When I found out in September 2012 that discussions were underway for a live BLO recording of MacMillan’s Clemency, I had mixed feelings: great excitement at our first commercial CD (and a world premiere recording as well) but also some nervousness. A CD is very unforgiving, and people expect a high level of perfection―something that is not so easy to achieve in a live situation, with a difficult new piece and an acoustically challenging venue.* Fortunately, we had the experts at SoundMirror in Boston, working on behalf of BIS Records, to help us overcome all the difficulties, such as mixing the input from the head microphones with the ambient sound, and editing everything into a seamless recording.
The first stage of the process was simply to do normal performances to the highest possible standard, as always. We didn’t really take any notice of the microphones during the show, but it was very interesting to be able to hear sample recordings afterwards, when they tested their equipment. Once they had a recording of the whole performance, we all stayed behind and re-recorded any sections that had been imperfect in any way. This was a race against time, dotting around through the score, picking out the right sections and fixing them extremely quickly while we still had the singers in town. It was made all the more challenging by losing two performances due to Winter Storm Nemo, which forced us to cancel shows.
The final stage was the editing. Dirk Sobotka, the Tonmeister ("sound master," the producer), is a high-level musician as well, and he had worked out all the best versions of each section to stick together. I went out to the SoundMirror studios and spent a lot of time with him, going through everything, discussing any corners where things didn’t sound right or where I thought there might be a better option. I then left him and his team to glue it all together again in such a way that nobody would ever hear the joins, which they did very successfully!
We have been very fortunate that this CD has gone out on the BIS label, a very high-level international classical label, where they produce CDs with full booklets. The staff spent days helping them put together the liner notes with biographies, pictures, information about the project and the pieces, and of course the texts. Thanks to the efforts of the artists, the technicians and the dedicated leadership and staff of a world-class operation at BLO, we can happily boast a CD that is a work of art.
None of this would have been possible without the generous support of BLO’s Chairman of the Board, Steven Akin, and the dedication of so many—onstage and off—to the end product.
* Boston’s Artists for Humanity EpiCenter, the site of BLO’s 2013 Opera Annex production