Recording Alex Freeman’s BLUESHIFT: Do Chamber Sessions Need A Conductor?

Last week PARMA completed a fantastic recording of Alex Freeman‘s BLUESHIFT for chamber ensemble at Futura Productions in Roslindale, MA.  We enlisted some of Boston’s best players (some of whom are also members of the PARMA Orchestra) to perform the work.  Here is the cast:

Lisa Hennessy, flute
Jan Halloran, clarinet
Peter Sulski, violin
Leo Eguchi, cello
Karolina Rojahn, piano
Robert Schulz, percussion

With this amazing ensemble, Lead Producer Andy Happel’s expert guidance and Engineer John Weston (with help from Igor Stolarsky) on the board we were primed and ready to go.  Even luckier, we were able to have composer Alex Freeman here in Boston with us attending the session all the way from Minnesota.  A BU grad, Alex lived in Boston for some time and met up with his friend Matthew Guerrieri who also lent his ears.

On the way to the studio, I learned that Alex wrote the beginning of BLUESHIFT by hand rather than on Sibelius in order to convey fluidity and freeness in the sound.  When you hear this piece, you will understand why he wrote it this way and how important it is to create this soundscape (spoiler alert: there are gongs!).  Determining how to achieve this accurately in the studio lead us to agree that this piece could benefit greatly from the help of a conductor.

BLUESHIFT begs the general question of a conductor.  With chamber works, when is it necessary, or helpful to include a conductor for the recording session?  Does it depend on the size of the ensemble, the length of the piece, the level of difficulty, the amount of rehearsal time available?  With so many variables, sometimes it is complicated to determine if a conductor is necessary until we are in the studio working on the piece.

In the case of BLUESHIFT, Alex, Andy and I had discussed the possibility of including a conductor prior to entering the studio.  Because there was no conductor allocation in the budget for this particular project, we modified our production plans in order to yield the best musical results.  In this case, Alex agreed to conduct portions of the piece.

With Andy producing and listening closely to each take, we were able to gather the best material for post-production.  We also made sure that Alex had the chance to listen back to certain sections before moving on to the next portion of the piece.

Could we have completed the piece without Alex conducting?  Yes.  Would it still have been a fantastic recording?  Of course.  However, the session might not have gone quite as smoothly as it did and there is a chance that we would have had to extend beyond our allotted time frame.  

Overall, our first priority is capturing the best recording and musical vision of our composers.  In order to do that, we need to sometimes work with our composers and artists to shift production plans around in real time in the studio.  In the end we always arrive at the best recording possible even within tight parameters.

It was amazing to work with Alex in the studio – look for BLUESHIFT on one of our upcoming releases.  We will be sure to keep you posted!

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