THE ABBEY ROAD SESSIONS - CLASSICAL MUSIC FOR MODERN MEDIA
"It's just such a privilege. You are taking the greatest works in the world and saying 'We can change this. Beethoven's Fifth? Let's add a violin in there.' and then we get an orchestra to play it. It's amazing really."
To take the most loved and finest music in the entire classical canon and to rearrange it for the needs of the modern media industry calls for a certain set of qualities among those who are tasked with the job. You can't be too frightened of the task in hand - even the greatest classical composers were just the musical stars of the day. On the other hand, to approach the project with the idea that you are going to casually re-write and improve on the work of the likes of Beethoven, Mozart, Delibes or Tchaikovsky is to court disaster. In all, we have recorded the works of more than 40 of the world's greatest composers from Bach to Waldteufel.
This was the brief facing Jeff and David, together with long-term collaborator Julian Gallant back in 2014 when they began work on what became known as the Classical Collection. The original plan was to work with the best musicians available to produce four albums of classical music for use in film, TV and advertising. The first four albums featured symphonic works, opera, oratorio and choral pieces. These were followed shortly by two more albums of symphonic pieces, and two more of chamber music.
Across the first eight albums were the works of a classical Who’s Who including: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Handel, Mussorgsky, Greig, Rossini, Strauss, Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky, Mendelsohn, Bizet, Puccini, Purcell. Schubert, Delibes, Brahms, Fauré, Rimsky-Korsakov, Smetana and Wagner.
Since the first eight albums, there have been further recordings with another ten albums now added to the collection in 2019 and 2021. Two more albums are due for release in 2022.
Says Jeff: “We were working with our client Audio Network who knew, as we did, that media professionals were having to do their best and extract bite-sized chunks from original (and often old) symphonic recordings.” Andrew Sunnucks, the irrepressible founder of Audio Network, wanted to create a library of the finest quality symphonic recordings for twenty-first-century media.
Adds Jeff: "The project broke down into three parts. The first was choosing the pieces we were going to record. The second phase, recording, was the shortest and most fun part where we sit in a room and listen to the beautiful music that's being made. And then finally there is post-production which accounts for hours and hours of work. We choose the takes, close the gaps that need to be closed and then Rob Kelly mixes the music. This is a long and arduous process.
“We then take the mixed versions and chop them up again to create pieces of music that are anywhere between 30 and 60 seconds long. There could be 20 or 30 versions of each work."
The project was broken down into two parts: the first was recorded in autumn 2014 and the second followed in spring 2015. The Abbey Road sessions were the only time that Jeff (Chicago), Julian and Rob (different parts of London) and David (rural Yorkshire) worked in the same location. For the rest of the time, the Internet and Skype provided the means of communication.
Says David: "In post-production, Jeff, Rob and I have to be able to pass pieces of music around between each other. And as we found out on the first set of recordings, if your computer systems are not identical the sound will change." Co-collaborator Julian Gallant says the hours of graft spent on the first project helped the team when it came to the second half. as Jeff admitted: "I can safely say that I have never worked on any project that has taught me more - not just the music and the orchestration, but technical issues and learning how to manipulate the audio. It's been phenomenal."
Says David: "It's just such a privilege. You are taking the greatest works in the world and saying 'We can change this. Beethoven's Fifth? Let's add a violin in there.' and then we get an orchestra to play it. It's amazing really."
The Classical Collection is available from Audio Network. All of the music from the 18 albums is available on a track-by-track basis. The full track listings are set out here.