Within the world of classical-music recording, top engineers enjoy a rarefied status. But these audio wizards often receive broader recognition, thanks to the annual Grammy Awards.
That’s why Charlie Post, who began overseeing audio for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in September 2014, is so thrilled that he has been nominated for a Grammy in the category of best engineered album, classical. He and two collaborating engineers were tapped for the CSO Resound recording of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 (Babi Yar), a searing denunciation of anti-Semitism and the horrors of war. It was recorded live in September 2018 with Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti leading the CSO and the men of the Chicago Symphony Chorus, and released in January 2020.
“It’s sort of a dream-team combination on this one,” Post said. “Of course, the orchestra played fantastically well. The soloist [bass Alexey Tikhomirov] was great. And the work itself, the Shostakovich symphony, is just so beautiful. It’s so dark and brooding with sarcasm, wit and dark humor. It all comes through in this music.
“Oh, my goodness, when I was recording this at the live concerts, I was sitting there in the control room every night, thinking, ‘This has to be a commercial release. The world needs to hear this piece and this performance.’ I was so glad to hear that Maestro Muti was in agreement. If it gets a win, I will just be over the moon.”
It is the first Grammy nomination for Post, who before coming to Chicago spent 10 years in commercial studios in New York City and three years as a free-lance audio engineer for venues in the Miami area, including the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theatre. In addition, Post worked from 2007 through 2016 as the chief audio engineer at Ozawa Hall at the Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox, Mass., the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Post attributes his prior Grammy drought in part to some bad luck. In several cases, record labels promised to submit albums he worked on for Grammy consideration but then didn’t follow through. In another case, a junior colleague won the award just months after filling a position vacated by Post. “I don’t bemoan him the win at all, but I just couldn’t help being a little envious, because I would have had that Grammy had I stayed in New York for even another three or four months.”
Almost all of the CSO’s concerts in Orchestra Hall are recorded, with certain exceptions like the performances it does as part of the CSO at the Movies series. The recordings are stored permanently in the CSO’s archives, and some are used for the 26 syndicated broadcasts of the orchestra that WFMT-FM presents each year.
A select few are transformed into commercial recordings and distributed on the orchestra’s own label, CSO Resound. “Maestro Muti has very high quality standards, which I think is an excellent quality in a music director,” Post said.
Three engineers, starting with Post, worked on the Symphony No. 13 recording. His first task was deciding on the number and type of microphones that would be used and how they would be arranged in Orchestra Hall. He ultimately settled on 45 microphones, a larger-than-usual quantity to accommodate Shostakovich’s augmented percussion and woodwinds in this work. “Watching the first rehearsal from the hall and studying the stage set-up is important to get a good recording that will result in an excellent end product,” he said.
Post then oversaw the recording of the three live concerts from which tracks were compiled for the release. “I was getting chills while recording it, and that doesn’t always happen,” he said.
He sent the 50 or so resulting audio tracks on to New York-based engineer David Frost, who has won 16 Grammy Awards and is nominated this year for his seventh such honor for classical producer of the year. Frost carried out the editing and mixing of the release, deciding which segments of which performances would go on the album and balancing the sound from section to section. In addition, he removed noises such as audience coughs and dropped program books. Finally, the recording was forwarded to Grammy-winning mastering engineer Silas Brown, in New Rochelle, N.Y., who handled the final touches.
Post has not had much time to time bask in the news of his Grammy nomination. He is immersed in CSO Sessions, which premiered Oct. 1. Created in response to coronavirus restrictions that tabled the CSO’s live performances, this ongoing series of small-ensemble concerts is streamed on the CSOtv video portal. “It’s been non-stop,” he said, “because these production deadlines are really tight.”
TOP: Audio engineer Charlie Post at his editing console in Symphony Center. | Photo courtesy of the subject