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Bratislava Symphony Orchestra

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Destiny had it all worked out. The acronyms of the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra - BSO - made it inevitable that it would turn into one of the most sought after European orchestras in Spain for recording film soundtracks. It suffices to mention their "sounding" role in films such as: "800 Balas" (800 Bullets), by Roque Baños; "En la Ciudad sin Límites" (In the city without limits), by Victor Reyes (both nominated for the prestigious Spanish film awards - The Goya - in the category of best soundtrack for 2002); "Al Sur de Granada" (South of Granada), by Juan Bardem (winner of the Goya award as best soundtrack for 2003); "Hotel Danubio" (Hotel Danube), by Pablo Cervantes, or "Los Reyes Magos" (The three kings), by José Battaglio and Kaelo del Río. The Bratislava Symphony Orchestra may well be one of the most versatile orchestras around, since besides its obvious dedication to the classical repertoire, it also dedicates an important part of its activities to playing and recording styles as different as music for cinema, pop, copla, or music for video games.

Bratislava Symphony Orchestra

A peculiarity that contrasts with this stylistic and cultural variety to which BSO has become dedicated is the fact that all of its musicians are Slovak. For the conductor of BSO, David Hernando from Valladolid, Spain, one of the orchestra's advantages is that the schooling and formation of most musicians is very close thereby delivering a sound that is more compact and homogeneous than if they were musicians formed by totally different schools. David Hernando is one of the few Spanish conductors that works successfully and continuously outside of Spain. In his case, however, this was almost inevitable as he studied orchestra conduction in Bratislava's Academy of Dramatic Arts where he acquired almost all of his professional training. "My first recordings as producer and conductor were done precisely with this orchestra as it is the best for this type of work in Slovakia. Later, after a year of working closely with the orchestra in projects that delivered very good results, I became its producer and conductor."

It is interesting to learn the opinion of David's ex-professors at the Academy of Arts in regards to activities which are as diverse and far apart from that which any student at the conservatory can have in mind for his professional future. But from the beginning the professors have accepted this type of recording work as something different and very positive that exposes the orchestra to less traditional demands. The conductor remarks, "Recording work is also something that the musicians often enjoy, many times I've heard them leave the recording halls and praise one of the pieces they've just played".

Despite all the activity that BSO seems to attract, it is by no means the only orchestra in Slovakia, nor in the city itself. Yet in Bratislava they have the admirable and enviable capacity to absorb the musical demand of five orchestras, between which there exists a healthy rivalry which helps them keep high standards of performance. This is precisely why, explains David, when the BSO was created, the best musicians of each orchestra were invited and to join so as to achieve the highest level of quality in musicianship.

Slovakia is also one of the countries which have recently joined the European Union, a fact which will likely maintain and possibly increase the musical demand on the city and the activities of the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra.

The availability of Spanish orchestras for recording film music is practically nonexistent. The reasons for this situation are many, but the fact is that it forces Spanish composers of film soundtracks to look for orchestras abroad and carry out their recordings thousands of miles from away. David Hernando is very well acquainted with this situation; he sums it up as follows: "I think the main reason why composers seek to record outside of Spain is in the quality and experience that foreign orchestras such as the BSO can offer. This doesn't mean that Spain has no quality orchestras, but it's rather a tradition that has become lost with time. After the Spanish civil war there were several orchestras in Madrid that were dedicated to this type of work, but with time they disappeared. Since then, however, the number of symphonic orchestras has been growing steadily. Another important factor of influence is that Spanish orchestras are subsidized by the state and therefore have a work agenda which does not easily allow for the recording of music for cinema. It's also true that there are almost no Spanish conductors that know how to work with clic which is a key element in recording film music. The conductor must also know other aspects related to this type of recording, such as the right placing of microphones, acquaintance with Dolby surround systems and most importantly, where to edit a piece. This work is just completely different from an orchestra's preparation before a classical music concert. The world of film music is also very specialized and a concert symphonic orchestra needs not only sufficient preparation but also a great deal of experience before being able to record well film music as well as other styles. The same applies to conductors; to be able to record well using clic and master the different recording techniques one needs an amount of experience difficult to attain alone from conducting a classical symphony orchestra. The greatest orchestra in this industry, which at the same time remains loyal to its tradition as performer of classical symphonic concerts, is the London Symphony Orchestra. Another important factor in the world of film music, which David gallantly leaves out but is very determining for film producers, is the significantly reduced budget with which a quality recording can be achieved with central European orchestras in comparison to Spanish orchestras.

For the average person familiar with film music, BSO may not be the most known orchestra in Central Europe and it's quite likely that the first formation that will come to mind would be the Prague Symphony Orchestra. Contrary to what often happens among professionals of the same trade, these two orchestras maintain an amiable relationship and it's quite normal for musicians that work in Bratislava to participate in important projects in Prague as well. Even though both orchestras have obvious similarities such as dedication to a range of activities or the flexible availability of recording studios, their concepts of orchestra and studio are actually completely different. David explains "by far the most noticeable difference is that the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra maintains a stable formation while also serving as a classical concert orchestra. Another difference is that our orchestra offers a wide range of recording studios. The final selection of which studio to use depends on the orchestra formation and the type of music to be recorded, giving us that the choice to accommodate really large symphonic formations as well as smaller orchestras for chamber music". The recording studio facilities of the BSO are indeed impressing; its management being quite conscious of the fact that the choice of studio is paramount for the final recording result. Most recordings are done in the studios of the Slovak National Radio, excellent facilities built in the 70's. Studio 1 of the National Radio, the largest in central Europe, is the place where the music for the Spanish film "800 Balas" (800 Bullets) was recorded with a formation of 80 musicians. This architecturally impressive studio delivers excellent sound for large orchestras and is also used as a concert hall. Also available is Studio 2 which is suitable for formations of up to 60 musicians and delivers more appropriate acoustics for smaller formations. Of course BSO also relies on the expertise of a team of technicians which have ample recording experience, but sometimes Spanish technicians also come to work in the recordings. David remembers, "One of our most pleasant experiences was to work with José Vinader who came to Bratislava for the recording of 800 Balas (800 Bullets), undoubtedly he is one of the most experienced technicians in the recording of soundtracks in Spain.

The growing number of future recording projects for BSO is a clear sign that its role in the film industry is solid and well on its way to becoming an even more important provider of recording services for filmmakers from around the world. To date all the soundtracks recorded by BSO have been for Spanish films and even though Spain will likely be the country whose cinema industry will keep on relying greatly on Bratislava, BSO already has upcoming projects for recording soundtracks from countries such Canada, Japan and the United States.

For more information:
To contact the orchestra:
To contact David Hernando, BSO conductor

Teresa García

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