I’ve been fortunate to have worked as an orchestrator in 4 major centres of orchestral recording – the 5th will be Sofia (Bulgaria) later this year. These scores have been for Richard Mitchell (movies) Ian Livingstone (video games) and Tim Duncan/Ed Barnwell (ice ballet theatre production). Manchester (my town) is also home to fine orchestras, though not accustomed to score sessions like London, Warsaw, Prague and Moscow.
Undoubtedly the London sessions still feel like ‘home’ where the results were outstanding but we got excellent results from all locations. ‘Results’ mean 3 things’ fine performances from the musicians, industry-standard audio recording, efficient time management.
In my experience, each centre had its own particular strengths. Talk to writers and producers about recording abroad and you’ll hear horror stories of sessions falling apart. The blame seems to fall on the studio, or the conductor or the musicians. But I wonder whether some of the problems were ‘user-error’. You get out what you put in, I believe; this is not about any qualities of the music, rather the orchestrator’s session management – score preparation, click/guides and communication with studio team. I write about the power of notation as an effective communication tool in another post, but as long as my notation is accurate and provides clear direction for the musicians and engineer, they will make it work (and thank you for allowing them to do their job!) You also have to respect their working practices; the engineer knows his studio, the conductor knows his musicians; as long as the score is adequately marked with direction, articulations, phrasings and dynamics, they will interpret it for you. And, wonderfully, all cultural and language barriers disintegrate as music becomes the language.
I’ve always felt honoured to take part in these sessions. By the time the conductor kicks off the first cue, my work is largely done, except for clarifying aspects of performance and feel, and facilitating any updates the composer requires.
And best of all, you get to visit these great cities, meet some great music industry professionals and lap up the culture (aka drink local beer).