The Classical Station’s interview with Ofra Harnoy and Mike Herriott for Preview!
Interview with Ofra Harnoy and Mike Herriott
by Bethany Tillerson (Photo credit: Denise Grant Photography)
On August 27th, Ofra Harnoy and Mike Herriott will appear as guests on our Preview! program! They will speak with Rob Kennedy about their newest recording, a 10-track EP of pieces by Gershwin, Delibes, Bizet, Tchaikovsky, and Donizetti, among others. With 5 JUNO wins and a membership in the Order of Canada, Ofra Harnoy is one of Canada’s most well-respected cellists, and Mike Herriott has toured extensively across North America as a producer and solo performer.
KENNEDY: Ofra and Mike, what was the inspiration for this lovely recording of familiar music?
OFRA: This is a collection of songs both of us have loved our entire lives. I’ve always loved opera music and Gershwin and Bernstein. The Summertime by George Gershwin was one of the first things we performed together. I think the seed was planted then, and we’ve had a growing list of arias and songs. We wanted to have a nice contrast on the album with different styles, everything from a very exposed song that we selected for just the two of us to full orchestral scores that we put together in the studio, again with just the two of us.
MIKE: There’s quite a variety going from Bernstein to Gershwin to Delibes and Bizet, but the common thread that all these songs have is that we individually love them and we love playing them together. When we were figuring out a name for the album, we’d seen this lovely portrait of Ofra by Vivian Reiss, hanging in her house in New York. It’s one of those pictures you look at and think, that would be a great album cover. The whole concept came together that these songs create a portrait of our personal musical happy place.
OFRA: Also, I’ve always felt very strongly that the cello is like a musical voice. I love playing pieces where I can give my interpretation of what the singer is saying on the cello, because I like to breathe and phrase like a singer. The cello very much reminds me of a tenor voice.
KENNEDY: The playlist mirrors what we get asked every week on our request programs. We do All-Request Friday from 10:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night, just listening to requests, and then the same thing Saturday evening from six to midnight. These pieces crop up very regularly. It’s a wide range of styles and periods, but they all turn up. So our listeners are going to go nuts over these. It’s just great.
MIKE: When we came up with the idea for the album and the songs, we were very selfish about it. We were thinking, well, what do we like? You have to go to that point when you’re programming an album or a concert because you have to play music that you like, but I think it speaks volumes that your audience feels the same way. This is great and timeless music.
KENNEDY: Now, explain to our listeners the magic behind recording and putting these tracks together. It sounds technologically very complicated.
MIKE: This is our third album recording this way, where we play pretty much everything ourselves in the studio.
OFRA: We have a studio in our home and it actually saved our sanity, I think, during COVID because we did a lot of our recordings here in the studio. Working with Mike and doing multi-tracking, it was the first time I’d ever done that. Our first album, Back to Bach, was a lot of fun as we were starting to do this new and exciting thing.
MIKE: On the more technical side, I’ll get Ofra into the studio to perform the cello part without any accompaniment whatsoever. And then I go back to the recording project and I’ll create what they call a flexible tempo map. So basically I’m telling the computer to reproduce a click track so I know exactly what her tempo is, and if there’s any fluctuations or ritardando or accelerando. That creates more of a unified concept of the music between us. If you were to record the accompaniment first, then you’re bound by whatever the accompaniment has established. So in doing that, we’re able to generate more of an organic sounding recording and the end result is so much more rewarding for us.
OFRA: But also a very important piece of the puzzle is Ron Searles in Toronto who does the mastering. He takes all these voices that we’ve put together, and you can actually feel where everyone is sitting in the orchestra, where everyone’s sitting on stage. With something like Lensky’s Aria, we told Ron that we wanted the feeling of the pit orchestra. We don’t want the orchestra arranged around the opera soloist because that’s not what you would hear if you were going to the opera.
MIKE: With previous technology, you could make things sound distant or closer, but this way it’s more three dimensional. You can actually imagine that the orchestra’s in the pit below you as a listener, and the singers are above you on the stage. This is great technology to have at our fingertips, to be able to generate that impression for people that want to hear music the way it’s supposed to be heard and are interested in the best quality of what they’re listening to.
KENNEDY: Well, to me as a professional musician, what was remarkable was the musicality, the phrasing and the coloring and everything. What drives that? This is something that comes from many years of performing opera.
OFRA: Well, I think making music is an extension of ourselves. When Mike and I started to play together, we actually found that we both feel, think and breathe the music almost the same way, which only happens a few times in a lifetime. So we’re very lucky that we have that connection musically and we can work together and make these beautiful songs come to life.
MIKE: There are times where Ofra is recording the viola section, and I conduct so that she knows exactly where we need stuff to happen. In the course of one of these big arrangements, I end up conducting the thing about 200 times to get all the instruments. In doing so we develop a unified concept of what the end result is supposed to be. And the original arrangements are born from our conversations and our mutual experiences and separate experiences of this music. So it is quite a process and it’s really tough to quantify it in the way that you can write it down in the book and make a how-to manual. But it makes sense to us. As long as it sounds good on the other end, that’s the main thing.
KENNEDY: Well, it sounds more than good. It sounds so beautiful, so musical. Thank you both for doing this wonderful recording. It’s a stunner. I know it’s going to be a huge success.
Join us for the full interview on Sunday, August 27th, at 7 p.m. Listen on TheClassicalStation.org, on 89.7 FM, or on our app!