In the Words of Celebrated Recording Engineer Guido Tichelman

23 Oct 2023

Written by: Guido Tichelman

Translated by: Eileen Stevens

In the early 1990s, I began studying music recording at the Royal Conservatoire of Music in The Hague.

The program trained students to musically and technically create a beautiful music recording. The conservatory was ideal for that because, in addition to all the instrumental or vocal music content subjects, it also had teachers and facilities (a concert hall and studios) to guide students in all the technical subjects needed to teach recording techniques.

Every year, there were about five or six people studying music recording. We also took music history and music theory, and that’s where I met Theo. He was in his early thirties and quite introverted. Still, he could talk about his craft as a musician with enthusiasm. That enthusiasm is an essential ingredient of the course, as far as I’m concerned, because that’s precisely what draws you into the world of music. Such teachers stay with you. Theo played music from composers who were utterly unknown to us then. He talked about compositional techniques and explained how such a work was created. To this day, whenever I hear Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto, I am reminded of Theo because I remember how lovingly he talked about that piece.

My cello teacher at the conservatory was Lucia Swarts. Her room adjoined Theo’s; they knew each other well, and I had lessons from them both. So, it’s not entirely a coincidence that this project crossed my path, and when I was asked to record one of Theo’s works, I couldn’t say no. I wasn’t familiar with his Five Pieces for Violoncello Solo. Still, when Lucia Swarts sent me the score, I thought it was exciting and important to do.

Thanks to help from the Theo Verbey Foundation, we rented a beautiful hall at the Muziek Centrum voor de Omroep in Hilversum for the recording. Classical music is almost always recorded in natural acoustic spaces, the same sorts of halls for which the pieces were written. The player needs a natural-sounding perspective to help achieve an interpretation. The timing and phrasing depend on the acoustics, so a concert hall is essential.

After installing all the equipment, the microphones must be put in the right place, and that’s different for every instrument. It also depends on the repertoire, so actually, the placement of the microphones is never the same. The sound check takes about an hour at most. Then, the musical work begins. The recording engineer is present, listens carefully, and provides feedback to do justice to the pieces and performance.

Finding the takes that capture the most inspirational moments is essential when recording a CD. Then, those takes are put together during the editing round in the studio, and the end result is placed on a CD. That’s what’s ultimately heard in one’s living room.

Lucia had prepared the piece beautifully. I have made solo CDs with her before, and she also plays with the Bachvereniging, with whom I’m recording the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach. It was extraordinary to have the chance to work with my former cello teacher again, this time on these beautiful pieces by Theo Verbey.

Thank you, Theo, thank you, Lucia, and thank you, Eileen and Jan-Willem, for allowing me to be part of this project. It felt good!