The Rhapsody Project Page 2
The chapel, even when quiet, is filled by its own sound. The rustling pops from the cooling boards pierce through it, simultaneously transforming and defining it. Is this what John Cage meant when he said, "There is no silence?"
VIII What sounds more hopeful than a stage-full of musicians honking, climbing scales, working the kinks out of their fingers? Chaos is disordered confusion, which this is not—each musician is concentrating on the same goal of a perfect performance. Most professional musicians are no longer even aware of their pre-performance rituals; they have become instinctual, as when a dog turns clockwise three times before settling down on the rug in front of a fire.
IX "Hyperion?" I try to keep my voice calm through the fold-back speaker. "We need a minute to solve a technical problem. Could you rehearse the opening while we attend to it?"
Disaster has struck at the last possible moment—it is 6:15pm, a quarter-hour after we were scheduled to begin recording. One of the three Nagras slaved together to record at 96kHz is refusing to synch up with the other two. Steve Lee is frantically trying to repair it, calls have been made to Nagra in Nashville for technical support, and we are all conscious that the clock is running.
A transistor in a reel motor has failed, and we can't even get a replacement unit the next day. There are only six machines in the US that can be synched to that clock speed—one belongs to the San Francisco Symphony, two are in transit to Nagra dealers, and we are using the other three. JA quickly decides to record just the front- and rear-channel pairs of B&K cardioids at 96kHz; the 44.1kHz omnis will be mixed with the front, 44.1kHz cardioids on this CD release—and, we hope, we'll be able to up-sample the 44.1k omni channels for the surround DVD. At 6:35pm I slate the first take: "Rhapsody in Blue, take one—from the top."
X Three hours—some 53 takes later—we have recorded all of the orchestral parts we require for the three Preludes and Rhapsody in Blue. The musicians have jelled as a unit and have performed brilliantly. Although we have contracted with them for an additional three-hour session the following afternoon, we won't need it. This, at least, we count as a success.
XI Steinway concert grands share a certain heavy-metal brotherhood with that other grand American icon, the Harley-Davidson motorcycle—the lacquered wooden shell and beautifully bronzed harp look indestructible. Nonetheless, an instrument takes a real beating in performance—especially readings as mercurial as Hyperion's Gershwin.
We discover Tuesday afternoon that Hyperion has broken the piano. Specifically, a glue joint holding a felt hammer to its lever has failed. The piano technician quickly repairs it, pointing out that it could've been worse. "He might have broken a string."
"Those strings break?" JA goggles.
The following afternoon, one does.
XII Downtown Albuquerque is noisy. We require another 50 takes to complete Rhapsody's piano parts. We record a helicopter, buses, motorcycles, heavy military transports circling overhead, and many police and ambulance sirens. Hyperion is a recordist's dream: focused, prepared, infinitely patient. Later, he even helps us muscle the piano into its new position when we decide to record the solo pieces with the lid on.
"Hyperion, let's do that again. We heard a motorcycle."
"That's okay—I'm just getting warmed up."
"Rhapsody in Blue, take 49—from rehearsal mark 21."
XIII At 9:47pm Wednesday evening, after a full day's performance encompassing nearly 100 takes, Hyperion plays, at Steve Lee's request, Chopin's Revolutionary Etude. The recording session is over, but Hyperion's still bursting with music.—Wes Phillips