Filming the AAM – Saturday 22 January 2011

Hello! I’m Toby Chadd, the AAM’s External Relations Manager, Communications.

Whilst this blog is written primarily by the musicians, we thought we’d look at this project from several different angles, whether in the office, behind a camera or, last but certainly not least, on the stage. And, rather than my usual role of cajoling the musicians into writing, I thought I should try to do it myself. The fact that this is a week late indicates that it’s probably best to leave the players to update this blog…

So last Saturday I was filming the rehearsals for these concerts of music by JS Bach’s sons in Cambridge, London and Munich. The preparation takes far longer than the time actually spent behind a lens: before the cameras start rolling, I need to have decided what film I want to make, what I want the ‘story’ to be, how I’m going to interview the players to get the most interesting insights from them…. And I spend a while poring over the music scores, finding that bar when the second violas steal the limelight and we can focus on their moment of glory.

I try to make all of the AAM’s films tell a story, and today I’ve enlisted principal guest cello Robin Michael to help to do that. Proceedings kick off with a quick interview. “What’s distinctive about Steven Isserlis?” I ask. A look of panic comes over Robin’s face. “He’s going to see this, isn’t he?” Interviewing on camera can be slightly awkward. You have to create the sense of a normal conversation when it is, in fact, scripted and contrived. But we soon fall into an easy dialogue, covering everything from Mendelssohn to inventors at the court of Frederick the Great (if any sort of easy dialogue can cover such topics).

And then it’s into the filming. The rehearsal starts with the threesome of Steven Isserlis, Richard Egarr (harpsichord) and Robin Michael playing a JCF Bach sonata. The continuo part is… well, let’s just say that you wouldn’t want to hear it without the solo cello, so it’s Steven we’re focusing on. Guy Wigmore, our freelancer, gets some cracking close-ups of Steven’s fingers, which dance up and down the fingerboard with remarkable agility and lightness. In this sonata he looks as if he’s not trying at all – it doesn’t seem the most taxing piece (dare I say it) but it comes out so easily.

These dreamy reflections on Steven’s cello playing were a problem whilst filming too – I had to remind myself that there was work to be done. This is one of the problems about ‘working’ at rehearsals: there’s always the temptation just to sit and soak it up. It’s not all perfection though, and at the end of the day when I’m playing clips of the rehearsal to Robin he chuckles at a rare mistake by Steven: “Keep it in, please, you’ve got to get that into the final cut!”.

Filming the AAM is simultaneously deeply frustrating and utterly satisfying. On the positive side, it’s a very photogenic orchestra. Not in the sense of physical beauty (I wouldn’t be so bold as to publicly comment) but in the movement, interaction and passion with which everything happens. The downside, though, is that the group is so close-knit in rehearsal that it’s difficult to get a good shot of the whole orchestra together without having a lot of backs in the picture, and in fact Pavlo, our leader, complains that his rear has been getting more exposure in these films than he’d like.

Filming complete, it’s time for the editing. This involves patching together the sound and video files, and then picking the best bits, chopping it all up and putting it back together in a different order. There are frustrating moments – when Steven causes continuity problems by putting on a red jumper over his green t-shirt halfway through a movement, for instance. And there are comic moments – there’s always someone who doesn’t notice that they’re being filmed as they use a bar’s rest to undertake some sort of embarrassing activity. It’s a pity to consign these clips to the out-takes folder. Maybe there will be an AAM ‘You’ve been framed’ someday.

But this film is finally finished – enjoy:

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