Recording a suite for strings

On Sunday, we recorded a wonderful suite of pieces by the talented composer Philip Henderson. Assembled in MBJ studios were myself on violin, one violist, a cellist and double bassist to record (with the use of accurate overdubbing), works written for the combination of 10 solo strings. One of the challenges of the day was to try and judge how much music we could record whilst maintaining the very highest level of playing which would do the pieces justice. On one hand, we needed to best utilise having four session musicians together to cover the maximum amount of music (potentially 5 tracks, amounting to over 30 minutes of music), but it was vital to maintain an excellent quality of playing.

It was an enormous help to have the composer present as he could give us a very clear idea of how he wanted certain passages to sound and bring out the qualities he was looking for. With quite a lot of subtle shifts in tempo and phrasing and some quite tricky passages, we had all anticipated that the whole suite might even take a further day to complete – however it soon became clear that with the super efficient recording work by engineer Ben Jones, our motivation to get as much recorded as possible and crucially the input from Philip, all five tracks were able to be recorded.

We began by recording violin 5 with viola 2, cello 2 and double bass – and found that it took around 3 hours of recording before the double bass parts were complete. A further three hours and violin 4, viola 1 and cello 1 parts were complete. Then 3 more hours were needed to record the violins 3,2 and 1 parts for the first 3 movements of the work. The process consisted of building up from the bottom so that we could keep a tight rein on tuning as well as making the foundation for each track rhythmically perfect.

Any rhythmic untidiness will only become exaggerated with each overdub so there is a real skill in recording this way. We are all looking forward to hearing the end result as Philip Henderson has created some music of real scope which had quite a moving effect on all the musicians involved.