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  • Travels with my microphones

    You should not think that we traveled with crews of technicians carrying our gear and setting up our equipment. With the exception of those recordings made in well-equipped facilities such as Master Sound and Abbey Road, Tammy and I generally carried all the necessary gear ourselves - microphones, cables, mixing desk - fortunately a superb and very portable one made by the Swiss company Sonosax - and the heavy shipping crates with recording machines and various special effects black boxes. The microphones were always traveled as hand luggage. This made us popular with airline crews and fellow passengers as we tried to be first on board and used up a great part of the overhead luggage space. Fragile and expensive, our complete microphone kit fit into a large camera bag. Tammy, an expert packer, found the one way that all the various microphones could be placed into this bulging bag. It always aroused the suspicions of airport security personnel and required time-consuming explanations as the bag passed through the X-ray machine. I once did my best imitation of a pop-star wailing into a microphone for a security person of singularly low intelligence who had never heard of nor seen a microphone. A security guard in Baltimore asked me to take a particularly fine microphone apart to see if I was using it to carry drugs. On another occasion, I thoughtlessly, and in earshot of a vigilant airport employee, asked Tammy if our "snake" was in a particular duffel bag. The simple explanation, that our snake was a special cable with multiple connectors, didn't satisfy this particular gentleman who despite the crates of recording equipment was convinced we were travelling with an illegal and dangerous reptile.

    Not only security personnel found our equipment interesting. After over thirty trips to New Zealand without a murmur of interest at the Immigration and Customs counters, a vigilant employee of Her Majesty's Customs confiscated all our gear. She was sweet, earnest and implacable, warning us that if we sold the gear in New Zealand, it would have an adverse effect on the islands' economy. Despite having just endured a twelve hour flight in the Economy Dungeon, we were polite explaining that we carried the equipment to use and not to sell and that an examination of our passports would prove that we were regular visitors to New Zealand. This comment was probably a mistake as it strengthened her opinion that we were regulars traffickers in smuggled recording gear. Despite the early hour, I began calling friends in the orchestra and managed to catch the Chief Executive and the Chairman both at their breakfast in an Aukland hotel. (The orchestra was fortunately on tour in that city.) They must have detected a note of panic in my usually measured tones as they promised to come to the airport immediately and rescue us. By the time they arrived, I had already written and signed a statement that bound me to taking our equipment with us when we left New Zealand. Fortunately, our case had been turned over to a more senior officer who believed our strange tale that we came to New Zealand to record their national orchestra. After this trip, we purchased in international carnet that provided more-or-less smooth sailing through customs ever after.

    Beyond the customs and security checkpoints, one still had to be vigiliant when traveling with expensive and highly portable gear. We had disembarked from the airport shuttle bus in Phoenix, Arizona and as we stood on the curb surrounded by crates realized the the microphone bag was not in sight. To my quizzical look, Tammy simply pointed at the departing bus. I learned that day that I had some potential as an Olympic sprinter when I ran off in hot pursuit, catching the bus at a fortunate red light a kilometre away.

    These trips by air even in the confines of coach class were luxurious compared with local outings where I loaded and drove the ancient pick-up truck that KOCH has purchased. This vehicle, somehow always in poor repair, without air-condtioning, or even a functional radio, was used for the long drives to "nearby" venues such as Boston (four hours away) or Washington (six to seven hours distant.) It could not be properly locked giving me an uneasy feeling about our equipment if I dared stop along the way. Perhaps it was too shabby to excite any potential thieves' attentions. Shabby enough to make me look suspicious to the law: we were loading the truck late one evening after a recording session on a college campus. As I was about to heft a large recording machine into the truck, I found myself staring into two powerful torches wielded by two police officers convinced that I was making off with the school's property. The man responsible for renting the college facility was playing second bassoon in the New York City Ballet's production of the Nutcracker and would not be reachable for hours. We were able to get a message through to him somehow while I steamed and fumed.

    I was working alone on that recording - Tammy rarely assisted on recordings that required use of the truck. Another solo effort became the last. Our superb portable mixing console had a battery pack that had never been used and hence ignored. I was near the end of a particularly difficult recording of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire when I heard a strange hissing noise. Fearful that we had a serious technical problem, I was about to call a break when I realized that 1) we were close to being out of time and under the American union rules, playing time and breaks are strictly regulated and 2) it was the mixer's battery leaking a green and unpleasant acid that was the source of the noise. As they played, I ran to the toilet for paper towels to mop up the mess, keeping an ear on the music as well. Back in under thirty seconds, I was horrified to discover that the powerful liquid was eating away at the score on my desk. I managed to dislodge the battery, clean-up the table and keep the session going only by vowing to myself that I would have an assistant on all future recordings.

  • Take Two

    Producers tend to refer to "my recording of Beethoven's Eroica" forgetting the musicians on the other side of the glass as having something to do with the end result. Whether we like to admit it or not, the artist plays a rather important part though the extent of the producer's role varies from recording to recording. With an artist of the artistic calibre and unsurpassed professionalism of Anne-Sophie Mutter, the producer's role is to provide the best possible environment which allows her to do her finest work without hindrance. The interpretation is completely her own, the result of much thought and many performances. Yet even in her case, the producer serves as the ideal audience and a valuable second pair of ears.

    I learned early on that much as we might want to, the producer cannot conduct the recording from the booth. (Neither should the conductor attempt to produce from the podium.) I used to produce numerous revenue-generating vanity recordings with the hopefully uncharacteristic hubristic belief that I could somehow make it work by directing from the booth and fix it all later in the edit. In the course of these recordings, never ultimately satisfying, I've had to show these putative maestri how to beat complex rhythmic patterns and even to identify wrong notes. We were recording a recently discovered work by a major composer with a conductor who sadly owned the score and would not let anyone else record the work. I had hired a fine London orchestra, usually capable of ignoring the least competant time beaters to turn in respectable results. At one telling moment, we discovered that a copyist's error had mistakenly placed the flute part a half-tone higher than the violins for what should have been a unison passage. I stopped the sessions telling the oblivious conductor that we needed to correct a part. During the brief moment while he made the inane comment "You'll get used to it; it's fine," the musicians sorted out the problem. They began again and he turned to me, noting aloud (and ruining the take) that there had been no mistake. In a fit of exasperation, the ever polite leader of the orchestra asked the maestro "What exactly is your usual profession." The critics loved the disc.

    One of my first recordings for Koch was a disc of Ives' orchestral music conducted by James Sinclair, one of the leading Ives specialists and an expert on the complicated and confusing Ives musical texts. We had met only briefly prior to the recording at Yale. Early in the first session, I stopped Sinclair to make a balance suggestion and as he later told me, his unspoken thought was "Who the hell does this guy think he is telling me what to do?" He quickly realised that I was the fellow listening to the sound through the microphones, the balance that would be heard on the record, and that he had to trust me to make a good record.

    In fact, the producer needs to be as authoritative in his understanding of the music as the artist. The artist must trust the producer's musical judgement and instincts if the record is to have a remote chance of success. This doesn't mean that the they have the same job. I learned early on that you cannot conduct or play from the booth while most of the artists I worked with knew that they shouldn't try and produce from the podium or keyboard. The producer also needs to respect the artist's interpretation even if he disagrees with it. His job is to help the artist achieve his ideal performance of the work.

    The producer must trust the artist as well. The cost of studio time, not to mention musicians scale, means that all producers need to be excellent time managers. Most labels take a dim view of overtime, blaming the producer for not bringing the project in within budget. There have been many times when I have felt more than happy with the material on tape for a given piece and with an eye on the clock suggested to the artist that we move on. I learned that the plea for "one more take" usually was a sound decision by the artist who having "covered" all the problem spots was now about to give you the performance you had been waiting for.

    My first recording with Christoph Eschenbach, a wonderful musician and superb pianist and conductor, was a disc of demanding Second Viennese School chamber music. The first work to be taped was the Berg ultra-romantic Sonata. Take one was flawless technically and interpretively all one could hope for. Silence from the booth. For once, I was speechless. After about half a minute, Christoph asked "So how was it?" We listened together in the booth talking through several spots and he proceeded to make two complete and equally beautiful, though different, takes of the Sonata. We then recorded small sections to have further choices. I told Christoph that I had enough material for at least three profoundly beautiful performances of the work. As I edited the piece, I had to make the most difficult decisions as all the material was good. I have had the same "problem" editing Gustavo Romero's recordings in which the unused material is as beautiful though subtly different from that ultimately used for the recording.

    This is what I refer to as good editing. "Bad editing" is much easier though less satisfying: you have several takes of a section of music and the last one is a more or less correct rendition of the notes. With intensive editing, you can put together a performance and perhaps even an interpretation. The famous story of pianist and conductor listening to the final results after a particularly difficult set of sessions and endless hours of editing is probably true: Pianist: "It sounds wonderful!" Conductor: "Don't you wish you could play it like that?"

    The early days of the period instrument movement were the golden days of editing paid for by the hour. Cumbersome instruments had yet to be mastered and some of the recordings were made quite literally bar-by-bar, stopping at each cracked horn note or for imprecise intonation and ensemble. The producer would then back the musicians up a couple of bars to cover the error and carry on, often not very far, to the next mistake. Those days are mainly past, as the extraordinary players who work regularly for Sir John Eliot Gardiner and Nikolaus Harnoncourt demonstrate in their live performances.

    In general, the level of preparation for recordings is superb though there are those sessions where busy musicians simply haven't had the time to properly rehearse their material. They usually know what a good producer with good equipment can do but the results are never quite the same as great performance enhanced by good production. I have even worked with conductors who told the orchestra, "We'll let Michael fix that." While I don't mind, the great artists start at a very high level and through the process of recording and with good production take their performance to an even higher level. Some find the whole idea of editing offensive and even dishonest. I was giving a talk to a class at Juilliard describing the recording process when I could see that one of the students, a young singer, was very unhappy about my remarks. She objected to editing as a way of perpetuating performances that never really happened. I reminded her that all the actual notes on the record came from the artist but that we helped put some of them together in the most attractive way. She was still unhappy. I then took a different approach: had she a publicity photograph? Of course. Did the photographer shoot more than one roll of film to create this one photo. Yes. Did he do any touch up work. Yes. Is the photograph still your picture? An imperfect analogy but with a grain of truth.

    Editing shouldn't be about perfection but about performance. With diligent editing and enough studio time, one can achieve a reasonable approximation of perfection but this is sometimes at the cost of the performance. While nobody wants to hear an incorrect second violin note or horn splat that could be easily corrected, note-by-note editing can sometimes take the life out of the musical phrase: perfection at great cost. I have great admiration for artists who stand by their work. Early in my career, I recorded a distinguished pianist at the end of his long career. While he couldn't play the most difficult passages perfectly any longer, he still had much to give in performances of great wisdom, maturity, and insight. I suggested we isolate the most difficult sections and that he play them as many times as he liked. With luck and editing, we might be able to create those moments. He demurred and said "I can't play those passages the way I used to but I still stand by my performance." The great Heifetz was once ordered to repeat a passage again and again by his producer. The Maestro finally stopped and asked: "How many times have I played it incorrectly?" "Fourteen times," responded the producer. "Then, that is how I play it."

  • Searching for the Memorable

    There is a great deal of musical talent around: very talented composers, instrumentalists, conductors, and singers with active careers most of whom have no appreciable discography. (I won't write here about the talent that is unable to fashion any sort of career.) I'm convinced the only reason to record an artist is if there is something memorable about their performance. Think of the great voices and how, in your mind's ear, you can recreate their unforgettable sound from a concert you attended or imagine how they would perform a role you've never heard them sing or which perhaps they will never attempt. The quality of their sound is unique, unmistakable, and unforgettable: you instinctively know how they turn a phrase, how they deliver a text. I remember once imagining Luciano Pavarotti "singing" the soprano aria "Ernani, Involami." Though it will never happen on a concert stage, this impossible performance was perfectly credible. One thinks of singers such as Renata Tebaldi, Carlo Bergonzi, Franco Corelli or today's Cecilia Bartoli, Rene Fleming, and Bryn Terfel. Memorable.

    Not only singers have distinctive sounds. My grandfather, a fiddle fanatic, could immediately identify Heifetz, Milstein, Szigetti, and Kreisler to name but a few. Conductors like Toscanini, Karajan, Klemperer and Abbado have an indelible stamp in sound and phrasing that makes them immediately identifiable regardless of differences from performance to performance. Their voice is as distinct as a composer's. I began these tales with a reference to New Zealand composer Douglas Lilburn: like all great composers, his voice is recognisable from a single phrase, whether chamber music or symphony.

    Years ago, during a Metropolitan Opera broadcast intermission feature, a panel of experts was played the opening 'oom-pahs' to a series of Verdi arias and asked to identify the excerpt from those few notes. With few exceptions, the answers were easy to anyone who knew the Verdi canon and panel scored impressively. Each 'oom-pah' was so distinctive and so obviously the introduction to its aria. Try it yourself.

  • The Music of Hollywood

    The great scorers of film had the same ability to imprint a watermark in the memory, clarifying and even identifying the emotions incompletely portrayed on screen. Imagine the scene in 'Psycho' with the woman frantically driving after committing her robbery. With all respect to fine acting and direction, it is Bernard Herrmann's chilling music that adds a frightening dimension of self-induced guilt to the flickering images and for me, it is the music that lingers in the memory. I wonder if I would have been such a fan of the classic swashbucklers if they hadn't been framed with the music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Miklos Rozsa, for it was they along with Franz Waxman, Victor Young, and Alfred Newman that put the lump in my throat long before I ever heard their names.

    I don't recall how it was that I became actively involved in recording and in some cases restoring the works of these composers to print and record but it is an important part of this story. These composers, forgotten by many and scorned by the anti-romantic establishment of the recent past, were the true inheritors of the romantic symphonic tradition that ended in Europe with the rise of Nazism. How it landed in Hollywood bringing symphonic music to its widest audience ever is a tale better told by scholar. Nonetheles, one could argue that the great symphonic tradition lost in the wreck of Europe and the rise of the modern avant-garde transferred its allegiance to the big screen.

    I suppose it began with friends: John Waxman, son of Franz Waxman was one of the first people to contact me a KOCH, full of projects and ideas for recordings. Conductor James Sedares was also a film and film music enthusiast with great knowledge. Through John Waxman, I met the late Christopher Palmer, a great writer, musician, and expert in the field of the film composers, and the families of Korngold and Jerome Moross and eventually the great Miklos Rozsa himself.

    My first recording of Rozsa remains one of my favorites. It was immediately following our honeymoon in New Zealand that Tammy and I returned to Wellington for James Sedares' first recordings with the New Zealand Symphony. We planned two discs: Morton Gould's Fall River Legend coupled with Randall Thompson's 1st Symphony and a disc of Rozsa's symphonic works. I had no idea that the latter disc would be prelude to a series that would eventually encompass all the composer's concert music and several film scores as well.

    There were many sceptical musicians in the studio when we turned up with music by a composer most had never heard of or only knew of from his film scores. Rozsa's film works were so successful that they obscured his very significant canon of works for the concert stage. Even though Leonard Bernstein's celebrated surprise debut with the New York Philharmonic included Rozsa's Theme, Variations and Finale, his music never earned the place in the concert repertoire it deserved. Those of us who loved him were disappointed when his obituary in the New York Times was headlined "Miklos Rozsa, Film Composer." I'd like to believe that the New Zealand musicians were won over by soaring beauty, craft and distinctive voice of Rozsa in this and the other works we recorded. Years later, I was setting up for another recording in Wellington and caught the principal oboist warming up with the theme of Theme, Variations and Finale. The recording turned out well and there are not a few nights after midnight in Hamburg when I hear the Hungarian Nocturne broadcast on the local classical station. (I imagine the rules are less strict in the wee hours when only a few diehards and insomniacs are listening.)

    The recording was sent by Waxman to Miklos Rozsa who still lived in Los Angeles though wheel-chair bound as the result of a stroke. His comments, quoted on the compact disc, still fill me with pride:

    It is many years since I last heard the four works on this disc performed by anyone else: their give these new versions a warm welcome. The performances are broadly conceived and colorful; the orchestral playing combines passion with discipline in exactly the way my music demands. James Sedares has the measure of my style in his interpretations of my works. I have a particular fondness for your youthful Opus 13: I was in my early-to-mid 20s when I wrote it and it made my international reputation. It is delightful to hear it so vigorously brought back to life. Miklos Rozsa, January 12, 1993

    Along with these nice comments came an invitation to visit should I be in Los Angeles. California was in my plans thanks to a Grammy nomination as Classical Producer of the Year. As the competition for the award were the producers of major, international artists, I had little expectation of picking up a statue. I did plan to attend the ceremony and party as I had two years previously in New York when I received a similar nomination. In addition, Andrew Schenck's recording of Barber's The Lovers had two nominations and was listed as one of the five recordings given as examples of my work. Andrew had passed away a year ago but I wanted to be there for his sake. Barber had a much better chance of winning than I. We had a good year: in one category, the Barber was competing against another recording I had produced: Ellen Zwilich's very beautiful Flute Concerto with Doriot Dwyer and James Sedares conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.

    I drove the rental car through the lovely hills surrounding Los Angeles to Rozsa's home on the morning of the Grammy Awards and was admitted by his nurse, Clara. Rozsa met me in his study, his speech somewhat difficult to understand due to the effects of stroke. His mental energy and inner youthfulness were immediately apparent as he suggested a particularly glamorous violinist to record his concerto with hopes of a private meeting to go through the piece. He asked me to wander through the house and enjoy the art and framed musical manuscripts and autographs, apologising that he couldn't accompany me. The room housing his Academy Awards had a large Breughel canvas; Rozsa delighted in telling me that his previous nurse was going to "throw the picture in the trash" as the frame was broken. He commented "you had to live with art to properly appreciate it."

    We began to discuss his music in some detail when he stopped and said the word Symphony in a mysterious way. As a student, he had composed a large scale symphony and sent it to Bruno Walter, Pierre Monteux, and Wilhelm Furtwangler. Monteux wrote back and said he would perform the Scherzo movement. When I asked Rozsa to see the score, it was then that I learned that he had all the music except the Scherzo which Monteux never returned. A casual glance at the unpublished sheets in front of me revealed the indelible Rozsa voice, Hungarian, powerful and richly orchestrated. I made a promise to record the work as soon as the score could be made ready, parts prepared and the Scherzo located. I also promised to record all of Rozsa's concert music.

    We never found the Scherzo after a futile search through libraries around the world but did record the rest of the Symphony and almost all the concert music in New Zealand. Jim Sedares did another brilliant job of creating an interpretation on the spot in limited time with a score and parts riddled with errors. He had never conducted the work in public and it had no tradition of performance. It seemed as though every bar required a correction in someone's part, slowing down the process and irritating the players who generally prefer to get on with it. I must admit that I had some doubts early in the sessions: it was Tammy, whose quick and enthusiastic reaction "this is a great score" provided the momentum in the booth. One of the violists in the band dared a positive comment and things turned decidedly better.

    Rozsa loved the recording but this was one that I would love to do again, after a series of performances for conductor and orchestra to settle in to an interpretation. This is not a criticism of Sedares, a fine and greatly under-rated conductor or the New Zealand musicians who always gave their best regardless of the unusual bits of music I placed before them. Both have my undying gratitude. The rehearse-record method of recording simply has its limitations.

    As I was making my farewells, Rozsa asked Clara to bring him a copy of his autobiography, A Double Life, which he wished to inscribe to me. He could barely hold the pen and with help signed the book in a barely legible script.

  • GRAMMY Night

    The Grammy Awards have never been about classical music. We are an occasional afterthought with a couple of token appearances on the televised show. Classical music, along with spoken word and a host of other categories, receive their due in what the organisers call the pre-telecast. A number of colleagues have called for a boycott of the Grammys and the creation of our own awards. I'm not sure what classical music has to do with awards but the Grammy adds a little lustre to our world with a larger public and immediate credibility to its winners.

    Tammy and I joined the throng heading to the Shrine Auditorium, the area already lined with people in search of the famous. We greeted friends, including veteran Chicago Symphony Orchestra recording engineer Mitch Heller who had a long-overdue nomination for his engineering on our Barber "The Lovers" recording. One of the few genuine stars at the pre-telecast event was Patrick Stewart, Star Trek's Captain Picard, who was nominated for his extraordinary reading of Dicken's "A Christmas Carol." Tammy summoned up the courage I lacked and introduced us saying I was a big fan. He turned out a classical music lover and we managed to stay in touch for a number of years. As we reached the auditorium, Tammy insisted I sit on the aisle. Why? So I would be able to move quickly to the stage to accept my award. We sat on the aisle as the long list of categories and their happy winners were announced. The gentleman handing out the classical awards was a very distinguished American conductor with excellent Barber credentials of his own. When I first thought about recording the Second Symphony and The Lovers, I asked him if either of those works were in his own recording plans thinking there would be little point in doing them if he was. He replied, "No, only the good works." He was now about to open an envelope and announce that Samuel Barber's The Lovers had won a Grammy Award. The final category was Classical Producer of the Year and I still remember time standing still between hearing my name read and walking on stage to say "Thank you maestro" and then saying a very few words in which I thanked my wife and the wonderful artists I worked with.

    Winners were then escorted off stage for a photo with the Grammy and then led off to meet the few journalists stuck with greeting winners in non-glamorous categories. The Grammy handed to you at that particular moment is returned after the photo. Quite a few winners were understandably reluctant to part with their prize. (Copies engraved with your name and category are shipped off later.) My only thought was to get back to Tammy and call a few friends. Security would not let me back into the hall but fortunately, some newly award winning rappers were not to be stopped. I left in their midst perhaps somewhat incongruous in a tuxedo but swaggered back into the auditorium to find Tammy already in the lobby on queue for the phone. We reached friends who promised to tape the telecast show for us and headed out to the party on the Paramount set. That evening, Tony Bennett and Natalie Cole announced my category; my picture with what my wife calls "the deer-in the-headlights" look accepting the Award flashed across the screen.

    The Grammy has been a gift that keeps on giving. My pride in the award has more to do with the recognition of my peers than any certainly unjustified belief that my work is better than anyone else's Particularly pleasing was the list of recordings supporting my nomination: all were artists of great talent virtually unknown on the world scene. It was our mutual triumph. I received scores of letters, telegrams, and faxes from friends and colleagues and my mother was genuinely tickled. It gave her points with her friends and for her legitimized my career.

    I returned to a champagne reception thrown by KOCH and would remain there for another three years. The company had grown and classical music was becoming a less important element in the mix. Michael Koch, while always personally supportive, had the gleam of gold in his eyes and he wasn't going to get it with recordings of Bloch and Barber. He purchased a sumptuous new building adjacent, unfortunately, to a landfill and needed hits to pay for it. At the same time, recognising the long-term value of owning a quality catalogue of classical music, he promised to install a first class editing suite, if I made a commitment to remain with the company. I signed a sweetheart of a long-term contract and settled back in to work wondering what my real future was to be .

    The editing suite turned out to be a disaster. Despite being designed by a distinguished architect who had worked on the famed Radio Nederlands studios in Hilversum, he made every conceivable mistake. Worst of all, the room was above the warehouse and far from soundproof. It had inadequate electrical grounding and every time the conveyor belt came on to move another shipment of records, aside from nearly jolting me from my seat and making a screeching noise, it added an unwanted click on to our recording track. Acoustically, the room was useless, made in the forbidden square shape. Nothing we could do helped and I took to editing at home with headphones. While very pleasant for me, it further isolated me from KOCH and and weakened classical music's precarious position in the company. Those with physical proximity tended to be more persuasive.

    We still had our successes, many of which continue to sell to this day: a fascinating recording by the talented JoAnn Falletta and the Womens Philharmonic, a San Francisco orchestra - all woman - dedicated to repertoire by women. The disc included an overture by Fanny Mendelssohn, the Clara Schumann Concerto, and two lovely pieces by Lili Boulanger. I actually saw a copy of this record in a cabin outside Fairbanks, Alaska which we visited in order to borrow a portable CD-player during a dog mushing holiday. Conductor Gisele Ben-Dor's pulsating Ginastera and Emmanuel Music's intense and intensely lyrical Schuetz are first class recordings that only could have happened in an environment where an A&R Director had virtual carte-blanche (provided he didn't lose money!)

    James Sedares' recording of the complete score for Elmer Bernstein's The Magnificent Seven broke all our sales records. I sent a copy to Bernstein with some trepidation: he was also a conductor and was somewhat dubious when I proposed the project. His response was more than generous: he proclaimed it definitive.

    The recording was made in two sessions of three hours each. For the uninitiated, this translates to two hours of recording time per "call" as the American musicians union's national recording contract requires twenty minutes of break time per hour. In this case, the Phoenix Symphony had the luxury of a read-through at a Pops Concert but I knew that Jim would deliver results in the very limited time we had. It was a tense week for the orchestra as well: they narrowly defeated a strike vote the evening before our recording. They were the worst paid major orchestra in America at that time. The concert that evening, conducted by a guest maestro, was far from successful.

    There was an atmosphere of contrived jollity as we set our equipment and ran through the final sound and microphone checks. Jim, one of the finest exponents of gallows humour I have ever met, walked in with a cheery "We're for it lads" doing his best imitation of a stiff-upper-lip British Colonel noticing about a million armed savages on the nearby hill.

    As the orchestra filed in, I chatted with players about our last sessions, the very successful Bernard Herrmann Symphony, but wasn't able to lighten the mood. Their playing surpassed their mood as we worked on the opening theme, the best known music in the piece thanks to the Marlboro Man. Although time was short, I knew we had to get something special out of that theme and not just bravado. Jim and I talked about a more lyrical view with strings more prevalent than customary. There would be plenty of action later in the long score. We probably spent more time than was absolutely necessary on the opening. leaving some material, dangerously, with only one take, but I left the session confident that we had more than a film score on tape: Sedares created a symphonically conceived work of breadth and occasional depth, a cowboy Alpensinfonie.

    Tammy and I went horseback riding in the Arizona desert following the sessions. Once again a sad postscript: Christopher Palmer who had brilliantly recreated the score by watching the film - the original musical parts and scores had long vanished - died in a London hospital the day we heard the disc had won the German Echo Award. We had just been to visit Christopher a couple of days before and raced to call him when we received the news. When I rang his number, the nurses station picked up and told me it was too late. He had just passed away.

  • Possibilities Abound

    Life had settled into a regular, often satisfying routine. Tammy and I continued to travel and make recordings. I would come home and edit them. We enjoyed our lovely home on Long Island's north shore not far from Long Island Sound and even closer to the Nissiquogue River where we could play Ratty and Moley as we canoed through the tall grass to the open waters of the Sound with nary a building in sight save the occasional cottage. We surprised real river rats and otters paddling through the tall grass. Days not spent on the river always included a walk along the high bluffs that ran along the shore, an island of tranquillity that took one's imagination far away from brutally ugly strip malls that defined Long Island for most of its residents. We found a large lake close to home surrounded by horse trails and woods. The winters brought snow which didn't stop our outdoors activities but added to the joys of coming home to sit in front of the glow in the coal-burning stove.

    We began to get calls asking if we could produce recordings for private individuals and even other labels and I began to think about working less, perhaps just doing free-lance work. We both felt a relationship with KOCH still made sense provided Michael Koch would allow the occasional outside recording. I told Koch that I need to double my salary watching his look of terror subside when I added it needn't cost him anything. He agreed to let me do recordings on the side provided they didn't compete with KOCH products. Fine Sound Productions was born and while it hasn't made us rich, I found enormous joy in pretending to be self-employed.

    It wasn't long after that I spoke with Koch again: I was prepared to renegotiate my contract to a half-time position under which I would still run KOCH International Classics but spend the rest of my time growing Fine Sound Productions. I came home that day after our first talks when Tammy asked me what I really wanted to do short of retirement and a life of ease which unfortunately wasn't financially feasible at that moment. It didn't take me long to respond, "Of course I'd like to be head of music at Deutsche Grammophon but I doubt they have heard of me and I can't imagine they would take an American and an Israeli-American at that!"

    The next day, I wandered over to KOCH to pick up some materials I needed for the edit was engaged with. The phone rang and while I usually let my assistant or the voice-mail system answer, I picked up the receiver to be greeted by a caller from a London executive placement firm asking if I would be interested in the position of Vice President of A&R at Deutsche Grammophon.

    The famed German label was my musical accompaniment from an early age. I lived with my Russian grandparents as a young boy and my earliest recollections are my grandfather sitting in a large red chair conducting along with the recordings that filled the shelves of his living room. Certain pieces of music bring back the smell of that old building on Mansion Street. Today, Rachmaninoff 's Second Symphony with Maris Janssons conducting brings it all back: the huge speakers in both corners and the Van Gogh print of fishing boats not to mention the smell of Russian-Jewish cooking and the fascinating mixture he used in his hair to keep it stiffly in place. It was my grandfather who told me to listen "inside the music" for the inner voices and encouraged me to sing along with counter-melodies. Complex harmony fascinated him more than melody, a predisposition I shared. Despite his understandable post-war aversion to things German, he always made an exception for Deutsche Grammophon recordings. His logic was simple: they make the best records. Grandma wasn't moved: DGG, Volkswagon, Hitler and the concentration camps were all one for her and we had to create a diversion to bring the newest DGG treasures into their apartment. When DGG issued a recording with Rozhdestvensky and the Leningrad Philharmonic, my grandfather tried to use the disc as a lever to allow the forbidden product into the home. "You see, my dearest," he said in Russian or Yiddish, I don't remember, "this is good Russian music with good Russian musicians." Grandma remained unmoved: Nyet. Still German as far as she was concerned. When my grandfather died, I knew where the closet was stacked high with hundreds of records with the famous yellow label.

    There was one small problem. I did not know a single DGG artist and a strong relationship with the artist is a key component to the job. Labouring under a bad early winter cold, I met the headhunter in New York . As I answered his questions and explained my generally optimistic view of classical music on records - a distinctly minority opinion - my voice began to fail. Feeling that I had completely botched it and quickly running out of voice, I croaked "I can't imagine that anything I am saying could be of the slightest interest to Deutsche Grammophon." "On the contrary," he replied, "it is exactly what I wanted to hear. Can you meet Chris Roberts, the President of Polygram Classics and Jazz next week?"

    I met the man who would fire me two and half years later in spacious offices on Eight Avenue with a spectacular view of the Hudson River. Back when I was salesman as well for the recordings I produced, I had encountered Roberts as the manager of a small store in Portland, Oregon and I had also made a series of recordings with the very fine choir of Lewis and Clark College, also in Portland, where Roberts had been a student. The conversation was amiable and while I sensed no burning intensity to preserve the legacy of DGG or classical music in particular, I sensed no particular hostility to continue the label's almost century-old tradition of recording great literature with the important artists of the day.

    You might think this an obvious and even required stance for one running a classical record label. Yet new managers often think they need to reinvent successful products. Many executives in the classical recording field, envious of the commercial success of their colleagues on the pop side, denigrate the music that at one time inspired them. The day's notion of politically correct thinking is wary of any expression that appeals to the few, especially if those few are perceived to be well-off and Western.

    I can assure you that the love of music does not stem from one's financial status. Many years ago, when I was doing a stint of army reserve duty "somewhere in Israel," I pulled late evening guard duty on the night that the BBC World Service was going to broadcast a program about the late German conductor Otto Klemperer. I looked at the duty roster and saw that my companion at the explosives bunker was a nice guy of Iraqi descent, a mechanic at the Dan Bus Company garage in Tel-Aviv. Listening to music on guard duty was forbidden but not unheard of. I had an earphone and planned on telling my colleague that I would be unavailable for one hour that evening and that I would cover for him for an hour before or after the broadcast. It never occurred to me that a bus mechanic whose family came to Israel in 1947 from Baghdad would have any interest in Otto Klemperer or music in particular. My prejudices had got the better of me as he turned up at the bunker armed with rifle and radio with the very same plan.

    The story of that radio, confiscated by my sergeants on many occasions but always returned, had a tragic ending. All Israeli combat soldiers wear a belt designed to hold such necessaries as cartridges loaded with bullets, water bottles, and of course, close to the front and immediately accessible, a pouch which carries two grenades. The pouch had a thin cloth divider which when removed created the perfect vehicle for my transistor radio. This was still a few years before the ubiquitous miniature radios and cassette decks which were later joined by baseball caps as required apparel and finding a small radio with a decent FM band was not easy. The radio, along with a large portable library, was my salvation during long months of military duty and not to be replaced in Israel. The grenade pouch's position on the belt, directly below the shoulder strap provided perfect placement for the earphone which I taped along the strap's backside. All was well and I could often hear the sergeant's commands dimly over the music courtesy of Kol Israel's First Program.

    Until grenade exercises: We were meant to run from a bunker high on hill to a position immediately overlooking a large crater with a giant metal trash can strategically placed in the center. The idea, simple enough, was to run down the hill, pull a grenade out of its receptacle, shout "rimon" - grenade, or literally pomegranate - and throw the grenade into the large specially constructed can where it would explode. There was an officer at the edge of the crater to make sure you didn't blow yourself up.

    As the army rarely gave one time to prepare, I had no time to stow the radio and find my two grenade, safely in my pack back at the barracks. I had no choice but to run down the hill, shout "rimon" as loudly as I could, hopefully a diversionary tactic, and throw my precious radio into a large tin can. Of course it didn't explode and the officer assumed it to be a dud.


    I received the formal offer to join Deutsche Grammophon as Vice President for Artists and Repertoire while sitting in the tiny living room of my daughter Debby's house in the tiny and isolated West Bank settlement of Yitzhar. The headhunter asked if there was a bottle of champagne around as he had good news. Nothing could be further from the world of fine bubbly than Yitzhar but I was both exhilarated and terrified to receive the news. As I had said to several friends, I would be devastated either way. Most colleagues had counselled me not to take the job, one warning me that DGG was "a snake pit." I have a bad history of not accepting good advice but I had already made the emotional break with KOCH and had already at least in my mind started at DGG. Many friends were concerned that I would miss producing but I assured myself that I wouldn't let too much time pass before I had my hands on the mixing desk.

    I received the formal offer to join Deutsche Grammophon as Vice President for Artists and Repertoire while sitting in the tiny living room of my daughter Debby's house in the tiny and isolated West Bank settlement of Yitzhar. The headhunter asked if there was a bottle of champagne around as he had good news. Nothing could be further from the world of fine bubbly than Yitzhar but I was both exhilarated and terrified to receive the news. As I had said to several friends, I would be devastated either way. Most colleagues had counselled me not to take the job, one warning me that DGG was "a snake pit." I have a bad history of not accepting good advice but I had already made the emotional break with KOCH and had already at least in my mind started at DGG. Many friends were concerned that I would miss producing but I assured myself that I wouldn't let too much time pass before I had my hands on the mixing desk.