Ensemble HD Live at the Happy Dog

by EnsembleHD

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    A couple of years ago, Joshua Smith, principal flute of The Cleveland Orchestra, met Sean Watterson, who had recently returned to his hometown of Cleveland after a career in international finance. In an unlikely professional swerve, Watterson was now a proprietor of Happy Dog, an old corner bar on Cleveland’s gritty, less culturally endowed West Side, situated at the edge of a once crime-ridden neighborhood, recently transformed into the Gordon Square Arts District. Smith and Watterson got talking—not about the saloon’s menu (hot dogs with a choice of fifty different toppings)—but about its live music program. At the time, Happy Dog booked local rock acts and polka bands. “What about classical music?” said Smith. “Why not?” said Watterson. Such was the beginning of what has become a beautiful friendship between some of Cleveland’s finest classical musicians and a whole new legion of fans, most of whom are young and unexpectedly susceptible to the charms of classical music. (excerpt from the liner notes by Charles Michener)

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about

This double album chronicles the energy and intimacy of bringing some of Cleveland's finest classical musicians into an atmosphere not usually associated with "serious" music. As described in the March 2013 issue of The Economist: "Mr Smith says they have learned from the crowd not to dumb down their fare, or churn out popular tunes. "Mozart and Schubert did not work well in that setting," he says of his programme for their first performance. "Those pieces sounded like elevator music." So he started programming more challenging, ambitious pieces by 20th-century composers such as Dmitri Shostakovich, Anton Webern and Arvo Part. These divert the crowd from their beers and the awed silence after a piece, before the applause, can be as beautiful as the music itself."

Extra care in the recording process was taken to capture the atmosphere and vibe of the bar while presenting the dynamic and colorful ensemble work of the musicians. A few short spoken remarks set the stage and draws listeners in to the real and tactile energy of the evening. Turning up the volume is encouraged and listening for the interaction between performers and audience reveal wonderful exchanges not often heard on classical recordings.

Recording engineer Tom Knab summarizes the approach to the realistic presentation:

The Ensemble HD recording was made with a minimal micing approach using pair of vintage Schoeps vacuum tube microphones as the main stereo ORTF recording pair. The location of the stereo pair was meticulously optimized in relation to each of the different Ensemble HD performer combinations. A pair of Coles 4038 ribbon microphones were sparingly used as spot mics to support some soloists. This approach allowed capturing at a close distance the natural instrument sounds, performance balances and performer locations, while also picking up exciting Happy Dog audience and ambience. The small bar stage was covered in plywood to reflect more instrument sound up into stereo pair, and old bar table tops were placed behind cello to support low end. Excellent microphone preamps, cabling and digital recording electronics were then used for the 96/24 high resolution session recording. A minimal amount of music editing and mastering was done at 96/32 bit floating point resolution. The 96/24 stereo master was then used for cutting the lacquer using a finely-tuned Neumann VMS70 cutting lathe. 180 gram vinyl was used for pressing discs, which actually average closer to 190 grams, that are lower noise and more robust and stable. The goal was to make an intimate and direct sounding recording taking advantage of the sonic virtues of a minimal vacuum tube front end and vinyl delivery to present the amazing sounds, subtle balance changes and dynamic musical interplay happening live on the stage of the Happy Dog, not in a concert hall or recording studio.
Mics: Schoeps M221B with 934C capsule, Coles 4038
Preamps: Millennia Media HV3D, AEA TRP (The Ribbon Preamp)
Monster cable snakes and interconnects used throughout.
AD converter: EMM Labs ADC8 (DSD A/D conversion with Meitner 96/24 PCM conversion output)
Digital Audio Workstation for recording/editing: Sequoia
DA converter/monitor/headphone amplifier: Crookwood CS3
Headphones: Sennheiser HD600 with Cardas cable, AT MTH50s
Recording producer and editor: Erica Brenner
Recording engineer: Tom Knab
Digital mastering: Paul Blakemore
Vinyl mastering: Clint Holley, Well Made Music
Vinyl pressing: Gotta Groove Records

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released 15 May 2013

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EnsembleHD Cleveland, Ohio

...Beethoven for Beer in Cleveland and Beyond...

"I was looking for ways to get classical music away from its sometimes-reverential stuffiness and into places where people congregate for fun. When we’re three feet away from them, wearing jeans, drinking beer, and yet still communicating directly and powerfully, the experience can be visceral and accessible."

Joshua Smith, The Cleveland Orchestra
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