Gwendolyn Toth

Gwendolyn Toth is the director of the New York City-based early music ensemble, ARTEK, and a soloist on early keyboards (organ, harpsichord, fortepiano). She is married to harpsichordist Dongsok Shin, and they have three children.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Is the tape recorder on?

Back in the US again, I am off and running with the next ARTEK project: recording Monteverdi's complete madrigals from Book 5. I think this is the first time I ever got the photo for the cover (dawn in Mantua!) before a single note got recorded. We have three sessions with just singers for the a cappella madrigals, then one long day for all the madrigals requiring basso continuo and of course the gargantuan 9-part final madrigal. (It's so incredibly inefficient to have ONE piece that requires FIVE separate string parts, continuo, and NINE singers - when everything else is 5/6 singers and continuo. This pushes the total number of people involved in the recording up to 18.)

We quickly determine on the very first day that some of us require SmartWater whereas the rest of us seem quite content with [Dumb]Water. I shall not say who requires which! However, a certain amount of surreptitious experimentation seemed to be going on. We also quickly determine that the asiago cheese crackers are superb.

Several of the male singers ride out to New Jersey each day with me in my van. I learn some fascinating things about fishing (Ryland Angel), pickup trucks (Philip Anderson), and childhood experiences in exotic locales (Peter Becker). My colleagues are all such fascinating people!

Ellis Hilton, the concert hall manager, makes some videos of the sessions using the in-house recoding equipment. I have posted two of them to give a taste of the recording sessions. (This is not the recorded sound, just the video pickup). The entire situation with Ellis and Drew University is amazing after many years of 2 AM recordings in cold, drafty, and noisy churches - where many great takes were spoiled by a noise, overhead planes, or just plain exhaustion because of the late hour. Here, everything is usable, there are no sound issues, and the hall is easy to hear each other.

Dongsok is using his Miracle-360-degree-mike (aka "The Bowling Ball") setup. This allows us to be in a circle around the mike - the best scenario to see and hear each other. Dongsok keeps popping out of his backstage space to move someone's music stand 2 inches forwards or backwards for the perfect balance. His cheerful comments keep us going even when our energy is flagging! Until the day when three quarters of the way through recording one madrigal, he realizes the tape machines are not on, requiring us to start over...we forgive him, but from then on, our refrain to him is: "Is the tape recorder on?" (He is making noises about needing reading glasses to see the meters...ah, to be young again!)

I enjoy doing a reading of the poetry as the final preparation before starting to record each madrigal. Put aside obsessing about pitch, vowel shape, ensemble - think about a delicious poem that is even more intense when set to beautiful music.

The final day is long, with about twice as much music as any of the preceeding days, and lutes and harp to keep in tune. We have not performed the nine-part madrigal since 1997, so it has a longer time allotted. When we finish, we think longingly of champagne - but settle for SmartWater, before driving home.

You can pre-order ARTEK's CD of Monteverdi's Madrigals, Book V - click here

No comments:

Post a Comment