Orchestra Releases Two CDs

December 10, 2015
Credit: CD Cover: Grafix132

On January 8, 2016,  “Manhattan Intermezzo,” a compact disc recorded by pianist Jeffrey Biegel and the Brown University Orchestra conducted by Professor Paul Phillips, will be available for purchase on Amazon.com. The CD features compositions by Neil Sedaka, Keith Emerson, Duke Ellington, and George Gershwin. “Manhattan Intermezzo” is one of two compact discs recorded last year by the Brown University Orchestra; in May, the Orchestra and Phillips will also release a compact disc of previously unrecorded works by composer-novelist Anthony Burgess.

Both of these CDs are a testament to the hard work of the students in the orchestra and Phillips, who spearheaded the endeavor. Eighteen years ago, Phillips began working on research about Anthony Burgess, best known for his novel A Clockwork Orange.  As a result of that research, Phillips published A Clockwork Counterpoint, a book about how Burgess combined literature and music in his creative world.

Early on in his research, Phillips attempted to record several of Burgess’s orchestral works. He raised the money and contracted an orchestra, but had to cancel the project when Liana Burgess, the author’s widow, decided to withhold her permission as the copyright holder. Mrs. Burgess, an elderly Italian countess, originally supported the project, but changed her mind at the last minute. Despite Phillips’s attempts to convince her to allow the recording to proceed, she would not budge, and the project had to be put on hold.  

Phillips decided to try again while on sabbatical in the spring of 2014. After Liana Burgess passed away in 2007, the copyright of Burgess’s music transferred to the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester, England. Having recently conducted two recordings for Naxos, the world’s largest classical music label, with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Phillips succeeded in persuading Naxos to issue a recording of three Burgess compositions performed by the Brown University Orchestra. He also gained the approval of the Burgess Foundation, which provided a grant to help fund the project.  

Shortly after that agreement was reached, pianist Jeffrey Biegel let it be known that he was looking for an orchestra with which to record a fully funded compact disc of four concertos for piano and orchestra. According to Phillips, “It sounded like a great opportunity. As long as we’re recording one CD, why not go all out and record two?” In the summer of 2014, Phillips and Biegel agreed to collaborate on the recording, and Naxos quickly approved this project, too.

Two CDs, regular rehearsals, concerts, and normal school work. That’s already a lot for members of a university orchestra, but in the fall of 2014, the Brown University Orchestra also had the honor of performing at Carnegie Hall. Biegel soloed with the orchestra, performing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which became the headline piece of the concert.  

In order to allow the students in the orchestra to manage all this, Phillips reduced the usual number of concerts and weekly rehearsals that semester in order to focus on recording. Jeffrey Biegel came to Providence several times in the fall of 2014 to record with the orchestra. For the CD of Burgess’s works, the Brown Orchestra recorded two pieces last fall, the third having been recorded several years earlier in the hope that a recording like this would be made eventually.

Recording took place in Sayles Hall in October and November 2014. Sayles is a large,  extremely reverberant hall that is not very soundproof and has a noisy ventilation system besides, so recording there was tricky, but the orchestra overcame these difficulties with the help of James LeGrand, an audio engineer from South Hadley, Massachusetts, who recorded all of the sessions.

After recording was completed, Phillips and LeGrand spent about 170 hours editing the sessions, finalizing the master recordings of both discs in July. Phillips is excited about the CDs, saying, “It’s a rare honor for a university orchestra to record for a major label like Naxos. About 100 students played on these recordings, and I think they will be extremely pleased with the result. All of Brown can be very proud of this achievement, and I hope that many people will have a chance to enjoy the recordings.

Click here to purchase "Manhattan Intermezzo".