Arts & Culture

Brown Orchestra strives for perfection on ‘Manhattan Intermezzo’

Jeffrey Biegel collaborates on classical CD featuring four concertos with jazz, pop, rock influences

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 4, 2016

Garnering widespread recognition from the classical music community, the Brown Orchestra released its first professionally recorded album, “Manhattan Intermezzo,” in early January. Produced by Naxos — the chief record label of the classical music world — “Manhattan Intermezzo” features talented pianist and composer Jeffrey Biegel accompanied by the orchestra in four concertos. Pieces include works composed by Neil Sedaka, Keith Emerson, Duke Ellington and George Gershwin.

The grueling recording process took place throughout fall 2014. Over the course of the semester, the musicians spent multiple weekends in Sayles Hall perfecting their performances and recording each piece in sessions lasting up to six hours, said Ben Wesner ’18. “We were aiming for perfection,” he added.

Wesner’s impressive technique and rhythm are featured in his clarinet solos, which figure prominently in both “New World a-Comin” and “Rhapsody in Blue.”

The professional recording process was a unique and unprecedented experience for the orchestra, which normally performs live concerts twice per semester. “Concerts are a one-time thing, and you’re in the moment,” he said. “In the recordings, we broke down different bits of each piece to really closely examine the notes and the sound we were going for.”

Both the recording and the compilation process were extensive. Each piece underwent much consideration with respect to its length, its arrangement and its influences, Biegel said.

The compilation of concertos took shape when Biegel was presented with the original version of “Rhapsody in Blue” in the late 1990s, he said. The song included 88 measures of music unfamiliar to most people.

“People began to ask me if I had done a recording of it,” he said. “After a while, ‘no, not yet’ became ‘we’re working on it.’”

Biegel later added Keith Emerson’s “Piano Concerto No. 1,” a classical piece influenced by jazz, to his mental collection. In 2003, Biegel decided on Duke Ellington’s “New World a-Comin’” after performing it in Geneva, Switzerland. After the record label approached him in 2008, Biegel rounded out the collection with his fourth choice: successful pop song writer Neil Sedaka’s “Manhattan Intermezzo.”

“These pieces complement each other beautifully,” said Paul Phillips, director of orchestras and chamber music at Brown. Each piece “stylistically” has some relation to popular music, progressive rock or jazz, so “in terms of length and orchestration, it makes perfect sense to put them together,” he said.

The production of “Manhattan Intermezzo” proved valuable to both the members of the orchestra and Biegel himself. “Their fresh minds, fresh ears and fresh hearts enabled the pieces to be recorded in a way we desired because they weren’t accustomed to other interpretations,” he said. “They don’t play music for a living — they do it because they love it, and they’ve loved it all their lives.”

The orchestra hopes to continue its success in the commercial classical music world later this semester with its next CD, featuring compiled works by composer and novelist of “A Clockwork Orange,” Anthony Burgess.