Los Angeles, CA

Dear Readers,

Today is “limbo” day, the day before I begin recording two of the Bach concerti with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra tomorrow. That will be my first recording for my new record company – Deutsche Grammophon – and as usual at this point in the pre-recording process, I find myself both getting excited and wondering if I’m ready for what’s coming up.

I feel well-prepared for the Bachs, in my own way. I like to perform a piece with a number of different orchestras back-to-back right before I record it, and I’ve certainly done that. In the last month and a half, I’ve played the Bach E-major concerto (which I’ll record tomorrow) and the Double concerto for two violins (the piece I’ll record the day after tomorrow) all over the US, from Annapolis to Honolulu and places in between. As the last step, I played those concertos twice with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in the last two nights – the first night in the Alex Theatre in Glendale, last night in Royce Hall at UCLA. So the formal work has been done.

Even so, one never knows how a recording session is going to come out. (In my experience, I never know until I have heard the tapes.) The more I record (this will be my sixth recording since 1996), the more surprised I am that orchestral recordings turn out as well as they often do. There are tremendous requirements: because orchestras are expensive, time is short; with American orchestras, the union contract requires that the musicians have twenty minutes of rest out of every hour for which they are paid. So for a 4-hour recording session (like we’ll have tomorrow for the Bach E-major), we will have not 4 hours of recording time, but only 2 hours, 40 minutes. That’s a big difference. Also, subtract the set-up time, the time for trial runs to make sure that the microphones are properly placed and adjusted, discussion time to make adjustments in phrasing and tempi and ensemble-playing, and the bit of time it always takes for things simply to get into an efficient working mode – well, we always know that there’s not going to be any extra time.

Additional focus comes from the fact that everybody has to play well at the same time, all the time, for everything in the piece to be covered. If the orchestra plays a movement well on a particular “take” and I smudge it up, the take’s unusable and the time’s lost – and if I get a tough passage right and somebody in the first violins plays a few wrong notes or a music stand creaks, that’s just as wasted. It’s also possible, unfortunately, for the players to get everything right and yet have the tape machine foul up. So everybody has to play well at the same time, and the recording folks have to capture it in a usable form.

Hopefully all will go well tomorrow, and I expect it will. At 11am all the performers will be in place on stage – the orchestra, the conductor Jeff Kahane, and me – with microphones poised to record everything. In the recording booth will be Tom Frost (the superb record producer who worked with me on all my recordings for Sony Classical and is also doing this first recording with me for Deutsche Grammophon) and his recording crew of two. Jeff Kahane is an old friend and a fine musician, and he and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra are very quick at making adjustments, so I think things will go well.

The plan will be pretty simple: to record each movement from beginning to end several times – a series of performances, really – then to do shorter sweeps over spots of unusual difficulty until we run out of time. I believe in using every available second of recording time. We’ll take the movements in order, so we should always have a good feel for the development of the piece as we proceed through it. Then at the end (around 3pm) we’ll all cheer and go home to rest, to return the next morning and record the second concerto – the Double concerto for two violins – with the orchestra’s concertmaster Margaret Batjer as my co-soloist.

At the end of the second day we’ll cheer again, then scatter to go our separate ways – until late January 2003, when we reconvene to play a couple of more concerts together and then record the other two Bach concerti, to complete the album. Release date? Fall 2003. But first we’ve got to record it. Wish us luck!

Yours from Los Angeles,