Have music, will record: Houston classical music travels the world by CD
During my stint as a fellow at the Leonard Bernstein Center for Education Through the Arts in Nashville, I participated in a whimsical and telling experiment. Artists separated into their various disciplines to prepare a presentation on why their art form was "the best."
The classical musicians announced that music is the only art form that can be easily reproduced, thanks to the miracle of recording technology. We can't rip the Picasso off the wall, a play in script form is far from a theatrical experience, a dance video is two-dimensional, but a recording most approximates the original form of the art experience.
"You can always take us with you," quipped the smug musicians. The dancers caved, "OK, you are the best." Then we all headed to the local watering hole to celebrate.
Houston has its own hoopla going on this weekend over new recordings. Ars Lyrica kicks off their season and two new new CD releases at a soiree at Frank's Chop House on Sunday from 3-5 pm. Artistic director Matthew Dirst has a solo disc of the François and Armand-Louis Couperin harpsichord works on the Centaur Label, along with the world premiere recording of Johann Adolf Hasse's Marc Antonio e Cleopatra, featuring Ava Pine and Jamie Barton on the Dorian Sono Luminus label.
Dirst recorded the Couperin in a private home on top of the Santa Cruz Mountains in California.
"It was a great place to record, with lovely acoustics and no extraneous sounds," he says. "Couperin and the harpsichord are a marriage made in heaven. It's what the instrument wants to play, and I love the music."
The Couperin pieces have been recorded numerous times, but that is not the case with the Hasse.
"You need to record something less well-known in order for a label to pick it up," he says. For Dirst, recording is the primary route to an international mission and getting noticed by major festivals for touring possibilities.
"People living in Paris are not going to come to Houston," he says.
Just after Houston orchestra Mercury Baroque returns from their Paris tour this month, they celebrate their Oct. 9 season opening Exotique with an after-show CD release party for their newest recordings, Vivaldi’s L’Estro Armonico and Handel's Concerti Grossi Opus 6. Musicians will be on hand to sign CDs as well. Artistic director Antoine Plante selected the Handel for two reasons.
"It's an exceptional piece of music," Plante says. "And, it's an orchestra builder."
For Mercury Baroque, recording is not just about getting on a larger map, but nurturing their fans. "We want our audience to enjoy Mercury Baroque at home," Plante says. "It's important for us to to develop a relationship with our audience."
Plante wants to stay on the forefront of new technology and is considering live radio streaming and adding video production in the near future. "We want to stay current as long as it serves our organization," Plante says.
Mercury Baroque collaborated with KUHF for this CD, a key partnership for many local classical music groups.
Many a Houston recording story leads directly to KUHF.
"With a fantastic studio, a four-person recording engineer staff and a Steinway piano, we have the facilities and the expertise to help performers make their music available through a CD release," says St.John Flynn, KUHF's director of cultural programming. "It's a way of helping groups reach a wider audience and solidifying our reputation as a center for classical music."
Although KUHF has been in the recording business for the past decade, its label will be more visible once the new website launches later this fall. KUHF also has a permanent multi-track studio at Jones Hall where it records Society for the Performing Arts visiting groups and the Houston Symphony.
Houston Symphony general manager Steve Brosvik has a lot to say about the importance of recordings for a major symphony orchestra. The Symphony records in-house in collaboration with KUHF and on outside labels.
"When you make a recording you extend the work on the rep; it takes a certain level of attention, so it's a fine-tuning process," Brosvik says. "We develop our reputation at home and away. Also recordings draws fresh and new musicians."
Next up for the Symphony is a new recording of Mahler's Song of the Earth, just in time for the Mahler Centennial. There's also the fabulous "merch" factor when it comes to their blockbuster DVD of Gustav Holst's The Planets.
Alecia Lawyer of River Oaks Chamber Orchestra (ROCO) is still sorting out how best to position recordings in line with ROCO's homespun mission.
"Our priority is to continue the conversation, to re-live the experience," says Lawyer, ROCO's founder, executive director and principal oboist. "ROCO is about being in the moment."
Thanks to KUHF, ROCO has been heard on NPR's Performance Today, 27 times. Right this minute, ROCO is uploading some recent concerts to InstantEncore. For those who like to hold something in their hands, CDs of their inaugural and Valentine's concerts can be purchased online.
Finally, we can't ignore the rave reviews Da Camera artistic director Sarah Rothenberg and Marilyn Nonken received in The New York Times and other publications for their recording of Olivier Messiaen's two-piano Visions de l'Amen on Bridge Records, recorded at Shepherd School of Music. There's more — Da Camera received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant to record works by Asian-American composers, which will include works by Zhou Long and Houston-based Shih-Hui Chen.
So go ahead, leave home and take some fine Houston classical music with you.