When the average person thinks of Classical music, the common stereotype is someone sitting in a comfy chair in a robe with a cigar drinking a glass of scotch. Though this may be an accurate stereotype in some situations, let’s look beyond that. In the realm of Classical music there is one pure truth. Make the recording sound like the live performance.
Classical Music is still one of the purest forms of natural talent and should be treated as such.
“It is not an overdubbed, highly processed sound like some other genres. Any experienced engineer who works in any of these styles will tell you the “Classical” approach is different right at the start of the process in that musicians will always prefer to get it right in the first place: onstage, as an ensemble” (Hannigan, Weston Sound)
When you decide to attend a symphonic experience (Seattle Symphony) you have a few expectations. These expectations contain that the audience member expects perfection in the music, skilled talent and an experience that will be a great memory.
“The classical audience comes to expect perfection, as well as a quiet, calm comfortable listening environment. It is that very environment (and performance discipline) that dictates this different approach than all other music recordings.” (Hannigan, Weston Sound)
The environment is very important for Classical music, most times, the audience goes to a beautiful Hall and sits down in a crowded room and listens to the symphony for a couple of hours. Sometimes, a visual element is also present, I’ve even seen full film scores played while accompanied by the film itself.
When it comes down to recording Classical music, the goal of the engineer is to give the listener that “Live” experience. Even though the listeners say they want a “live” experience, in reality, they actually want a studio experience that sounds live. As an audience member you have a filter that lets you ignore someone sneezing or coughing or dropping something on the ground. In the world of technically dynamic microphones, there is no such luxury or filter.
“…we humans process so many things at once. A well placed, single-source stereo pair of omni-directional microphones knows no such selective/human filtering.” (Hannigan, Weston Sound)
From my research I found that the most standard way of recording an orchestra has been either with two omni-direction microphones near the sweet spot of the auditorium or a tree-pair (Three microphones) with a left, center and right microphone to capture the orchestra.
“An omni-directional stereo coincident microphone pair is still the main component of our live recordings. But when required, it’s a missed opportunity to not expand the process further with spot mics, sectional, sub-group (and choral) mics, and even ambient mics out in the house – often dedicated to the rear, or ‘surround” component of 5.1 mixes, or just for natural reverberation and applause mics. Modern electronics, preamps and balanced cables with lower noise floors, with unlimited additional “virtual” digital tracks in the recording process all add up to more flexibility, and zero sonic tradeoffs.” (Hannigan, Weston Sound)
Overall, the quality of recording Classical music is somewhat demanding because of the expectation of the quality of technology. Listeners are wanting an immersive experience when they listen to music and engineers have the ability to accomplish that goal.