Hilltop Diary, May 10, 2022

I devote this entry to answering some of the questions I have received about recording music in Bulgaria, which might be interesting, or might not. But if not, my apologies, and the regular Hilltop news and photo (which is Beatrix Potter’s house in England, also called Hill Top) will return next time.

Why record in Bulgaria instead of right here in the U.S.?

A lot of U.S. orchestral music is recorded in Eastern Europe because the recording costs are so high in the U.S., and it is actually far less expensive to fly there than to pay the union recording scale fees here.

Are the orchestras there as good as the ones here?

As a generalization, the professional orchestras in that part of the world are famous for their rigorously trained and beautiful sounding string sections, in particular. Composers like Hans Zimmer have used this same orchestra I’m using to record their Hollywood film scores, in the same studio.

What is a “recording orchestra,” and why use one? 

Though these seasoned musicians also play in regular concert orchestras in fifteen Eastern European countries, they also come together in Sofia on occasions like this to specialize as “session musicians.” They have cultivated a particularly strong skill of “sight reading,” which means playing a score practically perfect the first or second time they play through it, without the luxury of several rehearsals. This skill simply comes from doing it so often.

Does the ERO have a special place to make their recordings?

Yes, in Sofia, Bulgaria they have a truly state-of-the-art orchestral recording studio, the Bulgarian National Radio Studio 1, with over forty (very pricey) German Neumann microphones, among other things that make any audio engineer salivate. This chart shows the 92 musicians, with red dots showing the microphones. The five big boxes at the bottom of the chart contain a total of 60 string players.

Kurek 92s stage plan

How do you communicate with them, if they speak Bulgarian?

A few or more of them speak English, but the studio rental includes a translator. When that is not the case, musicians worldwide can always fall back on Italian, the international language of music notation. In those cases, I have been able to say things like “Molto espressivo!” or “Accelerando ma non troppo!” and refer to notes using fixed-do solfege syllables (do-re-mi, etc.) and be understood and have a good rehearsal.

What happens with the tape they record there?

Well, there is no physical tape any more, it’s all digital files now! They will send the files via the cloud to my record company in New Hampshire, who will load them into about 50 or more “Pro-Tools” tracks for mixing, editing, and mastering (called postproduction) under my guidance as producer. I will be going later in the month to New Hampshire for all that. So, blame Moi, if it sounds bad.

Will you conduct the orchestra in Bulgaria?

The plan is for me to do a bit of the conducting, but more for my own enjoyment and as a brief photo op. As producer of the session I need to be in the booth telling our real conductor through “talkback” headphones what to play next. I did take classes in conducting and have done a little, but a job this big requires a more skilled professional conductor.

Will Crystal go with you, and what are the Covid travel rules there? Do you know anyone there?

Crystal has rehearsals here for The Secret Garden (she plays Lily Craven) at night — to be performed in June by the Robertson County Players — and is teaching by day, and there will be no time for sight-seeing, anyway, so it’s just a quick work trip for me. They say they require either vaccination or testing, and regardless, they want masks for the whole fifteen hours of travel on three planes (Nashville to Washington D.C. to Munich, to Sofia). It so happens that I do know some people in Sofia. Music is a small world. One of my hosts will be a good friend who used to supervise music for Disney films and is now the dean of the Film Composing Academy of Europe, based in Sofia, so we’ll get to have dinner (along with his wife) together.

Are you excited about having a big, live symphony orchestra play your music?

Yes, it’s one of those bucket-list things, I suppose, and it’s always just as thrilling, even though I have done it many times. It is fun to hang out with the orchestral musicians during breaks and get their feedback. (I have learned a lot from them what NOT to write, ha ha!) They usually do like the fact that I always make sure every player has some gratifying melodies to play and not just boring oom-pah accompaniments, which some instruments mostly get.

When and where will this album become available?

It is supposed to be released in October, but perhaps sooner, we’ll see. You can search for it this summer to pre-order on Amazon, iTunes, Naxos, or other vendors in both CD and download form. Pre-orders will come with a bonus, to be announced! The album will be titled: Symphony No. 2: Tales from the Realm of Faerie on Parma/ Navona/ Naxos Recordings.

In conclusion . . .

I hope this was not too boring! You never know when you write these things what people will think. In my business, you do have to talk about what you are doing, in part for the purpose of shameless promotion and sales, yes, but you don’t want to be braggy but a nice person, too. Without the grace of God and partnership of my better half, who is a different kind of artist herself, I don’t think I could have composed this symphony or anything else in recent years, anyway.  

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