Meet the True CSO Hero of the Pandemic: Bob Rydel
by Amy Orsinger Whitehead
We are proud to feature the fantastic recording engineer responsible for recording the Charlotte Symphony’s online performances this season. He is our very own third horn player, Robert Rydel, who has been a member of the CSO family since 1993.
Bob grew up in the metro D.C. area and became interested in symphonic music at a young age in the same way that so many of the rest of us did: Star Wars! He explains, “I was an impressionable eight or nine-year-old when the first Star Wars movie came out. Of course, that score is full of horn, and that was my entry into the classical symphonic genre. That was the first movie soundtrack that I owned. There was so much horn, I just loved it.” So when he had the chance to join his school band in sixth grade, he chose the horn.
Though his parents aren’t musicians (his mother worked as a nurse anesthetist and his father as a systems engineer, trained in electronics), Bob credits his dad (to whom he lovingly refers as a “techno geek”) with inspiring him on his path to media production. “My dad was really into the tech thing, so, media in general became kind of interesting to me. That was sort of an amateur liking that I had as a kid. I really fell in love with sound.”
Bob graduated from high school at Michigan's Interlochen Arts Academy, and meeting other student audiophiles there sparked an interest in trying his own hand at recording. “Interlochen had a pair of microphones at the library that you could check out, and that’s how I got started. I would record people’s recitals.”
During college at the New England Conservatory in Boston, Bob pursued his interest in recording further by taking recording engineering courses in a brand new recording arts program at the neighboring school, Northeastern University.
After Bob joined the CSO in 1993, he bought some recording gear and started doing recordings for colleagues in the symphony. He and another CSO musician, percussionist Rick Dior, formed a partnership with their company, Acoustic Mobility, a mobile recording company. “Rick had his own project studio at that time, but [Acoustic Mobility] was for anything outside of a studio; any sort of live event, or an on-location thing.” In the mid-90s, Acoustic Mobility began recording the Charlotte Symphony for radio broadcasts and archival recordings. Rick has since moved on from the company, but Bob has carried on and continues to record the CSO.
2020 brought tremendous changes to our Charlotte Symphony performances. Since indoor concerts with in-person audiences were not possible, many adjustments were made to keep our music playing online. Bob relates, “This year was a big dive into video. It was taking everything that I had already been working on with the symphony and adding a video component on top of it. And that was a steep learning curve. I had done some smaller video projects over the years, but to do what we are doing with the livestreams involved a lot of study last summer before we started this season.”
While many of this season’s concerts have been recorded and produced for online release later, others have gone out to audiences immediately in the form of livestreams. Audio and video for concerts edited in post-production are recorded onto digital medium, which Bob then mixes and edits post-concert. He explains, “If we’re doing a livestream, the combination of mixing the audio and choosing the video shots is done in real time.”
Preparation for each week of video recording begins with assessing the week’s stage set-up (based on each concert’s instrumentation, as well as social distancing protocols) in order to determine where microphones will be placed in (or hung above) the orchestra. Next, Bob says, “We make sure that the cameras will cover all of the musicians on the stage. Then, we start working with the (CSO staff) video operations team to plan shots; what shots we can get with what cameras. Then, they (the operations team) transpose that into the (musical) score, so that during the concert, they can be calling the shots according to instrument families or particular instruments and players being featured in the music.”
Everyone involved in the video production is on a headset in order to receive communication about camera shots being called during each concert. And similar to the weekly musical rehearsal process onstage, the technical crew runs a technical dress rehearsal for video and audio during the orchestra’s musical dress rehearsal on stage in order to be ready for the concert recording each week.
The hard-working CSO video operations team has been invaluable to these productions. They are John Clapp (CSO Vice President of Artistic Operations and General Manager), Carrie Graham (CSO Manager of Artistic Planning), Sara Gibson (CSO Director of Operations), and Christopher James Lees (CSO Resident Conductor).
Depending on the size and spacing of the orchestra on stage, between ten and twenty microphones are set to record sound. To capture video, eight cameras are positioned around the stage and concert hall. Four of these cameras are stationary, two are robotic (operated by Bob backstage), and two are operated by humans. CSO 2nd trumpet Jon Kaplan, CSO principal cello Alan Black, and yours truly, CSO 2nd flute Amy Orsinger Whitehead have all been camera operators on the technical crew this season.
Because he has been on the technical side of things this season, Bob has had to miss many opportunities to play horn in the orchestra, but he will return in May to play for our Symphony Park concerts at SouthPark Mall, as well as with Branford Marsalis when he joins the CSO at the Belk Theater. He says, “I am looking forward to sitting down and playing my horn. It will be really nice to play.”
There is no doubt that this has been an unusual season for the CSO. For Bob, it has been “a really busy year.” When his recording responsibilities diminish a bit, he looks forward to enjoying some down time and being able to spend more time with his family: his wife Chris (who is a band and orchestra teacher at Charlotte Country Day School, as well as Executive Director of the Youth Orchestras of Charlotte), daughter Lauren (a rising senior with her eye on studying biology or medicine in college) and son Sean (a rising 9th grade baseball player who also plays the horn).
As Bob looks back on the mammoth accomplishment of so many video offerings by the CSO during this pandemic season, he says, “I think it has made the organization more flexible in what it can do, and we know that we can produce to a (high) level. It feels like we’re getting something accomplished, as well as providing an outlet for the orchestra to deliver performances to patrons. It has created a stronger bond between staff and musicians. I think we can have a lot of pride in what we’ve been doing. And we can say that we produced this together.”
Noteworthy, A New Collaboration to Cross Musical Genres
by Jeremy Lamb
In mid-March, members of the Charlotte Symphony recorded half-hour sets with three talented singer/songwriters from the Charlotte area: Arsena Schroeder, Greg Cox, and Quisol. It was a collaboration originally conceived by FAIR PLAY Music Equity Initiative and WDAV, and brought to life with the help of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, among others.
For the first step, Kari Giles was tapped to find CSO members who would be game to compose and/or improvise original parts to accompany each of the artists' songs. Those musicians were Lenora Leggatt and Leonard Mark Lewis, who performed with Arsena Schroeder; Jane Hart Brendle and Matt Darcy, who paired with Greg Cox; and Kari Giles and Jeremy Lamb, who collaborated with Quisol. All three groups spent the better part of a month discussing, composing, and rehearsing before finally creating the video pre-recording in Blumenthal Performing Arts' Stage Door Theater on March 13th.
The goal was as much an effort to break down cultural barriers between musicians as it was to build bridges between the musical genres. "Classical musicians have sheet music, and someone tells them how to play every single thing," said Arsena Schroeder to Spectrum Local News. "I come from the world of improv and playing by ear, and what feels good in the moment, and so we both had to meet each other in the middle." Some CSO musicians felt comfortable working without sheet music, such as Mark Lewis, who has extensive experience in the world of jazz improvisation. Kari Giles, on the other hand, meticulously wrote out each part, although the process of composing involved lots of improvisation. "I would play along with the track and keep trying things until something worked," she said, "and then I'd write that down."
FAIR PLAY co-founder David “Dae-Lee” Arrington hopes that the collaboration will be the beginning of a series of events, not just a flash in the pan. The next — and, so far, final — set will involve three more artists from the Charlotte area which will broadcast later in 2021. For more details, visit: https://noteworthyclassical.org/
All performances will air on Facebook Live:
Arsena Schroeder, April 14th @ 7:30pm
Greg Cox: May 26th @ 7:30pm
Quisol: June 30th @ 7:30pm
CLT Symphony X Beatties Ford Strong
by Sarah Markle
Don't miss the screening of this short documentary and performance video, set for June (date TBA - stay tuned!) at Camp North End. Jointly organized by CSO violinist Jenny Topilow and local educator/social activist Ricky Singh, this multimedia project features music, dance, spoken word, and visual art, set in front of a series of murals on Beatties Ford Rd. and Brookshire Blvd.
The project brings together creatives from several different circles in Charlotte, inviting them to make their art in a communal space. The performance includes a string quartet of CSO musicians (Jenny Topilow, Lenora Leggatt, Ben Geller and Sarah Markle) playing "Strum" by Brooklyn-based composer Jessie Montgomery, as well as spoken word artist Hannah Hasan, violinist/composer Lady Jess, dancer Jessica Thompson, and a number of local visual artists. All video and audio work is done by the CSO's own Bob Rydel, horn player and recording engineer extraordinaire. "The idea was to show Charlotte artists collectively being creative in areas of town that have traditionally been overlooked. Ricky and the Beatties Ford Strong Project are actively changing the narrative of neglect into a narrative of strength and beauty", says Jenny.
The video highlights the power of collaboration between different artistic worlds, but also the appreciation of each individual medium. "It's about bringing folks together to do what they do best. We’re not so interested in the conforming aspect of things, but rather taking inspiration from one another. So we’re going to play classical music...the [visual] artists are going to create art, etc., but it’s all part of a shared experience, and we’re looking to each other for inspiration." Jenny and Ricky plan to make this an ongoing series of "pop-ups", each in a different neighborhood, featuring artists from all around Charlotte, and documented and enjoyed in a variety of ways, including community participation.
As for the “premier” of the initial pop-up’s short documentary film, Jenny says to expect a celebratory vibe - the plans include an outdoor party and DJ after the video screening. The paintings that were created during the filming will also be auctioned off, with proceeds benefiting youth arts programs. While this past year has made the logistical planning difficult, she's excited about the event, and about the potential for future ones like it: "The new year starts in June!"
Top 10 Greatest Oboe Hits
According to Erica Cice
When asked to come up with a list of my top ten favorite oboe solos I knew it was going to be a challenge narrowing it down to just ten. Instead of combing through genre and composer I decided to stick to “classic orchestral repertoire.” Next time, if I am asked, I will put together a list of my favorite oboe solos from opera literature. What about English horn solos you ask? Now that’s another can of worms! I decided not to rank these excerpts, because I love them all for varying reasons. Instead, the pieces on this list fall into two categories. They either first inspired me to pursue the oboe, or they are pieces I have had the pleasure of performing with my amazing colleagues here in the Charlotte Symphony and beyond!
Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf: Although many oboists tire of honking like a duck, I have always embraced this quacky solo. Through this musical story, we are introduced to the instruments of the orchestra. In fourth grade my dad played a recording of this piece performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. I chose the oboe because I liked the duck the best!
Since we are on the subject of poultry, I have always loved the solo from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. It is probably the quintessential and most recognized solo in our repertoire, and for good reason. When I was first learning the oboe and struggling to perfect my “Hot Crossed Buns” solo for my fourth-grade concert, I heard a recording of this movement from Swan Lake and it was just the inspiration I needed to keep practicing.
Beethoven’s 6th Symphony: I never tire of playing or listening to this symphony. Known as his Pastoral Symphony, it evokes visions of the countryside and for me, a major feeling of nostalgia as well. I was first introduced to this symphony growing up watching Disney’s Fantasia. In the second movement, the sound of the oboe is attributed yet again to another feathered friend: the quail. I continue to enjoy playing the solos throughout this piece and I listen to this symphony at home with my daughter nearly every weekend.
Brahms Violin Concerto: What is there to say about such glorious writing? Well, for starters Brahms must have temporarily forgotten that he was composing a concerto for violin, not for oboe! The second movement starts with a woodwind chorale, lead by the solo oboe. I love that the oboe gets to introduce this beautiful melody (for nearly two minutes) before the solo violin enters. This is a real gem in our repertoire. Thank you, Brahms!
Bartok Concerto for Orchestra: I performed this piece on my very first concert with the Charlotte Symphony! The second movement soli appear on many auditions, especially those for second oboe. In this movement there are numerous duets going through the various sections of the orchestra. The passages for two oboes are quirky and full of verve. It was a memorable and exhilarating first concert getting to play this fun duet with principal oboe, Hollis Ulaky.
Whether you are playing principal or second oboe, the spotlight is shining on you in Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 1. It was a pleasure to perform this piece with my CSO colleague, Terry Maskin. There are many soli movements and passages that feature the oboe section, but I specifically remember the second Passepied. Two oboes are playing the quick tempoed, meandering passage in unison, with no clear place to catch one’s breath. What could possibly go wrong? It was simultaneously frightening to navigate this movement and exhilarating to create a cohesive blend. This concert is one of my favorite CSO playing experiences!
Rimsky-Korsokov’a Scheherazade is a youth orchestra favorite that I never get tired of hearing or playing when it is programmed by the CSO. The alluring second movement solo allows the oboe to do what it does best: charm the audience through melody and color.
Shostakovich Symphony No. 5: In the third movement Largo, the strings set up an eerie backdrop that nearly evaporates into this oboe solo. The melody is stark and haunting, and Shostakovich takes advantage of the range of colors that the oboe can create.
Mahler Symphony No. 1. It was impossible to decide which Mahler work has my favorite oboe solo. Instead, I am recalling one of my most cherished performance memories from when I attended the Aspen Music Festival. It was thrilling to play second oboe to my teacher, Richard Woodhams on this symphony. The third movement is an untraditional funeral march and is followed by a dance-like oboe duet inspired by a klezmer theme. Performing this soli passage with him was one of my favorite performance experiences.
Last, but certainly not least is Maurice Ravel’s, Tombeau de Couperin: Probably the piece most revered and feared by oboists! One could easily argue that it is the “piece de resistance” in our repertoire. I had the fortune of performing this work with my amazing CSO colleagues at Noda Brewery early in 2020. Each movement features the oboe. Performing this work at a brewery had the added bonus of offering a thirst quenching, post-concert reward!
Thanks for reading and I cannot wait to be back on stage with the Charlotte Symphony again soon!