cooking with DG
Last night our chef raised the hands with which he had just carved massive interpretations of two late Mozart symphonies solidly for three days. The clapping from the near-frenzied audience ceased whilst we waited for the critical words:
“We have a disc.”
The applause rose up again, the volume doubling with the hundred relieved instrumentalists.
We had had three days of Deutsche Gramaphon, Radio Classique and a film crew; live recordings, patching sessions and hair by hair analyses of the contents of the can. Back stage cameras had voyaged down floodlit cleavages to get a good angle on belled fingertips chafing on gut, and furry mikes had ventured under bridges to capture the sound of private mesa di voce chauffages. On stage a violinist had missed a line and spilled a string of energetic semi-quavers into the silence (hailed afterwards as “the beautiful violin solo” by the diplomats in the DG booth); a wind player had attempted to disguise the clack of his keys resulting in dire intonation (“it’s charming…very authentique, but let me see, if the clicking comes from the instrument itself then we are fine with that…”); strings had broken, patience snapped, tact adhered to religiously, migraines started, caffeine consumed, friendships strained…
“You know Brahms possessed this manuscript.” said our chef. “ I want more Brahms, less Birkenstock. This is the Occitane version of Mozart, organic on the inside and modern recherché on the outside”
The recording was ‘live’, created from two consecutive concerts. In between we made small and generally uninspired elastoplasts to cover the blemishes : “Bar 324 to 327 has a small problem of ensemble in the violins. Shall we start in bar 300?” ; “That was perfect, now a take please with the same élan and poetry of the concert version?”; “…Mmm that was very good. Just a small noise on the third note of the fourth bar, the second violist’s pendant hitting the stand during the page turn, perhaps? Once more for the ultimate jewel?”).
In concert, in the andante of the 40th symph we were seeking a particularly intimate nuance, feeling out the acoustic and what it would allow in terms of a zen pianissimo, lining the bowl of the hall with a delicate E flat vibe the consistency of eggwhite….and yet all the time we could not forget that this could be THE ONE destined for the can. Then someone in the public started to cough, really splutter, and suddenly we knew it would never make it further than the now and we were free to play, to take risks, live dangerously….make music!
...….until the next cadence, which was, of course, an ideal place to cut and paste.
The idea, of course, was to render the disc both of the now and perfect too , for who wants to hear that excruciatingly flat E in the celli – yes it was probably me - however touching or authentique in the concert, on the hundredth spin round the ipod?
It was hard work.
I sat in Grenoble station waiting for my train home watching tight-butted mountain walkers sipping their last crème before going back to the flat country, their uniform rucksacks bulging. I wondered how fit and zingy their bodies must be feeling. I could feel my butt bulging from too much time spent sitting and the pack on my back decidedly un-uniform, but surely we had made a wonderful recording and my soul was zinging…..?
Not really. Despite the immense success of the recording, strangely, I felt flat and somewhat depressed.
Reading Anthony Bourdain’s hilarious exposé of the restaurant business on the train home I came across a chapter called ‘Who Cooks?’ in which he says:
“The last thing a chef wants in a line cook is an innovator, somebody with ideas of his own who is going to mess around with the chef’s recipes and presentations. Chefs require blind, near-fanatical loyalty, a strong back and an automaton like consistency of execution under battlefield conditions”
It felt uncomfortable and familiar, and I started to wonder who will cook our Mozart and if it will be bleu or à point. The final concoction will, of course, be up to the chef and the DG sous-chefs. This line cook and occasional accidental innovator, meanwhile, was getting her saggy butt back home for some serious autumn fayre.
On arrival, a day late for our wedding anniversary, there was a bit of magic on the wall composed of two quinces, a cup and a pink rose. I was for me, and it had the very freedom which I had been missing. It had been painted not for prosperity, but for love.