How I learned to love recording

Clarinettist Annelien Van Wauwe on overcoming her fear of the studio

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How I learned to love recording
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It probably sounds rather unusual, but I have never been fond of recording music. When the red recording light came on, it created barriers. It made me control music in a way that was not mine in an attempt to try to perform as perfectly as possible. I needed the atmosphere of an audience and the timelessness a concert provides to get into a creative flow. Only then I could perform freely.

Becoming an artist on the Radio 3 New Generation Artist scheme in October 2015 meant that it was high time to get rid of these fears. I told myself that if the BBC was willing to give me such a fantastic opportunity, I had to grasp it and find a way of making it my own.

The first recording I made for the BBC was a studio recording of works by Schumann. There was no audience to play for, just a couple of microphones, a producer and a sound engineer, my pianist and my dreaded friend: the red light. We started recording the Fantasy Pieces, Op. 73. The first few takes made me struggle at first. I usually never complain about the sound of my clarinet reeds, but this time I could not make them sing the way I wanted. I knew that I would have to let go my slightly frustrated thoughts about technical issues to make this genius music shine.  Then, all of a sudden, I realised how privileged we are. Imagine what Schumann would have made of being able to hear a performance over and over again, influence the sound, correct mistakes and, eventually, decide which of the many takes was the best interpretation.

In February 2016 I was booked last-minute to record Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (NOW). I was – to be honest – a little bit sceptical about it. It seemed impossible to me that we could record a concerto with such a difficult orchestral part, and plenty of tricky solo passages, in just a couple of hours. My previous experience of Copland concertos had been one of frustrated conductors, embarrassed orchestra members, and last-minute extra rehearsals. Perry So, the wonderful conductor of this session, decided that it would be useful to start rehearsing the last movement solo-less first. I thought that I would have plenty of time to warm up, do a short yoga session, have breakfast and a cup of tea, but after just half an hour I was called to the stage. This fast?! Indeed, and the result was splendid. The musicians of the BBC NOW were so well prepared, focused and motivated that we recorded the concerto with the ease and swing of a jazz improvisation!

One week later I met conductor Markuz Stenz to work with the BBC Symphony Orchestra on a recording of Carl Maria von Weber’s First Clarinet Concerto, Op. 73 in London with a studio audience present. As I spent the days before the recording being sick in bed in Brussels – unable to play the clarinet – it took quite some confidence and trust to arrive at the first rehearsal. Luckily, every minute on stage with these fabulous musicians made me completely forget about my lack of energy that day. These were the kind of musical vibrations that reminded me why I do all this. I had such an inspiring time during the concert that it made me completely forget about the recording. Even days after the session, I could hear the themes of the concerto spiralling in my head. And all of a sudden I realised that I did not have any other option than to try and think of recordings as what they actually are: a snapshot of an interpretation and not a final goal.

I am very much looking forward to recording and performing a wide range of repertoire across two seasons with the BBC Orchestras and my colleagues of the NGA scheme. We can capture musical energy and inspiration, all with the help of that little red light.

Annelien Van Wauwe

 

Annelien Van Wauwe joined the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists scheme in September 2015. 

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