January 25, 2013

Orchestra Surround Recording in Berlin [Special report]

Kazuya Nagae    

Music Culture Creation Department,    
Nagoya University of the Arts’ School of Music    

This is a report on a production of Richard Wagner Tannhäuser a set of 3 SACDs, performed byRundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin (Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra), under the baton of Marek Janowski, and produced by Pentatone Classics in collaboration with Deutschlandradio Kultur(DLR), a public radio broadcaster in Germany, which took place at Berliner Philharmonie in May, 2012. The product was released on SACD hybrid discs with surround sound and CD-DA layers on December 20, 2012.

Pentatone Classics, originated from Philips Classics, is a Dutch record company established in 2001. Its label is known as a high quality sound oriented label that has released all its titles on SACD hybrid discs, and the label is also esteemed as a prestigious label that has released many splendid performances of world class artists, including Kent Nagano, Paavo Järvi, and Julia Fischer. The recording sessions by Mr. Jean-Marie Geijsen, Polyhymnia International BV, a recording company that also originated from Philips Classics Recording Center and became independent in 1998, and a recording team from DLR.

Toward its 10th anniversary in 2011, Pentatone Classics had decided to conduct an unprecedented project to record Wagner’s 10 major operas (listed below), all performed by the same conductor, orchestra, and choir. Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin (RSB) and Rundfunkchor (Berlin Radio Choir) became to perform the operas as parts of their concerts over 3 seasons, and DLR, the parent institution of the orchestra and the choir, co-produced it with Pentatone and Polyhymnia. They performed a live recording in the concert, as well as rehearsal recordings for a few days prior to the concert, and all the 10 operas are to be released by the end of 2013, the centennial of the birth of Wagner.

1. Der fliegende Holländer November 9th - 13th, 2010
2. Parsifal April 4th - 8th, 2011
3. Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg May 30th - June 3rd, 2011
4. Lohengrin November 8th - 12th, 2011
5. Tristan und Isolde March 23rd - 27th, 2012
6. Tannhäuser May 1st - 5th, 2012
7. Das Rheingold November 18th - 24th, 2012
8. Die Walküre November 18th - 24th, 2012
9. Siegfried February 25th - March1st, 2013
10.Götterdämmerung March 10th - 15th, 2013

Due to its poor profitability, it has become uncommon to perform an orchestra recording by sessions, and more master recordings are produced by compilation of takes from live recordings and rehearsal recordings as it was this this time. The rehearsal schedule in this project was carefully planned to achieve both successful performances and excellent recordings at a time.DLR, a German national public radio broadcaster, co-produces various recording products of the classical music. “Co-production” literally means to produce master recordings together with others. When DLR co-produces its products with somebody, it provides its recording technique, recording personnel, and facilities for the purpose of radio broadcasting the produced work, and release of the product for sale is undertaken through outer labels. DLR has co-produced more than 200 recordings since 2006.

The underlying fact for this would be considered that DLR is the largest shareholder of Rundfunk Orchester und Chöre GmbH (roc berlin), the parent institution of Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (DSO), Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin (RSB), Rundfunkchor, and RIAS Kammerchor. roc berlin is funded by DLR, holding 40% of its shares, the Federal Government of Germany, holding 35% of its shares, the City of Berlin, holding 20% of its shares, and Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB), holding 5% of its shares. Hence, it can be said that these ensembles are quasi-public broadcasting performing group.

The recording team for the project was organized with DLR’s recording staffs, tonmeister (sound producer), toningenieur (balance engineer), and tontechniker (sound technician) and Pentatone Classics‘ staffs, producer, toningenieur, and tontechniker. Although it was a quite large-sized team, teamwork among them was remarkable.

The recording was performed at Berliner Philharmonie, a concert hall built in 1963, in Berlin from May 1 to 5, 2012. The venue, commonly called “Philharmonie” is a hall in Vineyard-style, in which a stage is located at the center of the hall and surrounded by audience seats. The seating capacity of the hall is 2,440, and the reverberation time is about 2 seconds when the hall is filled to its capacity. There is a recording and relay broadcasting control room, managed byPhilharmonie and DLR and RBB, on the top floor of the hall. As DLR was a co-produced of this master production, the recording was operated by using this control room.

Berliner Philharmonie
Berliner Philharmonie


Equipment in the control room includes a console, “Stagetec AURUS,” and an audio signal rooter, “Stagetec Nexus Star,” and the main recorder is “MERGING Technologies Pyramix.”
Figure #1 shows the equipment system for the recording this time. 

Besides the system normally equipped in Philharmonie, Recorder MERGING Technologies Pyramix, HA Grace Design m802, DAC Prism Sound Dream ADA-8, Benchmark Media Systems AD2408-96 were brought into the room by Polyhymnia. Audio from the main microphone array, for surround sound for SACD, is sent through HA Grace Design m802 and analog-digital converted by Prism Sound Dream ADA-8. Other audio channels from spot

microphones are sent through a branch point, where lines for radiobroadcasting are separated, and analogdigitalconverted by Benchmark Media Systems AD2408-96. The master clock from DCS 904, andtherecordingwasoperated in 88.2kHz/24bit.


The arrangement of microphones for the recording is shown in Figure #2. As the performance was going to be air played on May 12, 2012, a week after the recording, and to be released in SACD hybrid discs about a half year later, so there were two main microphones set. One was for stereo sound, and another was for surround sound.


L-C-R Neumann KM130 SBKL-C-R Neumann KM130 SBK

Schoeps MK3S A-B was set for radio stereo, and Polyhymnia Array was set for surround. The Plyhymnia Array, called “5 OMNIS,” was devised by Polyhymnia after its independent research and development over years, and the arrangement of the microphones in the array is alike ITU-R BS775, common arrangement of surround speakers. LCR was an omni-directional Nuemann KM130 with spherical SBK, which adds directivity in high frequency of 4kHz, installed on it. In order to uniform the output gains of the microphones even when types of the microphones vary, Polyhymnia modifies amplifier circuits in bodies of the microphones. There were about 24 spot microphones, mainly including Schoeps CCM series, suspended from the sealing, and Schoeps CMC series, set with stands on the stage. Most microphone capsules were cardioid CCM4s, and wide cardioid CCM21s were selected for the string sections. The arrangement of microphones was well planned to obtain requisite sound from each spot by placing the microphones with the most suitable directivities for each instrument’s sound radiation characteristics at the most appropriate positions.

On another note, it is said that the same main microphone is used and it is always recorded in surround sound in every recording operated by Polyhymnia no matter in what types the performance is, whether it is an orchestra performance like this time or a piano solo.

7. POST PRODUCTIONPost production was carried out at the Polyhymnia studio in Netherland, and following is what I found out by interviewing Mr. Jean-Marie Geijsen:

  1. The total duration of the sound product, a set of 3 SACDs, would be about 3 hours. 6 days were spent in editing work, and 5 days were spent in mixing work.
  2. I always mix first and only the stereo version since this is much more difficult and more critical then the surround version.
  3. The 5 microphones in the main microphone array for the surround sound and the Polyhymnia array were assigned to channels, L, C, R, LS, and RS, without making any changes.
  4. Surround mix and stereo mix with different panning and maybe 1 to 2 dB more Main system. Offstage effects like trompets in the auditorium are sometimes remix for surround.
  5. LFE channel was not used because they consider that LFE is a sort of effect, which may be used in films but should not be used in music. The reason is that LFE is a channel that is cut when down-mixed; that the level of LFE is difficult to adjust; and that it is susceptible to acoustics of the room.
  6. LCR panning of the spot microphones was NO phantom centre, only panning between LC and CR. (Center percentage 100%)
  7. A time alignment of the spot microphones was performed.

Staying in Berlin as a Nagoya University of Arts’ overseas research personnel, I have engaged in recordings of classical music and worked on my studies on tonemeister education. Meanwhile, I was able to observe many recordings thanks to variety of people’s favors.
In Berlin, where 4 symphony orchestras and 3 opera houses reside, concerts are happening somewhere in the town every day; many of them are radio broadcasted; and some sort of recording sessions are performed in churches and halls in the town almost every day. These facts made me realized it is a city of music and a city of sound recording.
In one night of concert, about 2,000 audiences at the maximum can share the music performed and sympathize with it. By recording the concert in surround sound, we can pass on the music to across the world and over time, and I got an idea of the significance of the sound recording anew.

This project was to produce SACDs of Wagner’s 10 operas in 3 years. It is not an easy work in any sense, and I was able to witness that the project cannot be accomplished without efforts that the orchestra, the recording company, and the producing staffs put in and intention and communication to produce an excellent work among them.
I’d like to thank Deutschlandradio Kultur, Mr. Jean-Marie Geijsen, Polyhymnia from my heart for granting me a permission to publish this article on Surround Terakoya.

 SACD Infomation

 Tannhauser Richard Wagner 

 Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin,
 Rundfunkchor Berlin,
 Conductor : Marek Janowski
 Released: 20 December 2012
 Label: PentaTone

Executive Producer: Stefan Lang, Maria Grätzel, Trygve Nordwall & Job Maarse
Recording Producer: Job Maarse
Balance engineer: Jean-Marie Geijsen
Recording Team: Wolfram Nehls, Henri Thaon, Johanna Vollus, Maksim Gamov, Gunda Herke
Editing: lentje Mooij


Director & Balance engineer: Jean-Marie Geijsen

Jean-Marie is one of the balance engineers at Polyhymnia International . He has worked with many top classical artists, including Alfred Brendel, Ricardo Muti, J.E.Gardiner, Valeri Gergiev, Seiji Ozawa, Fabio Luisi, and Ivan Fischer. He has also recorded two albums for Andrea Bocelli, "Opera arias" and "Sacred Arias". Jean-Marie studied audio recording at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague between 1984 and 1988, specializing in classical music with a special interest in baroque music.
From 1988 to 1990 he worked as a mastering engineer. In addition he freelanced as a classical recording and PA engineer. In 1990 he started working freelance for Philips Classics in Baarn as an editor and as a recording, remastering, and audio engineer. In 1996 was appointed to a full-time position as balance engineer for Philips Classics. Jean-Marie is very much involved with analogue electronics, and the audibility of electronics and cables.

Translated by  Hitoshi Sugie


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