giant, I felt embraced in a spiritual sense by this profound and generous human being.

copyright 2002 Harold Lawrence, RECOLLECTIONS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Classical Recording

unkown

 

 

Too frequently we tend to lose sight of the fact (if, indeed, we were ever eonsciously aware of it) that the physical act of recording music is an art form unto itself. As such, it has quietly introduced us in the past fifteen years to a new breed of artists peculiar to the recording industry-called by a variety of names, ranging from "producer for records," "music director," "a. & r. man" or simply "recording supervisor." It is, of course, a matter of conjecture and debate whether these men (or women) are artists or artisans. But, if it is conceded that they are artisans, then Harold Lawrence, musical director for the classical division of Mercury Records, is an artist among artisans.

A summary of Lawrence's responsibilities at Mercury would send the most ambitious and egotistical of success-mongers to the nearest clinic for a barrel of tranquilizers and anteeid aids. But instead Lawrence is a picture of the well adjusted, wise professor, who is not easily harassed nor intimidated, and probably has tenure to boot. He is extremely softspoken, mild mannered and conservative -yet his demeanor suggests he pretty much gets what he is after.

At Mercury, Lawrence is personally responsible for from forty to seventy album releases per year. Of these, between forty and fifty are newly recorded performances, and the others are repackagings of previously issued material. Lawrence's involvement is complete with each album. He is the consultant with the artist on programming, attends and supervises the sessions, edits tapes, commissions and approves cover art and liner notes, and is involved in the sales, promotion and advertising aspects as well. "I thrive on it," he says. "If I didn't it would be pretty grueling. I've made my commitment to it, and I'm a very happy man."

"Working for Mercury has advantages other .companies don't afford. Sure, I'm involved in a lot of work, but being involved with the product from conception to realization has tremendous advantages. Then the job is a truly creative one, and you feel you've accomplished a goal."

When Lawrence came to Mercury in 1956 (he had previously been director of recorded music at radio station WQXR in New York for seven years) the catalog consisted primarily of works in the symphonic repertoire.

Represented on the label were such prominent orchestras and conductors as the Minneapolis Symphony (Dorati), Eastman-Rochester (Hanson) the Detroit (Paray) and the Eastman Wind Ensemble (Fennell).

Since then, and particularly in the past couple of years, Mercury has acquired the exclusive recording services of a select handful of illustrious instrumental soloists (Byron Janis, Janos Starker, Rafael Puyana, Gina Bachauer, and Henryk Szeryng). With these soloists Lawrence has established a warm personal relationship, which he finds necessary to successfully transfer their talents to the indifferent medium of electrical impulses.

"You must remember at all times," observes Lawrence," that an artist is his worst critic. And most important, he needs an audience. Without one, he may not give his best efforts. The recording studio is a totally unnatural setting to achieve spontaneous performance. It's my job to instill some measure of urgency in the studio. Without it, a performance is dull.

"The most important thing is that the artist trusts you, as a musician and a critic. In the studio I virtually become the artist's 'other ear'-his alter ego. If that relationship isn't there, the product suffers.

"In a session, you have to sense when the artist has done his best (at least for that moment). Sometimes, even an excellent take can be the next-to-best. Often, when we think we've succeeded, I'll have a hunch, and suggest just one more, for good measure. That'll often turn out to be the best.

"I must say, the worst thing you can ever say to an artist is that he is 'just great.' An artist can always do better, and if you want to maintain his trust you've got to be honest or he'll lose faith in you."

"Even more important perhaps is a problem which arises long before you get to the studio-the delicate question of program. I personally do not hold with the current industry mania for catalog completeness. There is this great thing about 'first recorded performance.' I don't buy it. The important thing for the record and for the artist is that you record them in the area they excel in. What have you accomplished by adding to the catalog if you wind up with a bad or indifferent performance? I fail to see the logic.

"This doesn't mean we haven't added to the catalog, but only where it was appropriate and mutually agreed upon."

On the technical side, Lawrence's main concern is with re-creating, as closely as posible, the sound as one would hear it in the concert hall. For classical programs, he prefers that the pick-up be done by one microphone per track, as opposed to multiple-mike pick-up. "We do this for purely musical reasons," says Lawrence. "The dynamic range is more realistic this way. And, I might add, that it is much more difficult finding the best possible placement of the single mike than the other way. Once we've found the spot and tested the level with all the orchestral and solo sections, it stays there throughout the entire performance. For semi-classics and 'pop concert' recordings, we revert to the multiple mikes, strictly for convenience."

For many years, Mercury's "sound" has been trade-marked "Living Presence." This distinction was explained by Lawrence. "Several years ago, in the monaural days, Rafael Kubelik recorded "Pictures at an Exhibition" for Mercury with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. At the time, 1951, Mercury had a pretty insignificant classical catalog. The recording was picked up by the single mike technique, and critic Howard Taubman of the New York Times in reviewing the recording, said 'one feeis one is listening to the living presence of the orchestra.' The term was adopted, and remains to this day."

Lawrence is currently in England, where he'll be for the next six weeks. But he's not there on vacation. When he returns, he'll be carrying in his overweight luggage, enough tapes for ten more albums for Mercury.

While rummaging through Harold Lawrence's papers I came across a clipping of an article from an unknown source by an unknown author. I take it to be from the mid-1960s. It is an interview with Harold and beautifully captures the man. This is a reprint of that story. R.P.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harold Lawrence Interviews Derek Sugden

 

 

HAROLD: "Derek, you are a hard man to describe - Training in structural engineering, acoustical designer, builder and rebuilder of halls of music. Tell us a little bit about yourself, so that we can get a fix on you."

DEREK: "A bit about myself, where it all began? Well, I started structural engineering and the third job I had was with a firm called Ove Arup and Partners, and I had been interviewed by the great Ove Arup and I joined them in 1953, and did a lot of interesting work, a lot of interesting buildings. Never had done anything in music until out of the blue in 1965, I think it was October, Arup, he was Mr. Arup then, not Sir Ove had a letter from Benjamin Britten and the Aldeburgh Festival saying they had a malt house in Snape, a little village near Aldeburgh, and would we look at it and say if we could convert it into a concert hall. And that is how it all started. Arup was very busy on a job that was really taxing him and the firm. You may have heard of it, it is called Sidney Opera House, and at that time the roof structure was just about completed; but he was too busy to do anything else and he handed me the letter and said, 'You had better go and see them,' and I did."

HAROLD: "Did you meet Benjamin Britten on the first visit?"

DEREK: "Not on the first visit. No, I met Stephen Reiss on the first visit and went around, and he said ..."

HAROLD: "What did it look like then?"

DEREK: "Oh it was an absolute wreck. It was built in 1859 and it was very much a builder's building. No architect or engineer - being built by a man called Newsome Garrett, who was well known in the district, was second son of a famous family of engineers ... agricultural engineers. He had gone up to London to find his fortune and become a Lloyd's underwriter and coal importer, and he had come back to Snape and Aldeburgh, where he lived, and built the Maltings. It was just built by local bricklayers and local carpenters and shipwrights, and it was a great building. It was actually, the building they had their eye on, was the biggest malt house in the United Kingdom. It was very big. It held four kilns."

HAROLD: "It is very ironic that one of the best halls for music in the entire world was constructed not for music but for making beer."

DEREK: "Yes, yes, it was, but we did take most of it down. We took most of it down, as it was in a very bad shape. Most of the timber in the old roof had turned into charcoal. It was on the point of collapse. It wouldn't have lasted much longer."

HAROLD: "What made you think it would make a good concert hall?"

DEREK: "Well, it was about the right size. Britten was talking about a concert hall of about 800 to 1,000 seats, which is an ideal size of course. Most concert halls, in my opinion, are too big. Once they get above 1,500 seats then the problems start. It was also when we had taken the walls down it left us with what for me, and I suspect for most musicians, is the ideal rectangular shape. What everybody calls the shoebox."

HAROLD: "But this was originally Benjamin Britten's idea about using this as a concert hall."

DEREK: "It was, it certainly was. When he returned from America in the early 40's, during the war, he went to live at Snape and at the old mill, and he could see the Maltings across the River Alde from where he lived and he always had his eye on this building. He felt it looked, from the outside, about the right size and the right height, and I think he had a very good eye for those sorts of things."

HAROLD: "So it had the right size and it had the right dimensions and so you really had an ideal opportunity to make your own concert hall."

DEREK: "We did, yes."

HAROLD: "And choose the skin of the interior and decide on what treatment, if any, you were going to do with it."

DEREK: "Yes, yes. We took one major decision. We had been doing Arup's at engineering and we had only just started this firm I worked in for the last twenty years, Arup Associates, where we did architecture and the engineering, we had only just created that firm; but we were doing modern buildings and it was our first opportunity to look at an old building and see what we could do with that. And we took the decision, to use a musician's term, to realize the old 19th century tradition."

HAROLD: "What made Benjamin Britten choose Ove Arup as the firm to do this? Because you didn't really until then...."

DEREK: "No, we had never done any musical work. We were certainly engineering some musical jobs at the time, but it wasn't because of that. It was because he and Stephen Reiss, I think in particular, had seen ....

HAROLD: "Stephen Reiss was the general manager?"

DEREK: "He was the general manager of the Aldeburgh Festival. He had seen an article about Ove Arup in the Sunday Times Color Supplement, and something about the man and his work attracted him and he wrote to him out of the blue, but he had been, Arup's very musical, Arup had been, he wasn't at that time, but in the early days he was a subscriber to the Aldeburgh Festival."

HAROLD: "And that's how the connection was made?"

DEREK: "Yes."

HAROLD: "So where did you start? How did you start? What did you do first? What decisions did you make first?"

DEREK: "Well, we tried not to make any decisions. We surveyed the building in great depth. We had two young men on the site and they spent three weeks measuring absolutely everything and drawing everything. One or two of us very keen on music, and I was in particular, and we all had some views, ideas, and prejudices about halls and about spaces in which music should be made; and if you remember at that time Beranek's book had just come out, I think it was '65 or '66 -- it had just been published."

HAROLD: "That was the acoustical designer of originally, Philharmonic Hall and now Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center."

DEREK: "That's right, that's right. Yes, and it is a very good book in every way and for me it was very sad, but at the end it was actually published before the first concert at Lincoln Center, and Lincoln Center just didn't come up to what he expected at all. But it was the first survey of halls in any depth collecting both objective measurements and subjective views and correlating them. And we also, Britten had views about the great halls, and I think we honed in on what were the six great halls ... I have to think about them. The Concertgebouw."

HAROLD: "Musikverein in Vienna."

DEREK: "Musikverein. The Stadt Casino in Basle."

HAROLD: "Boston Symphony Hall."

DEREK: "Boston Symphony Hall. St. Andrew's Hall, Glasgow ... Is that the six? No, that's five."

HAROLD: "We will come back to this later. Right now I want to know, after you had all the dimensions meticulously documented, then what?"

DEREK: "Well we decided also on a mid-frequency reverberation time of two seconds. Everybody seemed to feel that was the ideal time. We also felt and certainly one or two people were saying at that time there should be an appreciable increase in the low frequency reverberation time. One of the halls I like very much, in fact I first listened to music in - no it wasn't the first hall I listened to music in - I first went to the Queen's Hall; but was Watford Town Hall, which Bruno Walter used to describe as one of the great concert halls of Europe...."

HAROLD: "Also Sir Thomas Beecham."

DEREK: "Sir Thomas Beecham, yes. And it was a regular venue for the London Philharmonic Orchestra in particular. And that had reverberation time in the low frequencies of 1, 2, 5 cycles of 50% above the mid-frequencies. And Britten gave us an indication about the acoustic by saying, on one occasion, he preferred to hear his War Requiem in Ely Cathedral, where he couldn't hear the words, to the Festival Hall where he could. And that's a very good guide to an engineer or a designer. It meant that he was looking for a reverberant sound and a rich sound."

HAROLD: "Okay, I am now going to ask you to give away some secrets. So you all decided 2 seconds reverberation and mid-frequencies was what you were aiming for? How did you think you were going to get that apart from using the dimensions of the hall?"

DEREK: "Well, the most important thing, of course, is the volume in the equations. And when we looked at the volume, and there are some rough guides about relationship of reverberation time to volume and the volume per se. We could see straightaway that we would like to give it more volume. We raised the walls three feet at that stage. We made the walls bigger, so we got the volume right and that's the first thing you must get right. If you don't get the volume right, you are lost before you start. Then we decided to keep it as stiff as possible. In the equations the biggest part was, of course, the new timber roof, apart from the audience of course. The biggest part was the timber roof, that was a very big superficial area and we made that of two 1 inch boards nailed together making it very, very stiff. We didn't have any money to do reverberation tests in reverberant rooms for sections. We didn't have that money, so we had to rely on published data on the absorption coefficients for timber. They can be very misleading because the stiffness of the timber will depend on how stiff the supports are too."

HAROLD: "Does the weather affect that?"

DEREK: "No, very little."

HAROLD: "Of course everyone talks about the value of hard plaster, like Boston Symphony Hall. Is there any plaster in ...."

DEREK: "No, because we had hard brickwork and we decided to clean that brickwork with grit blasting -- very fine grit blasting, which also gives it a bit of diffusion in the high frequencies; and we felt in the middle frequencies ..."

HAROLD: "Because of the porous nature of the bricks?"

DEREK: "Yes. And in the middle frequencies and lower frequencies, we felt by leaving the roof exposed there was sufficient diffusing elements."

HAROLD: "Did you have any growing up pains after the hall was completed?"

DEREK: "Oh yes..."

HAROLD: "Halls today need to be changed..."

DEREK: "No, we didn't have growing up pains after it was completed. But I had some pains before it was finished, because we had very good advice from John Culshaw and Kenneth Wilkinson of Decca about the nature of the acoustic they favored."

HAROLD: "John Culshaw was the producer and Wilkinson was the chief engineer?"

DEREK: "That's right, yes. And they both had similar views to Britten. They wanted a full acoustic with a very good bass. Wilkinson particularly favored a very strong, lots of energy, in the bass. "

HAROLD: "That's one of the reasons he liked to record in Kingsway Hall."

DEREK: "That's right, that's right. And when we finished the calculations, we had to make, as I said, assumptions about the absorption coefficients and at one end of the spectrum it looked as if we took the minimum absorption coefficients, that we were going to get more than 2 seconds, and it came out at 2 1/2. When we took the maximum absorption coefficients, it came out at 2. So we quoted, before the test concert, 2 1/4, we averaged it. We thought we were going to get 2 1/4. We measured it the night before empty. Now the audience is certainly the biggest absorption and invariably what happens, I have learned since, the audience is far more absorptive than you expect in your calculations. We got 3 1/2 seconds empty, in the middle, and Wilkinson said to me that night in the pub, he said, 'It is going to sound good, Derek, but you're not going to come down to 2 seconds. It is going to be too reverberant.' But he proved to be wrong. When we did the test concert the next day with a full audience it came down to bang on 2 seconds. In fact it was so near to 2 seconds that I felt that they had been fiddling the curves."

HAROLD: "Yes, I wonder how many other engineers can make that claim?"

DEREK: "Very few. But it is getting better now that we have got computers and can measure every surface."

HAROLD: "Is it very much different...let's see, you built that hall in what year?"

DEREK: "1967 it was opened."

HAROLD: "So now it is over twenty years since then. Okay?"

DEREK: "Yes."

HAROLD: "Tell our radio audience something about the changes that have occurred in acoustical design."

DEREK: "Ah, yes. Well, first ..."

HAROLD: "You mentioned that you didn't have reverberation tests."

DEREK: "Well, now there are lots of laboratories where we can mock up parts of any construction we are doing, seating in particular, and seating with audiences."

HAROLD: "Well, as a matter of fact, for the Jessie Jones Hall in Texas, they built a model and held acoustical tests using the model and light beams."

DEREK: "Oh, yes, yes. There are many techniques in models, but just to come back to the reverberant room, we have got many good laboratories to give us absorption coefficients now for our calculations, and in the last year or two, a young man called Orlovski at Selfridge University has developed some very good tests for getting very definitive results with the absorption of seating with audience on, and then being able to extrapolate to the full size. So that is helpful. When it comes to model testing, it was initiated by both the BBC and Professor Parking at BRE some years ago and that has developed. The problem is still the modeling of the absorption coefficients, within the model. It is very good for spark work and for energy testing, local energy testing, but for predicting reverberation times it is very unclear, very unsure."

HAROLD: "Well, you didn't have the benefits of new computer technology and modeling and all the rest, and yet you came out with the results you predicted you would come out with."

DEREK: "Yes, yes, well I still think..."

HAROLD: "What does that tell us about the advances of technology?"

DEREK: "Well, I think they are like all calculations, even in my old skill of structures. Calculations, in the end, are a guide to what we want to do."

HAROLD: "You have to have a pretty good idea of what to do?"

DEREK: "You have to have a good idea, yes. And a vision and a feel, and you use the calculations as an additional refining tool."

HAROLD: "Isn't it true that Arthur Haddy could walk into any hall and judge the acoustics - how it would be for recording?"

DEREK: "Yes."

HAROLD: "Do you feel that you have that ability? I don't want you to say immodestly, but realistically..."

DEREK: "I wouldn't say I had it for recording, but I do feel that for my own ears and my own subjective responses, I can walk into a room and say "Oh well, this would be very nice for chamber music, or this would be lovely for orchestral music."

HAROLD: "Let me ask you a question then about the Maltings. What do you think - can you identify the finest, in your opinion, the finest recordings made in the Maltings."

DEREK: "Yes. There was a recording of English string music by Britten - it was absolutely stunning, and I remember that ..."

HAROLD: "That was with Delius's Deux Aquarelles and ..."

DEREK: "Yes and it had the Elgar Introduction and Allegro for Strings. Yes, and then there was one of the only recordings Marriner made there..."

HAROLD: "Sir Neville Marriner?"

DEREK: "Sir Neville Marriner with the Academy and that was that Concerto for Trumpet, Piano, and ..."

HAROLD: "Is that by Andre Jolivet?"

DEREK: "No, no, it's - is it Prokofiev?"

HAROLD: "Oh, Shostakovich ..."

DEREK: "Shostakovich, Piano Concerto #1. Yes, yes. Shostakovich and Prokofiev. And that is an absolutely stunning record. Really stunning record. But there have been many good ones there. The very first record Britten made there, which Wilkie didn't do the engineering, it was done by that other very gifted man..."

HAROLD: "Oh, it doesn't matter, we will come back to it."

DEREK: "He did Mozart's 40th and it sounded marvelous."

HAROLD: "That's the one with all the repeats? It is over 30 minutes long?"

DEREK: "That's right, yes, yes. That was, I thought, very stunning. The Brandenburg Concertos which are very, very good, and also I was listening to it the other day on the radio, the Elgar Gerontius he did there - Very fine."

HAROLD: "What was the second musical job you did, Derek..."

DEREK: "Well, the second musical job really came out of Snape, because it was then that I already met you, I think, I remember at the launching of the Snape Foundation at the Festival Hall when Britten spoke and Stephen Reiss and I said a few words. And then the LSO gave a concert...."

HAROLD: "The London Symphony Orchestra?"

DEREK: "...yes...gave a concert conducted by Previn when they gave Britten's Spring Symphony, and there was a reception afterwards and I met Mary, your wife. She came up to me and she was introduced to me by Denison, I think, who was the manager of the Royal Festival Hall, and I remember we talked all evening and Mary talked to me about the problems that she saw and she thought it was quite unacceptable that all our self-employed London orchestras had no 'homes'. Of course I agreed with her and she persuaded me, and I didn't need much persuading, to help her find a place that could be converted into a home for the LSO. And, of course, that was ... eventually we looked at, I think, seven churches in some detail and honed in on that church made famous by the Music Hall song, Trinity Church in Southwark. And it is now the successful Henry Wood Hall."

HAROLD: "Do you know the genesis of the title of that hall, Henry Wood Hall?"

DEREK: "Yes, I think I do, because eventually a trust was formed and the secretary of the trust was Paul Strang, and in looking around for support he discovered the Henry Wood Trust, which I think originally had been set up with a view to rebuilding the Queen's Hall. And that was ..."

HAROLD: "Some monies were in it, but not enough."

DEREK: "Not enough. And that was eclipsed finally by a developer building a hotel and some offices on the side, next to the BBC. In fact I remember having been to the Queen's Hall and having actually turned up on the morning for a concert, after the night it was bombed in the '40's. I remember putting ten shillings into the fund."

HAROLD: "Now, Holy Trinity Church was by then deconsecrated."

DEREK: "Yes."

HAROLD: "When you first saw the church and looked at it - compare that experience with seeing the interior of the Maltings for the first time. Did you think it would make a good place?"

DEREK: "Oh I did, yes. I felt of all those we had seen, I thought this is the one. It was a classical revival church and therefore shoebox pattern. A bit low, perhaps, not quite the volume we would have liked, but it certainly had the sort of dimensions - 60 foot wide, 100 foot long - in other words, fifteen 20 foot squares. It was based on a very rigid, very well built classical revival church."

HAROLD: "So you felt it had similar possibilities?

"DEREK: "I did, I really did. I remember Mary saying to me that everybody tells me it is falling down, and there were these two enormous cracks either side of the long walls supported by shores, but we soon discovered that that was because the building had been built on piles, quite unnecessarily on piles, and the piles had begun to rot because the water table was dropping. It would have all settled beautifully in a stable condition, but the Victorians had rebuilt the altar and they had underpined parts of the rebuilding of that altar and then people, during the war, had built air-raid shelters which had propped up part of the church site and broken its back; but we knew...we put on glass telltales and we found it was pretty stable."

HAROLD: "Now that was five years after you had first looked at the Maltings and you said you could predict how many seconds of reverberation you would have had in the Maltings. Did you make the same similar prediction for Holy Trinity Church?"

DEREK: "Well we felt, yes, but this time we measured it too."

HAROLD: "This time you had a few more instruments."

DEREK: "That's right, a few more instruments, and we took our guns there."

HAROLD: "Including a .45 caliber pistol?"

DEREK: "That's right, and we did some shots and we measured it and also there was this great concert that became Fun Sunday when we had the two orchestras ..."

HAROLD: "Let's talk about the pistol, and why did you use a .45 caliber pistol?"

DEREK: "Well, there is a lot of low frequency energy in an orchestra, very, very, very important. And it is very important to get enough energy down there so you can measure the reverberation time down there, because it is down there that gets difficult to measure and to get either a good recording or a good activation of the pen recorder that we use, you need a lot of energy, so you use a .45. You can't get the blanks now, I am down to a .38, and it is not as good."

HAROLD: "That's too bad."

DEREK: "It is very similar energy to a symphony orchestra."

HAROLD: "You didn't answer my question about predicting the reverberation period."

DEREK: "Well you get use to places and you go in and either you can do some very rough calculations in your head on volumes, or you can clap, and clapping is a very good guide."

HAROLD: "Yes, but with all the new instruments that you had at your disposal, you were able without those instruments to predict the reverberation period, but yet do so in Holy Trinity Church. Forgive me for being stubborn about this."

DEREK: "Yes, yes we did. We did our own shots and measured it and then we had to make some estimates about the effect of taking out most of the pews and then of bringing the orchestra in, and then of cleaning the church, especially in the high frequencies, because it was very dirty, and it was a bit low in the high frequencies, but you expect that when a church is dirty, so you have to extrapolate from your measurements anyway. During ..."

HAROLD: "So a clean church will give you better high frequencies?"

DEREK: "Oh much better. In fact, now it has just been painted...."

HAROLD: "Everyone please take note."

DEREK: "Yes, now it has just been painted. I warned Terry Palmer, the hall manager, before I came, that he would find the high frequencies were a little sharp after the painting, because they will have got use to them slowly taking off."

HAROLD: "Well, obviously it turned out to be a very successful adaptation, because it is now one of the most popular recording halls in all the world."

DEREK: "That's right."

HAROLD: "It is busy every day of the year."

DEREK: "That's right. Yes, I don't think it is quite big enough for the very big..."

HAROLD: "Mahler Sixth."

DEREK: "The Mahler Sixth, and a very big opera. I do feel it just hasn't sufficient volume. Now that's an interesting subject which we are looking at now. The volume that you really need, now there we have an area where there is a lot of feel about that. How big should a hall be to get the sort of sound so that the musicians and singers feel comfortable. You can get the reverberation time by making it hard in a small space, but that is not good enough. You have got to get the reflection pattern right, and, therefore, that optimum volume is quite difficult. I think Snape just has enough, you see. We have heard Goodall conduct Tristan in there and it sounds stunning, marvelous."

HAROLD: "What other pieces have you heard there that you think sound very good and are a perfect match in terms of repertoire for the hall?"DEREK: "Well, it is because it is not a very big hall and it is not a very small hall. It is amazing how successful it has been for Schubert, Mozart, the Bach unaccompanied violin sonatas, and the cello sonatas, particularly the cello suites. To hear Rostropovich play the cello suites is marvelous. And then to hear something as big as Tristan, and remember, Beethoven was not Britten's favorite composer, and it was Alexander Gibson, who actually conducted the first Beethoven symphony there. Britten came to the concert, because in the first half of the program it was "Les Illuminations" sung by Pears. Britten was very ill, but he didn't stay for the Eroica. But the Eroica sounded marvelous in that hall."

HAROLD: "We are going to pause for station identification Derek, so we will be right back . . . I was going to ask you about presence because we were discussing that yesterday about the elementary presence and it is a factor that is missing in so many concert halls that have been built since World War II, and the factor of presence. If you were to analyze it, I mean in engineering terms, what creates presence in a hall."

DEREK: "What creates presence is to begin with, of course, the geometry. I mean the reverberation time is of fundamental importance, but the geometry of the hall has to be such that we hear the side reflections very shortly after the first reflections."

HAROLD: "And that is the problem with so many halls. I remember when the Ford Symphony Hall was built in Detroit..."

DEREK: "The Edsel Auditorium, yes."

HAROLD: "It was called the Henry Ford, but possibly Edsel, but so wide and, of course, you never got those side reflections until...well you never got them, they simply disappeared, and that is why the hall had no presence whatsoever."

DEREK: "Yes, and people tried in those wide fan shaped halls, which were so disastrous, to try and put it back with these enormous canopies over the orchestra, but as somebody said 'it doesn't need research, to tell you God put the ears in the sides of our head and not on top.'"

HAROLD: "That's marvelous. They describe some of those as gigantic contact lenses over the orchestra. You recently, just a couple of days or so ago, visited Davies Hall for the first time, Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. What was your impression of that hall."

DEREK: "I like it very much. I thought at first it was going to be a bit wide, but I found the presence very good and low frequencies very good. If anything, I found it a little, what shall I say, discriminating, the sound too. Very, very clear, but that is a good thing to get this clarity combined with the bass and the presence, but I wondered sometimes if it wasn't perhaps a little too clear. Mind you, we were sitting near the front."

HAROLD: "Presence. That's a factor that record collectors love to have on their recordings. And most record collectors have given up hoping for presence in a concert hall, and yet there are a few concert halls that have that presence. Of course, the Maltings would be one of them. Musikverein is another, Boston Symphony Hall, Carnegie Hall to a lesser extent, even though that is a great hall, and there are some others around the world. But the quality of presence is what gives you that impact in the solar plexus. You really feel it and you are enjoying the music, rather than just involving your head. It seems to me halls with that presence involve more of this than of this."

DEREK: "Yes, yes. I think ..."

HAROLD: "I was gesturing to my head and my stomach."

DEREK: "That's right. For a sound to be great and to enjoy music if its maximal, the response is both cerebral and physical, and it has got to be at both levels."

HAROLD: "So what acoustical horizons do you have ahead of you? What challenges are facing you.?"

DEREK: "One or two very interesting ones, small ones, and perhaps large ones. One fascinating one - I am working with an Italian architect, Renzo Piano, who lives in Genoa..."

HAROLD: "That's a very musical name."

DEREK: "Yes, and he was the co-architect with Rogers of the famous Centre Beaubourg in Paris, and he has been commissioned to do a study to convert Palladio's Basilica in Vicenza in Northern Italy near Venice into a public concert hall and I have done the first report on that. We are also.."

HAROLD: "Where's Vicenza located?"

DEREK: "Vicenza is about 30 miles from Venice. It is famous because it was Palladio, the great architect's, birthplace. It is also famous for its grappa.

HAROLD: "One of the reasons why you are enjoying it."

DEREK: "And its restaurants - very good food and it hasn't suffered becoming a tourist trap like Venice. We are doing one or two other things in Italy. We are doing a study for a new theater in Avellino; we are probably going to do the studies for restoring the San Carlo Opera House in Naples. And we are doing the acoustics for a small music room on the Island of Ischia to celebrate the life of Sir William Walton."

HAROLD: "Who lived in Ischia many years ago before his death."

DEREK: "Yes. And I have already met Lady Walton in London and when I return we will be going out to Ischia."

HAROLD: "Oh that should be delightful."

DEREK: "In England we are doing a fascinating study together with Theater Projects for a new opera house in the ground of Compton Verney, which is the home of one of the old Norman families of England, the Willoughby de Brokes, who have been at Compton Verney since 1086. The house is by Vanbrugh, converted by Adam, the landscape by Capability Brown, the stables by Gibb, and the chapel by Capability Brown, and we are doing a study for an opera house of the ideal size which we think is between 850 and maximum a thousand seats."

HAROLD: "Will this be an opera house devoted to early music?"

DEREK: "No, for all opera. We are going to try to make it intimate enough for classical and baroque opera, but with a big enough pit and a big enough volume to take Wagner and Verdi. And that's the..."

HAROLD: "We are going to wrap this up now Derek. Do you feel that your career has moved in the direction that you would have liked it to have moved?"

DEREK: "Very much so. I have just been very fortunate. I was very fortunate in joining Arup's when I did, when it was small, and joining such an interesting collection of people and such an amazing man, who gave us opportunities to do all the things we have done."

HAROLD: "Well, in another program we will talk about Sir Ove Arup and that part of your life. But I want to thank you very much Derek Sugden for being our guest this morning and talking about music, acoustics, and architecture."

DEREK: "Harold, thank you very much indeed."

Transcibed by Janet Guentert

copyright 2002 Harold Lawrence, RECOLLECTIONS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Recording of Paris 1917-1938

by Harold Lawrence

 

"Apart from the percussion, we should have no special problems with Parade." So Antal Dorati assured me a few days before we began to record. There was no reason to doubt him. The music in question was a ballet score by Erik Satie ( 1866-1925), the eccentric French composer who dressed in grey velvet from head to toes, lived in a poor workingman's suburb of Paris, and represented for composers like Ravel and others the new post-impressionist movement in French Music. Satie's ballet is 'easy' to perform. The-15-minute work, composed for Diaghilev in 1917, moves along at an unvarying metronomic rate of 76; the thematic material is uncomplicated to the point of naivete; and the orchestration is lean, despite the large forces involved. In fact, for some players in the London Symphony, it was perhaps too easy. Remarked Barry Tuckwell, the orchestra's superb first hornist: "When are you going to give us some semi-quavers to play?"

But James Holland, the principal percussionist, was not so complacent. It was his job to assemble a battery of seventeen instruments, most of which belonged to the traditional percussion family. They included snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, tam-tam, tambourine, woodblocks, small drum, lottery wheel, xylophone, triangle, sirens ( high- and low-pitched ), revolver, faques sonores, and bouteillophone. First, Holland tackled the bouteillophone.

As its name implies, the bouteillophone consists of tuned bottles, fifteen of them whose range extends from D above middle C upwards for two octaves - a typical Satiesque 'instrument ."I've never heard of bottles actually being used in a performance of this score," explained Holland. "The vibraphone is ,the closest we percussionists can come to the sound of tuned bottles. But we'll try."

The manager of the Watford supermarket began to fill two "shells" (English for "cases" ) with empty ginger-beer bottles.

"What do you plan to do with these?" he said as he lifted them into the counter. "Why, I'm going to 'prepare' them for a recording session," Holland replied; and he placed his strange purchase in the trunk compartment of his car and drove to the Town Hall. In the kitchen, he and his assistant poured varying quantities of water into the bottles, carried them into the auditorium, and began hitting them with mallets.

With the vibraphone standing by, Holland began to 'build' the required scale. He tapped, listened, poured off water from one bottle, added some to another. Finally, the percussionist had to admit defeat. Standing in a puddle and grasping his wet mallet, he reported that the bottles could not encompass the entire range. The vibraphone was rolled into position and the bottles put back in their shells.

For the second time, water was to spell frustration for the percussion section. In the movement, Prestidigitateur Chinois ( Chinese Conjurer ), Satie scored a brief ~passage for "flaques sonores" ( literally translated: "resonant puddles" ), which are written to resound 15 times. When asked which instrument he planned to use for this, Dorati skirted the puddle and asked me to conduct an investigation into the exact nature of the composer's 'instrument.'

I first discussed the problem with Felix Aprahamian, music critic of the Sunday Times and an expert in French music. "I haven't the slightest idea of what Satie could have had in mind," he protested. "But why don't you contact Rollo Myers. He's written a book on Satie. He's your man." I phoned Myers in Sussex. "Plaques sonores! ( Pause ) Probably one of Satie's jokes." He liked to invent instruments, you know." Editions Salabert, Satie's publisher, was no more helpful. Apparently the choice of instrument is left to the percussion player, I was informed.

Holland and I put our heads together. What would most resemble a resonant puddle? "A small cymbal might do it," Holland said, whereupon he jangled through his trunk of small percussion instruments and came up with a cymbal which he struck several times. The sound of metal was too dominant. "Choke it this time and use a different stick," I said. After some experimentation, Holland achieved exactly the right fortissimo splash.

On hearing it, Dorati agreed that the effect was correct, but he said: "Look, gentlemen, why don't we try to simulate the sound of a real puddle? We have nothing to lose; if it doesn't work, we'll return to the cymbal."

Within minutes, a large roasting pan was located in the Town Hall kitchen, filled with water, and brought into the auditorium. While the recording staff listened in the control room upstairs, the percussionist slammed his cymbal into the "puddle." The sound of water being agitated was plain, but no splash. Dorati suddenly hopped off the podium, rolled up his sleeves, and, his eyes gleaming with boyish delight, slapped the water vigorously. A dozen first violinists were instantly splattered with the flaque. Over the microphones it sounded as if someone had plunged into a large bath tub. Much laughter. It was decided unanimously that, in this case, imitation of life was preferable to the real thing.

The bottles and roasting pan were put aside, leaving the percussionist free to devote himself to a 'dry' Parade. He turned his attention to the six revolver shots in Petite Fille Americaine, the second and third of which were to be fired in rapid succession. After several ear-splitting rehearsals, Holland discovered that the trigger mechanism of his revolver would not allow him to fire off the two shots rapidly enough. He therefore assigned the third shot to an assistant. "Bang . . . Bang-Bang . . . Bang . . . Bang . . . Bang." Perfect!

Typewriters were now required for the same scene. A pair of office machines had been.transported from the headquarters of the London Symphony early on the morning of the first Parade session, along with two typists, male and female. The typewriters were placed on a table near the first violinists, much to the distraction of the players (all male) who kept stealing glances at Sarah Park, the attractive young London Symphony secretary. Feeling that the typing should sound purposeful, Dorati instructed the typists to copy items from daily newspapers, preferably one which they had not yet read. Miss Park, however, alternated between the obituary page and a remembered lesson from typing school: '"Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party Cremation private no flowers please now is the time to come to the hospital but no flowers please, etc." The typewriters were to sound continuously for 16 bars, with a precise start and finish.

The other percussion effects posed no unusual problems, and the section as a whole was deployed in the following manner: bass drum,tambourine, snare drum, and cymbals were placed slightly to the right of center, between the woodwinds and trumpets; lottery wheel, tam-tam, revolver, xylophone, vibraphone, sirens, triangle, and woodblocks were arrayed along the outskirts of the violin sections from left to center; and typewriters and faques sonores were located left of the podium.

As Satie's gently amusing score unwinds with clocklike regularity in the completed recording, with each percussion effect turning up at the appointed second, it all must seem so effortless to the listener. The chief percussionist, however, will always remember it as the time he was as busy as the sound-effects in an in a Gangbusters radio serial.

copyright 2002 Harold Lawrence, RECOLLECTIONS

Paris 1917-1938 is Mercury Living Presence MG 50435/SR 90435 and was recorded on August 4, 5 and 6, 1965 in Watford Town Hall, London.

 

 

 

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