Culebra, recorded in part by the RSNO at the Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow
My name is Ned Bigham and I am a composer published by Faber Music (www.nedbigham.com). I have been lucky enough to record pieces from my forthcoming album Culebra, released on 23rd June, with the RSNO. It was a great experience. In case anyone is interested to hear about the recording process, here goes:
A month before the recording session, I sent all the instrumental parts and a copy of the score to the very helpful RSNO Librarian, Richard Payne. He then circulated them to the players, so they had a chance to prepare prior to the session, and in particular to the Leader James Clark, so he could finalize the bowings for the string players.
I also met up with the conductor, the acclaimed Gregory Rose, and over a cup of coffee we discussed performance issues such as tempi and how we would approach the recording process. This was preferable to making decisions two minutes before kick-off (and it’s at that point that the composer realizes the bass clarinet is in the wrong clef!).
In the meantime Nick Lander, Concert and Tours Manager (now Director of Presentation and Operations), and Sam McShane, Assistant Orchestra Manager, coordinated among other things: percussion requirements, booking a harpist (the virtuoso Pippa Tunnell) and finalising the layout of the orchestra. I should also mention Gale Mahood, who kindly and efficiently handled the administrative side.
On the day, Nick and the RSNO Team welcomed us to Henry Wood Hall. Our recording engineer Calum Malcolm, ably assisted by Paul Fergusson and trainees from Edinburgh Napier University, had been there since dawn, positioning microphones and setting up the equipment (including more cables than I’ve had hot dinners). He found himself a control room deep in the basement below the hall, where he could monitor the recording uninterrupted.
We had a lot of material to record, close on twenty minutes of music and not altogether straightforward to play. The four pieces are named after places in the Highlands: Glenfinglas, Portsonachan, Sail Mhor and An Caisteal. These valleys, hills and hamlets have inspired me with the grandeur and beauty of their landscape, and it is some of this epic quality that I hoped to translate into music.
British orchestras have a reputation for being the best sight-readers in the world, and the RSNO did not disappoint. But where the RSNO also stands out is in the quality of its tone and ensemble playing. This became apparent as soon as the conductor’s baton descended and they struck up the opening chord. Glorious! The session lasted an intense three hours, with a short tea break in the middle. We recorded as many takes as there was time for, giving me the luxury of being able to choose my favourite performances to edit together in my studio back in Sussex. And the results exceeded all expectations: the consistency of tone, sensitivity to dynamics, intonation and depth of feeling in the recording were in a class of their own. If interested you can hear excerpts and see a short video of Sail Mhor being recorded at www.nedbigham.com/listen. Or even better you can buy or download the cd from here for iTunes or here for Amazon.
A huge thanks to Gregory, the RSNO players and team, Michael Elliott and to Calum and his team. I hope I get an opportunity to record with them again.
View the new promotional video for Culebra can be viewed above.