The following is an essay written by composer Alan Beeler after his April 2011 PARMA recording sessions at the Shalin Liu in Rockport MA.
My Travels With PARMA Recordings:
Part 1 – Rockport, Mass.
by Alan Beeler
After a long hiatus, I finally got up the nerve to travel to Boston for a two-day session of chamber music recordings. I had not been able to get to Moravia in early March for the recording of my 1st Symphony, so I was anxious to be involved in the recording process directly for the first time in over three years. I worried about my difficulty with walking which resulted from a broken hip a year ago, but, thanks to the wheel-chair service provided by the airline, I made it through both airports with no strain.
I got up just before 6 AM and had breakfast. I started just after 7 AM to drive to the Cincinnati Airport and arrived just after 9 AM. Having paid a big price for my ticket, I decided to use the wheelchair service and was glad I did. I had plenty of time so had a second breakfast at around 10 AM. I had a Denver omelet at Max & Irma’s. The plane was on time and I took my word search games to occupy the flight time. They gave us several snacks and a beverage, so I was all set until suppertime that evening. It took a while to disembark and get a ride to the baggage claim, so I asked the man who pushed me to call Renée Dupuis, who was picking me up, and let her know where I was. In addition to being the A&R Representative for PARMA Recordings who books all the players, Renée is a singer and very enthusiastic about all things musical, so our conversations both coming and going to the airport were great fun for me.
We arrived at 7 South Street Inn around mid-afternoon and met the owners. When I explained my difficulties with walking, they very kindly invited me to join them for an early supper. I took a short nap and was treated to a wonderful meal of roast pork, potatoes and asparagus. Both of them were wonderful cooks and we had some wonderful Tiramasu that was left over from a fancy banquet they hosted earlier that week. After dinner, I watched a little television and went to sleep early to be ready for the recording sessions the next morning, Thursday April 14th.
My hosts provided a wonderful breakfast and Renée picked me up about 9:30 AM to take me to the Shalin Liu Performance Center where I met the members of the New England String Quartet for the recording of my two string quartets. Bob Lord, the CEO of Parma Recordings was there and the producer, Vit Muzik, had come from the Czech Republic where he had produced the recording of my 1st Symphony in early March. I also met the engineer, Tom Stephenson, and Renée’s assistant, Sebastian Sink. Vit Muzik was a marvelous violinist who had a very sensitive ear for intonation. I was amazed by his concern for details that I would have had no way of catching or correcting. We started with the 2nd String Quartet and took at least two hours working out the total of about ten minutes playing time in at least 50 takes!
For lunch, I had a cup of New England Clam Chowder at a wonderful restaurant about two doors down from the performance center and I was refreshed and ready for the recording of the 1st Quartet. This score was more problematic than the 2nd Quartet, but I needn’t have worried, since Vit Muzik was there to catch the errors and make suggestions to improve the results. After taking pictures with the quartet members, Bob Lord took me out to dinner and we had a delightful meal and talk.
Friday, April 15th was a clear, sunny, but chilly day. I had my usual gourmet breakfast at the 7 South Street Inn and was picked up by PARMA’s A&R Director Sam Renshaw and the PR Coordinator, Rory Cooper. The recording that day consisted of my 2 Quartets for flute, clarinet, viola and piano. They were recorded by a wonderful group consisting of Lisa Hennessy, flute; Yhasmin Valenzuela, clarinet; Mark Berger, viola; and Karolina Rojahn, piano. We recorded the 2nd Quartet that morning. I told Sam Renshaw that I almost did not recognize the composer, since the music was so much mellower than my other works. I wondered what drugs I had taken to get so mellow. This was the piece to lead off the CD for certain!
After a break for lunch [I had a grilled cheese sandwich brought to me by Rory Cooper], we recorded my 1st Quartet. This was the most radical of all the pieces we worked on. It was written when I was in graduate school at Washington University, and first performed at a conference at Northwestern University by members of the St. Louis Symphony. The original idea was to have the four players take off on frequent cadenza-like activities, often at the same time. These concurrent solos were notated in small note-heads to be played freely and brought together at points indicated by the conductor. I directed the piece, but was not quite satisfied with the lack of ensemble. Later I revised the piece by using various kinds of beat subdivisions to indicate the relative speed of the activities and to make it possible to do the work without a conductor. This group played the score exactly as notated and required very little editing, so we finished early and had some pictures taken of me and the group.
When I got back to the Inn, I realized that I would need to make some arrangements for dinner. I had some trouble with my cell phone and was about to ask to use the Innkeeper’s phone when I met a couple staying there who were about to go out to dinner, so I hitched a ride with them. The wife was a music teacher [!] and her husband was a psychiatrist. We went to a local Italian restaurant and had halibut, which was delicious. They were from a town just north of Rockport and knew the place well. After dinner, they drove me around to see some granite quarries that had been dug in the early 20th century to provide materials for buildings in Boston. These quarries are right on the ocean so that rock could be loaded directly onto ships. One of them also featured a rather large lighthouse. They also showed me a local oddity. It was a house made of newspapers from every state capitol in the country. The house was also full of furniture made of newspapers!
After a good nights sleep and another wonderful breakfast, I was ready to fly back to Cincinnati. Renée picked me up around 9:30AM, so we got to Logan airport in plenty of time for me to get checked in and pushed to the gate for the return flight. The airline was very accommodating and let me get on the plane first. The flight was fine and the steward not only provided snacks but also gave out free wine to anyone who would drink it. I got back feeling exhilarated! All in all, the trip was so enjoyable that I am determined to try it again at the first opportunity.