Recording with Composer Jeff Beal and the Boston Symphony Orchestra

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February 23, 2017 by Admin

by James Farmingdale

I recently had the great privilege of being at the February 13 recording session of music for the film Boston: The Documentary, the story of the Boston Marathon. The soundtrack is by Jeff Beal (who also conducted) and was recorded by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Symphony Hall. This was a rare event, especially given that the BSO had only recorded three other soundtracks before this, two from the John Williams connection to the organization(Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan).

Click on the photos for better quality images.

JeffBealB117Jeff Beal (www.jeffbeal.com/) is best known for his score for TV’s House of Cards. In fact, he recently conducted the World Premiere of House Of Cards in Concert with the National Symphony Orchestra; a full evening program at the Kennedy Center. In the 2017-18 season he will be conducting his film score for the Buster Keaton classic silent The General with the L.A. Chamber Orchestra, and his House Of Cards program at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and with Denmark’s Odense Symphony. Recent commissions include a Flute Concerto for Sharon Bezaly, and new works for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Cantus (men’s chorus), Bay Brass and the Oregon Ballet Theater.

20170213_101747The February 13 BSO recording day began with the composer spending a few minutes meeting section leaders and other members of the orchestra, a good idea that seemed to immediately bring him into the players’ comfort zone – a good idea that I’ve rarely seen put into such good practice – and something that seemed to pay dividends with what seemed to be especially committed playing. In fact, there during one of the longer takes, there seemed to be an especially deep connection between the music and the orchestra that was strongly evident to everyone present, and which caused two BSO staff members to look at each other, one of them emitting the low whistle of someone impressed.

Photo by Michael J. Lutch

The 37 cues were recorded with remarkable efficiency, it having been decided that six takes would be the maximum for each. To my knowledge, none of the cues needed all six takes. The connection between the composer/conductor and the orchestra was palpable, and they performed together magnificently.

20170213_171714Jeff Beal had a small video screen in front of him, as well as the large projection screen suspended from the ceiling, so that he could be sure tempi and other musical considerations were in synch with specific sections of the film. Of course, this is standard practice, but it’s still and always marvelous to see sound and image come together to create cinema.

I spent a good deal of the first half of the day listening from various places in Symphony Hall and the second half mostly downstairs in the recording control room.

The acoustic environment of Symphony Hall is, of course, legendary, and was certainly a very positive factor in the recording process. I should also say that the BSO staff was extremely warm and accommodating throughout the process.

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Marco Valerio Antonini, Jon Dunham, Jeff Beal and Nick Squire

The other thing that was remarkable to see was Grammy Award-winning BSO recording engineer Nick Squire (www.nicksquire.com/) and assistant engineer Joel Watts (who was logging the individual takes) collaborating so effortlessly with each other and with Beal’s assistant, and de facto recording producer Marco Valerio Antonini (www.marcovalerioantonini.com/), who was also following the score and listening very (very) carefully.

I should say, by the way, that the film tells the story of the Boston Marathon from it’s beginnings to the unfortunate events of 2013 and beyond, and includes a section about women taking part. The very first woman to finish the race, Bobbi Gibb, was present for most of the session, and it was a privilege to meet her as well.

So, by the end of this great day, Jeff Beal’s remarkable soundtrack to what promises to be a fascinating documentary was done to perfection by one of the world’s great orchestras.

Afterwards, the composer sent this message on Facebook:

JeffBealC117“Feeling very very lucky, happy, overwhelmed here listening back on the plane home to takes of my score for “Boston” – which we recorded with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the iconic (and amazing sounding) Boston Symphony Hall yesterday. Special thanks to BSO staff Dennis Alves, Kim Noltemy, Mark Volpe, Ray Wellbaum, Lynn Larsen, and the amazing BSO musicians who played with so much energy, joy, character, and excellence.”

“I can’t wait for you all to hear this score and see this wonderful documentary about the 100 year plus history of the Boston Marathon, the people of Boston, and the many amazing stories which came between the start and finish line of this race.”

“It’s truly a dream come true to work with this orchestra in this space. So many of my musical heroes’ music has been played, and often premiered here, from Igor Stravinsky to Aaron Copland, etc. special thanks to to our engineer Nick Squire, my assistant Marco Valerio-Antonioni, director Jon Dunham, and our producers Megan Williams, Eleanor Bingham-Miller, and Frank Marshall.”

“So fun to do this “old school” – 90 minutes of music, with over 80 musicians, no click tracks all streamers and punches, making film music the classic way.”

The film will be given its Boston premiere on April 15 at the Boch Center – Wang Theater, with the composer conducting the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra. More about the event at www.bochcenter.org/buy/show-listing/boston-the-world-premiere. More about the film at bostonmarathonfilm.com/.

More photos from February 13 below. Click on each one for better quality image.

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BSO Recording Studio

Jeff Beal and the BSO

Jeff Beal and the BSO – Photo by Michael J. Lutch

BSO recording the soundtrack

BSO recording the soundtrack – – Photo by Michael J. Lutch

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Jeff Beal and BSO Director of Artistic Planning Dennis Alves

and one more photo of Jeff with the orchestra…

Jeff Beal and the BSO Recording Music for the movie Boston

Photo by Michael J. Lutch


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