The St. Olaf Choir, the premier choral ensemble from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, USA, has marked its centenary by recording a classical concert at Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway.
This two-day recording in June 2013 was captured for broadcast and subsequent DVD and Blu-ray release by UK audio for broadcast specialists Red TX in conjunction with Visions/NEP.
The St. Olaf Choir is the pioneer a cappella choir in the USA and has long set the standard for choral excellence. Consisting of 75 mixed voices, the choir is made up of full-time undergraduate students who rehearse five days a week, in addition to completing a full schedule of academic studies.
Since 1990, the choir has been conducted by Anton Armstrong, and every year it undertakes an annual tour that enables it to bring its artistry and message to thousands of people around the world. To date the choir has completed 15 international tours and performed for capacity audiences in the major concert halls of Norway, France, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, and the Twin Cities.
The choir’s most recent visit to Norway allowed St. Olaf to continue a long standing relationship with the country, which dates back to 1874 when St. Olaf College was founded by a group of Norwegian-American immigrants, led by Pastor Bernt Julius Muus. The college and its choir are named after the king and patron saint of Norway, Olaf II Haraldsson.
The last time the choir visited Norway was in 2005, during the country’s Centennial celebrating 100 years of independence from Sweden. On that occasion the St. Olaf Choir joined the St. Olaf Orchestra and the St. Olaf Band for a three-week tour of Norway, during which the ensembles performed jointly in Oslo, Bergen, Molde, Stiklestad and Trondheim and presented additional concerts throughout the country. In December of that year a television special titled A St. Olaf Christmas in Norway was broadcast nationally on PBS in the USA and was released on DVD.
Based on the success of this PBS broadcast, it was decided that the choir’s centennial tour to Norway in 2013 would be an excellent catalyst for recording another special in Trondheim. This concert special was the finale of the St. Olaf Choir’s three-week performing tour of Norway, to honour the anniversary of the choir’s first tour to Norway 100 years ago under the direction of its very first conductor, F. Melius Cristiansen. It also gave St. Olaf a great opportunity to continue its relationship with the musicians at the cathedral, especially the Nidarosdomens Jentekor and their conductor, Anita Brevik.
To capture the audio for the recording, Red TX drove its large Red II music recording truck to Trondheim – a journey that took three days and involved travelling through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark before finally reaching Norway.
Jeffrey O’Donnell, St. Olaf’s Director of Broadcast/Media Services and audio producer for this project, says: “Red TX was recommended by Visions/NEP and although this is the first time we have worked with the company, we were very impressed by their professional approach to what was a complex project. We’ve been delivering audio in 5.1 since the previous Trondheim program in 2005 and Red TX was more than able to accommodate this requirement. I’m very grateful to Red TX for an amazing job well done – and to Visions for connecting us together in the first place!”
O’Donnell adds that with every recording project he undertakes with the choir, his goal is always to ensure a choral blend and balance between the voice parts (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) and clear diction. He also aims to capture a sense of the space and performing environment, achieve a warm yet uncolored sound and ensure that no individual voice dominates the choral texture.
“For this particular recording, we were dealing with two choirs – St. Olaf Choir and the jenktekor (Girls’ Choir) of Nidaros Cathedral - performing individually and as a combined ensemble,” O’Donnell adds. “We also had a string quartet, piano, Hardanger fiddle, and organ. We faced a particular challenge in providing enough microphone coverage to capture this sound while still doing our best to avoid having microphones and stands appear in the camera shots.”
In consultation with Jeffrey O’Donnell, Red TX’s director Tim Summerhayes suggested a selection of microphones. DPA Microphone’s UK distributor Sound Network was able to supply most of the microphones he needed, with the rest made up from Schoeps and AKG.
“We used Schoeps MK2 systems, suspended at a height of about four meters, to capture the two choirs and the congregation,” Tim Summerhayes explains. “We also suspended DPA mobile 5100 surround microphones at about six meters in the centre of the performance area to give the impression of the size of the choir and of the cathedral. For the brass quartet, we used two DPA 3521s compact mics on DPA’s ORTF mic mount. The clarity was very impressive and blended into the mix seamlessly. For the piano, we opted for a pair of AKG 414s.”
Despite the complexities of this project, both O’Donnell and Summerhayes were delighted with the recording, which went very smoothly. The audio is now being mixed and post produced in the USA by Twin Cities Public Television (TPT), which co-produced the project.
Catherine Allan, Executive Producer from TPT, says: “Editing will take place in August and September and we aim to air the program, which currently has a working title of A St. Olaf Christmas in Norway, on PBS stations nationwide during December 2013. The program will be a one hour Christmas special and there will also be an extended DVD and Blu-ray release, made by St. Olaf. We hope that NRK will purchase the special for broadcast and we will be seeking additional distribution.”
The St. Olaf Choir’s ever-expanding discography now features 27 discs following the 2011 release of Great Hymns of Faith Vol. III. Other recordings released in recent years include the first two volumes of Great Hymns of Faith, Charles Ives: The Celestial Country, My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord, The Spirituals of William L. Dawson, and Advance Australia Fair. All recordings are available through St. Olaf Records at www.stolafrecords.com.
About Red TX:
Red TX provides a comprehensive concert recording and broadcast service to the music and television industries. The company has state-of-the-art mobile recording facilities and can handle projects of any size or complexity. As well as recording audio for broadcast, the company also records live music events for subsequent release on CD or DVD. It is headed by Ian Dyckhoff and Tim Summerhayes, both of whom have extensive experience in delivering high-quality audio for broadcast. www.red-tx.com