Classical Music is the perfect foil for a vast array of productions from upscale advertising to romantic drama, epic trailers to thought-provoking talk shows. With a huge range of libraries offering the biggest ‘hits’ of the classical cannon, most of which were written many decades or centuries ago, it’s easy to assume that most recordings are alike. Here we look at a simply question; ‘If the writer is dead, does it matter where you get classical music?’
At the core of most classical music is a manuscript that has been reinterpreted thousands of times. Classical music recordings can therefore never be considered definitive, and often they are not created equally. There are many important decisions that go in to interpreting a piece for use in production.
Arrangement & Production
Building something new from an old template requires nurturing. With key decisions ranging from room selection and mic placement to applying effects in post-production, the production process has a huge impact on the sounds you hear in a recording. Decisions made before and during production and post-production are often key to determining the quality of a finished recording. Unlike in Pop music, the best classical work may sound so instantly natural that it doesn’t appear to have been produced at all. In other situations, a traditional piece can take on a new life like in this work by the famed Hallé Orchestra.
Part of the iconic sound of a great deal of Classical Music is the open, resonant sound found in the world’s greatest opera halls. That’s an extraordinarily difficult sound to capture in recordings and one that requires the careful selection of quality studios and venues for recording. Simply put, a string quartet sounds markedly different in a grand chapel than it does in a home studio. As important, can be the placement of microphones and other recording tools. As with production, less is more.
Digital instruments and VST plugins can recreate the sound of an incredible range of real life instruments and often make a great alternative to analogue gear when producing electronic, pop, and hip hop styles. However, with space and depth at the core of much classical music, real analogue instruments in the hands of talented musicians are acoustically unmistakable. A solid base of quality instruments, talented performers and a useable space are the most important resources available for a classical music producer.
Musicians make music, but they also make music. Many classical music compositions are instantly recognizable. It’s important that a recording is faithful to the memory an audience has of it whilst still being suitable for use in productions. Talented performers will know a piece inside-out and have the ability to reinterpret what is written for both their recording environment and its end use. This may mean applying heavier vibrato to add dynamics or easing a transition with a ghost note. Through their interpretation musicians breathe new life into a classic work or set the standard for all other players to follow.
Don’t miss these behind the scenes photos of our recent string recording session at Bastyr Chapel in Seattle.
Our thanks to Brooke Vlahos and all at Seattle Music Inc.