Live: Yo-Yo Ma and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra

Mar 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Candace Horgan



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Yo-Yo Ma performing with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and the Neumann U67 (foreground).

Yo-Yo Ma performing with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and the Neumann U67 (foreground).

When the Colorado Symphony Orchestra (CSO) began to feel an economic pinch this year, promoters came up with several novel ways of addressing potential budget shortfalls. In addition to across-the-board pay cuts, the CSO teamed with Colorado Public Radio for a three-day pledge drive that culminated with a concert by acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the CSO.

CPR broadcast the concert live to 22 radio stations in Colorado in DTS Neural 5.1 surround. All told, the drive raised more than $600,000. For the broadcast, CSO chose independent consultant Mike Pappas to oversee the recording; Pappas has previously worked with the orchestra and often works with KUVO, Denver's 24-hour jazz public radio station.

Pappas has been recording since “I sold my car and bought a Scully 280 2-track, ¼-inch tape recorder that I used to carry in a flight case and lug around to gigs,” he recalls. “It weighed like 90 pounds. I had 14-inch reels on it so I could actually record for an hour.”

Mike Pappas mans the DiGiCo board while David Day and writer Candace Horgan look on.

Mike Pappas mans the DiGiCo board while David Day and writer Candace Horgan look on.

“[CSO] called us a couple years back to do 10 days of Beethoven, so we loaded in on May 28 and were out on June 13," he says. “There were usually two performances a day, or a rehearsal and a performance. None of those rehearsals and performances were the same, so you'd rehearse one thing and they'd be performing something different that night. I think we had, at one time, 12 different sets of tape marks on the hall floor as to where microphone moves were for specific events. We had to take the stage apart from the morning rehearsal and then put it back up for the evening performance.”

The symphony's Boettcher Concert Hall is idiosyncratic, with several problems an engineer has to consider when setting up a recording. “The hall is in a really weird spot,” Pappas says with a laugh. “Half the audience is behind you, and none of the seating areas are symmetrical. It's hard to find a centerline in that room. It has quirks, like players on the right hand of the stage can't hear players on the left hand of the stage. All that plays into the gear we use and how we get it to work.”

Classical Miking Scheme

On a tour of KUVO, Pappas' assistant Will Barnette unlocks the gear cabinet and reveals a Neumann-lover's paradise, with M150s, U87s, a U67 and more. For the Yo-Yo Ma concert, Pappas turned to a prototype Neumann microphone, a KM133D digital model. The mic uses an M50 titanium capsule, which Pappas says is ideal for many classical applications.

“It's mounted in a sphere, so what happens is at low frequencies, the microphone is an omni, and as we get above 1k, the mic develops a pattern and it's cardioid, and then above 16k, it's a hypercardioid,” he says. “What you can do with it is use the fact that it's an omni at low frequencies to integrate some of the room tone. The other cool thing about omnis is they are extremely flat in their frequency response. Those capsules on those digital mics, or the M150s for that matter, are 3dB down points at 2.5 Hz. We have lots of low frequencies, and that's good because you don't want to have roll-off that's going to look back anywhere into the audio passband. You want to keep that as far out of the audio band as possible, because the minute you have a roll-off you have a phase shift. Omnis are cool for that, but the problem with omnis is they are omnis, so you want something with some directivity at high frequencies because it allows you to aim the mics into the orchestra and use that directivity to help bring out certain sections of the orchestra.”

Pappas used a total of five in front of the stage, using tape to mark the placement of each to within a quarter of an inch as they had to take each mic down after each morning's rehearsal. The mics were placed 10 feet, three inches above the stage, aimed slightly down at a five-degree angle. Barnette and Joey Kloss helped Pappas with mic placement and removal after rehearsal.

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