Brandenburg Productions, Inc.
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Cincinnati Post   

Friday, August 22, 1977


CSO tunes in to National TV


At last, symphony performs for America


By Mary Ellyn Hutton

Post music writer


      For a week last March, Cincinnati’s Music Hall became a TV studio.  Cameras rolled in, special lighting was hung and the stage floor covered in pale gray.  Backstage, monitors were set up and technicians in headsets roamed the corridors.  A jib arm with a suspended camera was positioned at the foot of the stage, another in the gallery.

      A crew of 32, including nine camera operators and a production team from local PBS affiliate WCET, gathered to tape the Cincinnati Symphony’s first-ever concert for national television.  That show, produced by WCET in association with Brandenburg Productions, Inc. and taped at CSO concerts March 7-8, airs locally at 9 p.m. Wednesday on WCET.

      The concert, conducted by CSO music director Jesus Lopez-Cobos, features Ravel’s “Rapsodie Espagnole,” pianist Alicia de Larrocha in Ravel’s Piano Concerto, Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, and, as an encore, “Spanish Dance” from Falla’s “La Vida Breve.”

      The telecast is part of PBS’s Regional Arts Initiative, an occasional series which spotlights performing arts beyond the Lincoln Center-Kennedy Center axis.  The SCO is only the third orchestra chosen for the series, the others are the Dallas and St. Louis Symphonies.

      Executive director of the show wasBrandenburg founder Phillip Byrd, Emmy Award winning producer of performance television.  Working with him were audio producer John McClure, known to audiophiles for his CBS Masterworks recordings, and lighting designer William Greenfield, veteran of CBS’s “Ed Sullivan Show,” All played the same roles for the Cincinnati Pops in taping its PBS Christmas and Halloween specials.

     Nerve center for the taping was a video truck parked behind Music Hall on Central Parkway. Huge cables snaked into the building from the truck.  Inside, seated in front of a wall of TV monitors, Byrd literally called the shots. 

     Assisting him were associate director Karen McLaughlin, CSO associate conductor John Morris Russell and technical personnel.

     A former musician – first trombonist in the U.S. Army Band before moving into mass communications – Byrd studies the musical scores in advance to plot the sequence of camera shots.  His aim is to enhance the listener’s perception by providing a visual narrative of the performance.

      Depending on what’s happening in the music, he might focus on a woodwind soloist, a splash of percussion or “go into the woods” for a view of the string sections.  Each camera operator has a “shot list” keyed by number to Byrd’s master score.

      Russell kept track of the score on Byrd’s left, indicating each bar with a pencil.  Ms McLaughlin alerted the camera operators of upcoming shots.  Byrd cued the shots through his headset, often jumping to his feet and snapping his fingers at the screen monitoring the taping.  (An adjacent screen previewed upcoming shots; the others recorded backup shots and showed the vantage point of each camera.)

      In the truck, McClure ensured sound accuracy, fine-tuning the balance, if necessary, from his soundboard.

      The sheer opulence of Music Hall invited special attention from Byrd’s crew.  Three men with hand-held cameras crept among the players in formal wear to blend with the orchestra.  They captured a steep shot of the ceiling mural with the bell of a French horn in the foreground.  The massive crystal chandelier was a major focus, appearing in many shots and sparkling in Greenfield’s ivory lighting.

      The two-hour show allowed for 17 minutes of features produced by WCET, including introductions to the music by Russell, interviews with Lopez-Cobos and CSO members, and photo essays on the composers, Ms. de Larrocha, the CSO and the city of Cincinnati.

      Begun in 1996, PBS’ Regional Arts Initiative has achieved wide exposure, said John Wilson, vice president for programming at PBS.  Three-quarters of the nation’s 349 public television stations – covering 99 percent of American households and reaching 96 million viewers per week – have carried the show’s first airings, “the vast majority within the next week.”